Dandridge, Ray 1913–1994
Ray Dandridge 1913–1994
Negro League baseball player
Ray Dandridge played baseball from 1933 to 1955 in the Negro Leagues and for eight seasons in Mexico. Dandridge was short and very bowlegged. He was so good with his glove that it was said that a train could go through his legs but a ground ball could not. Though he played in the shadows of established baseball in an era when blacks and whites did not play together, he was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1987. Fellow Hall of Fame member Monte Irvin said, according to theforgottenleagues.com, “He was fantastic, the best I’ve ever seen at third. I saw all the greats—Brooks (Robinson), (Craig) Nettles—but I’ve never seen a better third baseman than Dandridge.”
Raymond Emmett Dandridge was born on August 31, 1913, in Richmond, Virginia, to Alberta Thompson and Archie Dandridge, a former semi-pro catcher. At the age of ten he moved to Buffalo, New York, to live with his mother. He attended an integrated school and played almost all sports including boxing. Dandridge attended PS #28 until the ninth grade, and then went to vocational school. For the most part, he spent his youth playing baseball in South Buffalo until he moved back to Richmond at the age of 18. He immediately began playing semi-professional ball there.
His big break came in 1933 when the Detroit Stars, a professional team from the Negro National Leagues, came to town to play an exhibition against Dandridge’s local club. In the game against the Stars, Dandridge played his flawless defense at third base, and he also hit a home run. He so impressed the Stars manager that the skipper asked the 19-year-old to come with the team. Dandridge refused the offer. He did not want to leave home, and he had no idea where Detroit was. Jim Taylor, the Stars manager, was persistent. Taylor brought the team bus by Dandridge’s house and spoke with his father. The elder Dandridge encouraged his son to try it out, but the young man still resisted. Dandridge watched the bus seemingly roll out of town, but Taylor returned the next morning and Dandridge was told by his father to pack his things up because he would be leaving with the team. Dandridge had found out later that Taylor had bribed his father by giving him $25 to tell his son to get on the bus.
Dandridge earned $60 a month and two dollars a day in eating money. In that era, the height of the Great Depression, there were no contracts and no guarantees that the team would even be in business the next
At a Glance…
Born Raymond Emmett Dandridge on August 31, 1913, in Richmond, VA; died February, 12, 1994, in Palm Bay, FI; son of Alberta Thompson and Archie Dandridge; married Florence (divorced); married Henrietta; children: (with first wife) three.
Career: Detroit Wolves, 1933; Newark Dodgers, 1934; Newark Eagles, 1936-38; played full time in Mexico except for brief periods where he returned to the Eagles, 1939-48; played for New York Giants top farm club, the Minneapolis Millers, 1949-52; played for the Sacramento Solons and the Oakland Oaks, 1953; player/manager, Bismark Bisons, 1955-56.
Awards Member of the East-West all star game 1934, 1937, and 1944; Mexican league record, 32-game hitting streak, 1948; won the Silver Ball as the American Association MVP leading the league in at bats (627) and hits (195), 1950; elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, 1987.
month. Dandridge had no choice but to make it with the Stars because he did not have the money to return to Virginia. Though Dandridge only spent one year with the Stars—the team folded after the 1933 season—it was an important phase in his career. Taylor taught him to hit the ball to all fields instead of going for a home run every time he came up to the plate. From that season on Dandridge never hit below .300.
The following season Dandridge played for the Newark Dodgers and hit .333. Though his team was terrible, the 21-year-old third baseman was named to the East-West game, which was the Negro League’s all-star game held in Chicago. Dandridge also played on all-star teams which competed against white stars such as St. Louis Cardinals great Dizzy Dean.
After the 1935 season Dandridge began traveling south for the winter. Dandridge spent 11 seasons playing in Cuba where the weather was perfect, the fans knew the game, and most importantly, where he was treated like a star ballplayer instead of a second-class citizen. After 11 seasons of playing winter ball in Cuba, Dandridge and some other players tried to form another league. When that league folded their old teams did not want them back. In addition to playing ball in Cuba, Dandridge starred in Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and in Venezuela following the 1938 season. In 1939 he returned to Caracas and played for a championship there, traveled to Mexico and played the last six weeks of the season, and then in October went back to Cuba where he missed a third championship by just a half of a game.
Back in the States Dandridge became a fixture for the Newark Eagles, a team owned by Abe and Effa Manley. In 1936 the Eagles became a force in the Negro Leagues, challenging the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords as the preeminent team in black baseball. Dandridge was one of the components of the “Million Dollar Infield,” which was made up of Dandridge, shortstop Willie Wells, second baseman Dick Seay, and first baseman Mule Suttles. Dandridge told Nicholas S. Dawidoff of Sports Illustrated about life in the Negro Leagues: “We didn’t make any money, but we had fun. We’d stay in rooming houses, though sometimes we didn’t see a bed for days. Riding the buses, hanging our sweatshirts out the window to dry for the next day’s three games, singing—we used to have quartets. We’d challenge each other as we went down the road. And when we’d meet another team we’d have wrestling matches. We’d go over to their clubhouse and say, ‘We’ve got the strongest man.”’
