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  • Writer's pictureKirk Jenkins

It’s Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo vs. Bill Byrd in Game 1 of the 1936 Playoffs

This time, we’re voyaging over to the other side of pre-integration baseball, the Negro Leagues (currently celebrating their 100th anniversary). The Negro World Series only ran for a limited time during the life of African-American baseball. From 1924 to 1927, the champions of the Negro National League and the Eastern Colored League squared off in the first incarnation of the African-American World Series. After the ECL folded in 1928, the Negro World Series took a number of years off, returning in the twilight years of African-American baseball, 1942-1948, to match the champions of the Negro National League and the Negro American League.

This time, we’re going to consider a season in the interregnum – 1936. African-American baseball was graced by no fewer than twenty future Hall of Famers that year. The legendary Josh Gibson hit 42 home runs. Gibson, Homestead’s Buck Leonard and New York manager Martin Dihigo (pronounced Mar-teen) all had OPS over 1.000.

So let’s start with a wild card series – the New York Cubans, led by superstar pitcher, hitter (and manager) Martin Dihigo, who finished the regular season with a 22-26 mark, and the Washington Elite Giants, led by manager Candy Jim Taylor, who finished 29-34. In these first two series, it’ll be best of three.

For Game 1, we’re at Griffith Stadium in Washington. Candy Jim Taylor is sending Bill Byrd to the mound. Byrd was 9-4 during the season with a 3.38 ERA. New York manager Martin Dihigo counters with . . . himself. Dihigo was 6-2 in the regular season with a 3.69 ERA, while also clubbing nine home runs as a semi-regular center fielder on his days off from pitching.

The Elite Giants led off the scoring in the bottom of the second. Zollie Wright and Wild Bill Wright (no relation that I can find) led off with back to back singles. Biz Mackey hit a lazy fly ball to right, but Jim West then scored both Wrights with a triple off the left field wall. Dihigo managed to set down the Elite Giants with no further damage, getting Hoss Walker on a pop up and pitcher Bill Byrd on a fly out.

The Elite Giants piled on three more in the bottom of the third. Goose Curry led off with a single. He advanced to second on Felton Snow’s ground ball out. Curry scored when Sammy Hughes hit a sharp ground ball to the right side. Second baseman Francisco Correa made a great play, gloving the ball, but then his throw to first was over first baseman Dave Thomas’ head. The official scorer called it a single and a one-base error. Zollie Wright singled Hughes over to third. Wild Bill Wright forced Zollie at second, but then stole second himself. Biz Mackey and Jim West then followed with back-to-back RBI singles to make it 5-0.

The Elite Giants made it 7-0 in the bottom of the fourth. Dihigo walked Goose Curry and shortstop Felton Snow then scored both runs, lining a 2-0 fastball over the right field fence for a homer.

Manager Dihigo sent up Chaney White to hit for him in the top of the fifth, so in the bottom half of the inning, the new pitcher for the Cubans was Luis Tiant.

If that name sounds familiar, it should. Luis Tiant Sr. was the father of Luis Tiant Jr., a great major league pitcher from 1964 to 1982. Tiant Sr. pitched in the Negro Leagues, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Mexico from 1926 to 1948, featuring one of the better screwballs of all time.

But not today. Wild Bill Wright led off the bottom of the fifth with a walk. After Tiant got Biz Mackey, he then gave up three straight singles to Jim West, Hoss Walker and opposing pitcher Bill Byrd, scoring Wright and West. After Tiant whiffed Goose Curry, Felton Snow doubled in a fourth run of the inning, and a fifth scored on an error by right fielder Clyde Spearman.

With the Elite Giants leading 12-0, the Cubans finally showed signs of life in the top of the sixth. With one out, Clyde Spearman reached on a one-base error. Silvio Garcia then singled Spearman to second. Jabbo Andrews scored Spearman with a sharp base hit up the middle, and then Garcia and Andrews advanced to second and third on another error. Francisco Correa scored the Cubans’ second run with a sacrifice fly, and Anastasio Santaella brought in another with a base hit.

In the top of the seventh, manager Dihigo sent Manuel Garcia up to pinch hit for Luis Tiant Sr. After Garcia was out on a fly ball, Lazaro Salazar singled, but Dave Thomas forced him at second.

In the bottom of the seventh, Manuel Garcia stayed in the game, taking Tiant’s place on the mound. Which brings us to the subject of Garcia’s nickname: “Cocaina.” Garcia’s pitching featured three pitches, a fastball, and sweeping curve and a drop pitch. At least according to historian John Holway, the nickname came from the belief that hitters seemed “drugged” by his pitches.

Cocaina got off to a shaky start, beginning the bottom of the seventh by walking Hoss Walker and giving up a triple to opposing pitcher Bill Byrd. After getting two quick outs, Garcia walked Sammy Hughes, but that single run was all the remaining scoring for the Elite Giants. The Cubans closed the scoring in the bottom of the eighth, scoring one on Silvio Garcia’s double and Anastastio Santaella’s opposite-field base hit. But Bill Byrd finished things off in the top of the ninth, getting three straight ground balls. In the course of his complete game win, Byrd game up eight hits, but only one of the Cubans’ four runs was earned. Byrd walked one and struck out five.

So in Game 1, it’s Elite Giants 13, Cubans 5. We’ll be back for game 2 in this best-of-three series next time.

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