Bill Yancey, Negro League Baseball

William J (Bill) Yancey [04/02/04 - 04/13/71 67 at Moorestown, NJ]  was a shortstop for 14 Negro League seasons. He was a good fielder and baserunner, a smart player who managed in Latin America and helped develop baseball in Panama in the 1930s. He later scouted for the New York Yankees. In 1932 he became a guard with The Renaissance Five basketball team, which was inducted as a unit into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1963. 



The Third Fireside book of Baseball, by Charles Einstein.  1968.  Page 395

Bill Yancey is one of the few stars of Negro ball now employed in the big leagues. In the 1930s he was the All-Star shortstop for the Philadelphia Giants, New York Lincoln Giants and the all but invincible Hilldales of Darby, Pennsylvania. Wintertimes he was the stone­wall guard of the famous Renaissance Five which was recently admitted en masse to basketball's Hall of Fame. Today he is a scout for the New York Yankees, his most impressive protege Al Downing, the strikeout prodigy.

I was born in Philadelphia and attended Central High from 1918 to 1922 but couldn't play on the basketball or baseball teams because I was a Negro. In fact, I never played on an organized team until after I was graduated.

The Philadelphia Giants tried me out in 1923, but I was too inexperienced to make the Negro big leagues then. They were owned by Bert Williams, who'd broken the Broadway color line with the Ziegfeld Follies. We had no Negro minor leagues to develop players in so I had to do my own de­veloping where I could. I caught on with the Boston Giants as a shortstop. I didn't master that position until '28 when John Henry Lloyd, old Pop Lloyd -- they've named a ball park for him in Atlantic City -- taught me position play, showed me the right moves on the pivot, and how to work cutoffs and relays.

In 1929 I signed with the Lincoln Giants and was the first Negro player to put his foot on the grass at Yankee Stadium. We were scheduled to meet the Baltimore Black Sox in the first Negro game at the Stadium. I suited up early, ran out to right field and stood where the Babe stood and pretended to catch fly balls like him. Then I took a bat and went to the plate and pretended I was hitting one into the right­field seats like him. It was a bigger thrill than hit­ting my own first home run against the Paterson Silk Sox back in '24.

Thirty years ago Negro ball was at its peak. The Lincoln Giants often beat the Bushwicks when they were barnstorming with stars such as Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx and others. White baseball writers didn't cover our league games although we often drew 10,000 to 15,000 fans and filled Comiskey Park in Chicago for our 1934 All-Star game, which was run off as smoothly and was cer­tainly as well played as the big-league show.

No one scouted me. No one scouted josh Gibson. I've seen 'em all since the 1920's and Josh was the greatest right-hand hitter of all time, including Jimmy Foxx and Rogers Hornsby. Take Foxx-Josh could wrap him upl They say that Jimmy's homer to the last box in the third tier in left field at Yankee Stadium was the longest blow ever made there. I was playing in the Stadium against josh's Home­stead Grays when he lifted one two stories over the bullpen and out of the ball park! The Grays used Griffith Stadium in Washington while the Senators were on the road. That old park was the toughest in the majors on home-run hitters. But Josh hit eight homers in ten games in one span, more than all the Senators hit in 77 games. Josh had great pride. Dizzy Dean often pitched post-season games against Negro teams josh played on. One day the crowd was small and Diz was in a hurry to get away. He would never have done this in a regular game, but this was only an exhibition, so before the ninth inning he called to Josh, "Let's get the side out quick and get the heck out of here! Let three strikes go past you, will ya, josh?" "Okay with me," grinned josh. So Diz fogged one up to the plate. Josh swung. The ball went winging far over the fence. Josh laughed as he jogged around the bases. "That's more fun than taking three strikesl" he called to Diz.

Josh earned the top salary in the Negro leagues, $1,000 a month. He was still catching for the Homestead Grays in '47, the year Jackie Robinson became a Dodger. He was tickled to death the color line was broken, but he was a frustrated man, too old for the majors. Poor Josh let himself go. He got fat and quit in '48. Two years later he died.

Only the Ball was White.  By Pobert Peterson. 

Page 5.

[Bill Yancey:]  On certain days our Negro National or Negro American League clubs could have been major-leaguers. If we played with Bill Holland pitching, we were major league. See, we all had a couple of great pitchers. With Smoky Joe Williams or Cannonball Dick Redding or Phil Cockrell or Nip Winters pitching, we could beat anybody. But if we had some other fella in there, we might be a Double-A club, because baseball is based on pitching.

