The opening paragraph of Willie’s Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend is of Carl Hubbell acting as a scout for the New York Giants, watching a young Willie Mays. Hubbell watches as a ball in the gap is quickly cut off by Mays, who then turns and fires to second to keep the runner from stretching a single. On this episode of Cover the Bases, author John Klima tells of his own experiences in scouting big league prospects, and of the player acquisition process in the waning days of the Negro Leagues.
John is the owner of Baseball Beginnings.com which provides advanced coverage of major league caliber players, utilizing technologies such as video, advanced scouting techniques and analysis. John was able to draw upon some critical assistance from some legendary names in the scouting profession such as George Gennovese, Bob Zuck, and Spider Jorgensen to get his career in scouting under way.
Baseball Beginnings.com focuses on what he calls projection scouting, looking at players for what they may be able to produce at higher levels of ball, and not just reporting what they have accomplished in their short careers to this point.
At Baseballisms, we hope that the book about the world of scouting that Lee Lowenfish hinted at in a recent Cover the Bases episode, comes to fruition. This cross between art and science is a fascinating aspect of the game that can often be overlooked.
John states that the signing of Willie Mays was the “greatest scouting story ever told”. It was a challenge in those days for teams to find and sign players, made even more challenging with the discriminatory practices of the times. Many teams had seen and heard of Mays, but it was the New York Giants who were able to pull the correct strings and talk to the correct people around Willie to make the signing happen.
The Birmingham Black Barons were rumored to have had up to twelve players on that team who could have been playing in the major leagues. Four of the sixteen teammates actually did make it to the bigs, as well as the ballboy for that team. It took more than just talent for the Negro League players to actually get through the rigors of getting signed and playing in the Majors.
Piper Davis is a large figure in this story as a mentor to an 18 year old Willie Mays coming out of Birmingham. Piper was a predecessor of the famous line of athletes from that city, having played baseball with Willie Mays’ dad in the industrial league, and even played basketball for the Globetrotters. Davis put the teenager into the lineup and let him grow into the role on the field, plus he helped school Willie in what it was like to be on the road playing baseball for a living. Davis knew his talent would be enough to get him a shot at playing, but it was teaching him about what would be expected that is at the heart of this story.
Willie’s Boys had to get through the Kansas City Monarchs in a knock down drag out brawl of a series before playing the Homestead Grays in the final Negro League World Series. Willie had a great series in a losing effort, as the Negro American League and Negro National Leagues could no longer stay in business.
John brings up some interesting points regarding the signing and compensation of players that lead to the downfall of the Leagues. Teams as well as players were compensated, and many times the major league teams could “flip” a player without adequate compensation to the originating Negro League team.
Follow this link to pick up a copy of Willie’s Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend today. Hopefully you will connect with your own baseball passions through the words of John Klima.
To follow John you can find him on Twitter or at his web site BaseballBeginnings.com .. We express our sincere gratitude to John for sharing his story with us and for taking the time to appear on the Cover the Bases podcast.
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