After two seasons in Newark, Dandridge, along with all-star teammates Leon Day and Wells, was lured to Mexico to play for Vera Cruz’s millionaire owner Jorge Pasquel. Dandridge and other stars such as Josh Gibson won the Mexican League title by 13 games. Again attracted by the money and the better living conditions, Dandridge stayed in Mexico for most of the next ten seasons. He returned to the Eagles in 1942, but left at mid-season because Newark could not afford to keep such a talented team together. When Dandridge departed for Mexico during the 1942 season, he was leading the East-West game all-star balloting. Dandridge returned from Mexico again in 1944 and led the league in hits, runs, and total bases accumulating a .370 average. After his monster 1944 season, Effa Manley refused to match the offer of the Mexico City Reds, and Dandridge went south again until 1948. In his final season in Mexico, he established a leaguerecord 32-game hitting streak. In eight seasons in the Mexican League, he compiled a .331 batting average.
Though he kept returning to the United States, the financial lure of Pasquel’s Mexican team was too great. The first time Dandridge left Newark in 1940 his owner would not give him a raise from $150 to $175 a month. At his peak earning power in Mexico, Dandridge was making the same money the white stars were making to leave major league baseball. Dandridge was paid $10,000 a year and had a free house, maid, and lived like a king.
After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck called and invited Dandridge to try out for his team, but Dandridge would not leave Mexico to compete for a job with no guarantees and that would surely bring a pay cut. One time when Dandridge tried to leave his Mexican team and return to the United States because of a salary dispute, Pasquel had the army stop him at the train station and bring him back—Dandridge demanded and received the same pay as white stars. Dandridge stayed in Mexico until 1948.
After his friend and patron Pasquel died in a plane crash, Dandridge returned to the States to become player/manager of the New York Cubans. His days as a manager did not last long as he received an opportunity in June of 1949 to play for the Minneapolis Millers, the New York Giants top farm team.
The Cubans sold Dandridge and pitcher Dave Barnhill to the Giants and the two reported immediately to Minneapolis. The Millers’ general manager picked up the two new players at the airport and they went right to the ballpark. Dandridge rushed into his uniform as the Millers were in the middle of a Sunday double header. Mickey McDermott, who would go on to pitch for the Red Sox, was throwing for the opposition and had already stuck out 18 batters. The Millers’ manager asked Dandridge if he thought he could get a hit, and he told the manager, according to Sports Illustrated, “that’s what I’m here for.” When he stepped up to the plate, Dandridge knew what was coming—a fast ball right at his head. And that’s exactly what happened. After Dandridge picked himself up and dusted himself off he slapped a single right over the pitcher’s head. Dandridge would be the Millers’ second baseman for the rest of the season.
Dandridge and Barnhill were forced to put up with knockdown pitches, segregated housing, segregated restaurants, and verbal abuse from opposing fans and teams. But Dandridge’s performance on the field, his .362 average, and the fact that he always carried himself with dignity and class made him a genuine fan favorite. The parent club even used Dandridge’s popularity as one of the excuses for leaving him in Minneapolis instead of calling him up to the Giants after the 1949 season. The following year Dandridge batted .311 with 13 home runs. The Millers won the Triple A championship and Dandridge was named MVP of the league—all at the age of 37.
Despite the fact that the Giants were without a reliable third baseman and the team was in the middle of a pennant race, manager Leo Durocher would not bring Dandridge up to the major leagues. Durocher claimed that Dandridge was too old to compete at the majorleague level, but many believed that there was an unwritten quota system for black ballplayers in the 1940s and 1950s. The Giants already had three black players so there was no room for him on the parent club.
The following year when the Philadelphia Athletics wanted to trade for Dandridge, the Giants would not make the deal, saying that Dandridge was too valuable as a drawing card to the Millers franchise. In James A. Riley’s book on Dandridge, Wells, and Day titled Dandy, Day, and the Devil, Dandridge spoke about the disappointment he felt when he was passed over for the Giants: “Not making it to the major leagues was my biggest disappointment. If I had made the major leagues, then I would have gone all the way. Even if I didn’t stay there no more than one week, then right now I could say that I made it. That I went from scratch, from nothing, to the major leagues. I just wanted to go up there and put my foot in the door so that I could say that I went from the bottom to the top. All the names that people called me didn’t bother me as much as the fact I never got my foot in the door.”
Dandridge played two more years with the Millers, batting .324 and then .294 in his last season with the club. Since at that time a player could only stay in the minors for so long, the Millers sold him to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League. He was traded to Oakland where he got into a home plate collision with a catcher and injured his shoulder. It seemed that Dandridge’s playing career was over as he missed the rest of the season and the following one. But in 1954 he became player/manager of a minor league team in North Dakota and hit .369. He stayed one more year there, but then gave up, realizing that he would never make it to the major leagues as a rookie in his forties. He retired for good following the 1955 season after over 20 years in organized baseball.
Dandridge returned to Newark and managed a bar for the next 18 years. He also was very active in the Newark recreation department. Before retiring to Florida in 1983, Dandridge had a street and a baseball field named after him. His greatest honor came on March 3, 1987, when he was called by the president of the Baseball Hall of Fame and informed that he had been enshrined along with the game’s greats. Dandridge lived out the rest of his days with his second wife, Henrietta, in Palm Bay, Florida. He died on February 12, 1994.
Riley, James A. Dandy, Day, and the Devil, TK Publishers, 1987.
Sports Illustrated, July 6, 1987.
The Forgotten Leagues, www.theforgottenleagues.com/raymond_emmett.htm
Baseball Hall of Fame, www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers_and_honorees/hofers_bios/dandridge_ray.htm
—Michael J. Watkins
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