If we could have selected the best of the colored leagues and gone into the major leagues, I'd say we could have won the championship. We could have selected maybe five clubs out of all the colored teams that would have held their own in the big leagues. Because in 1927 I was with Hilldale as a utility man and we played Connie Mack's Athletics intact and beat 'em! That's when they had Jimmy Foxx and Jimmy Dykes and Joe Boley and Max Bishop and Al Simmons-Simmons didn't play because he wouldn't play. We beat 'em!

And I got clippings from the Thirties that show we beat the Dean boys when they had the Brooklyn Bushwick club. And we went down and played the major-leaguers every fall in Bal­timore. We went down there with two pitchers, Phil Cock­rell and Leon Day. And we played seven doubleheaders and they won one ball game! They had Jake Powell and Bobby $stalella and Don Heffner; they had a major-league ballclub. And Clark Griffith, who owned the Washington Senators, used to come out there and shake his head.

Triumphs over big-leaguers were savored, recalled, elaborated upon. If black players could not play in the major leagues, they could show that they belonged there. And those lovingly remem­bered victories were Negro baseball, too.

Page 153

During the Twenties and Thirties, traveling and living conditions for Negro barnstorming teams were rarely as pleasant as they were when Arthur Hardy was touring with the Topeka Giants soon after the turn of the century. Bill Yancey, who played with several clubs during the later period, remembers:

When I first started, if we were going any long distance we would go by train. but later on we used to travel by buses.

Because a lot of times you couldn't get trains to where we were going, you know. We'd take a train to go to Pittsburgh, and then we'd hire cars to go to Warren and places like that; we'd make Pittsburgh our home base. In a lot of towns they didn't even have places for us to dress. You'd dress in the hotel, and after the game you'd get in the car and come on back.

When I was playing with the Renaissance in basketball, sometimes we used to get treated something awful. We'd go in town and couldn't get any food, and then they'd expect us to let 'em look good! In baseball we didn't get bothered too much except in the South. In 1945 I managed the Atlanta Black Crackers, and we went over to a place called Rome, Georgia. Well, I'm the manager and I got to find out where you dress. So I asked this guy-he looked like a half-wit-who was taking care of the clubhouse, "Where can my boys dress?" He said, "Well, you niggers have to go down to some of those houses and get dressed." And that's what we had to do.

In the North we never had problems, not that you'd notice. Because the white ballplayers thought it was an honor to play against us. And the townspeople all liked baseball. Everybody likes baseball. If they didn't like baseball they couldn't draw like they do now because there's so many colored ballplayers, you know.

Oh, we used to have problems getting food in the North. The restaurants didn't want to serve us. That was general in the North, but we never had too far to ride. If we were going from New York to Philadelphia, how long is that going to take? And if you were going to Pittsburgh, you could stop at Harrisburg. There's always ways.

Our biggest problem was when we were on the road all the time, like when I was playing basketball. I'll never forget the time we went into West Virginia for the first time and there was no hotel at all where we could go. It took us maybe a couple of hours to find lodging for eight or nine fellas-one stay here, two stay here, like that.


The Rens, or New York Renaissance Five, were the dominant team of the 1930's. From left: Clarence "Fat" Jenkins, Bill Yancey, John Holt, James "Pappy" Ricks, Eyre "Bruiser" Saitch, Charles "Tarzan" Cooper and Wee Willie Smith. Inset: team founder Bob Douglas.

Harlem Renaissance Big Five, one of the most successful all-black professional basketball teams in the 1920s and 1930s, the "Harlem Rens" added grace and style to the game of American basketball.

The Harlem Renaissance Big Five were created in 1922 by Robert L. Douglass, a native of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and a former professional basketball player with the New York Spartans. The team gained their name from their playing venue — the Renaissance Casino ballroom in Harlem, New York — where they dazzled fans with their innovative style of play. The Rens, as they were called, were one of the few all-black, traveling professional basketball teams of that era. Formed five years before one of America's most famous all-black professional basketball teams, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Rens provided African American men with the opportunity to compete against white athletes on an equal footing.

They toured the country competing against black and white teams, and in the process compiled one of the most impressive winning streaks in history. In 1934 the Rens won 88 consecutive games, and between 1932 and 1936 they won 473 games and lost only 49. Three years later they won the first World Basketball Tournament held in Chicago, Illinois. In 1963 the entire team was inducted into the Professional Basketball Hall of Fame, including Charles T. "Tarzan" Cooper, John "Casey" Holt, Clarence "Fats" Jenkins, James "Pappy" Ricks, Eyre "Bruiser" Satch, William "Wee Willie" Smith, and William J. "Bill" Yancey.