Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb & Honus Wagner Did Some Barnstorming & Walter Johnson Comes to Schenectady

Back in the early 1900s, before baseball was the money machine that it is today, baseball players would supplement their incomes by barnstorming after the regular season had ended.  In an age after television, fans were hungry to see the famous players they had read about in the newspapers.  Even the biggest stars like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner would travel throughout the country to play exhibition games against town teams.  Occasionally, a barnstorming team would want to play against a team of Negro League players.  From early in the 1900s, black ballplayers were barred from playing alongside the whites, so they formed their own leagues.  They played on whatever diamonds they were allowed to, and they were scraping by on the support of fans who din’t have much money.  Negro League Baseball was second class in every way except for the quality of players.  In 1913, the great fastball pitcher, Walter Johnson (The Big Train), who was playing for the Washington Senators, was coming off the best year of his career.  His record was an amazing 36-7, and he had an ERA of 1.14.  He was asked to lead an All-American team in a game against the Schenectady Mohawk Giants, a Negro League team in the Electric City.  As 6,000 fans waited for the game to begin, the colored Giants announced that they would not play the game until they were payed the six weeks’ salary they were owed by their manager, William Warnecke.  The enraged fans, who had been waiting to see the great Johnson pitch, stormed the field.  Police barely prevented a full-scale riot from occuring.  When order was restored, the game was played, and Johnson struck out 11 batters in five innings, giving up only two hits.  It wasn’t good enough.  The Colored Giants’ pitcher, Frank Wickware, shutout the All-Americans, and the Giants won, 1-0.  Later that year, Johnson was back in Washington pitching for the Senators, and he went on to ten consecutive twenty-win seasons.  Wickware hung on as a pitcher in the Negro League until 1925.  His career highlight was the day he beat the great Walter Johnson on a dusty field before a rowdy crowd in Schenectady, New York.

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