Kaiser, Cecil 1916–
Cecil Kaiser 1916–
Cecil Kaiser was a powerful pitcher and one of the many African-American players who would have qualified for the Major League, had it been allowed. But during an era of segregation, baseball players like Kaiser had few choices if they wanted to play professional ball: they joined the Negro Leagues, active between 1869 and 1962, or traveled north to the Canadian Leagues or south to the Latin Leagues. Over the span of Kaiser’s 15-year career in professional baseball, he did all three. Known as the “Aspirin Tablet Man” and the “Minute Man,” he made his reputation with his fastball and off-speed breaking pitches. His record as a player, like the records of many of his colleagues, remains incomplete due to the lack of archival accounts.
Kaiser was born on June 27, 1916, in New York, New York. As a young man in the 1930s, he played baseball on sandlot teams in West Virginia including the Bishop Street Liners, the Kimbrell Red Sox, and the Gary Grays. The sandlot teams were proving grounds for young players, like a non-official minor league. In 1938 he played softball for the Pontiac Big Six, serving as an outfielder for the championship team. It was only after Pontiac coach Candy Jim Taylor decided to try his new player as a pitcher that Kaiser found his niche: he won the first game he pitched against the Cincinnati Clowns. It wasn’t long before he was recruited by the Negro Leagues.
Kaiser played for several lesser-status Negro League teams during the early-to-mid 1940s. He started out pitching for the Detroit Stars during the 1939-40 season and went on to play for the Motor City Giants between 1941 and 1944. During the 1945 season, Kaiser made his first tentative steps toward playing baseball in Latin America, pitching in fifteen games and acquiring two wins and two losses for the Havana team in Cuba. He would eventually play in Panama, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. “Playing ball throughout Latin America,” wrote Leslie A. Heaphy in The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960, “helped players survive year round and gave them a sense of respect they rarely found anywhere else.” In 1946 he played with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the U.S. League.
Kaiser continued his stint in the Negro Leagues, playing for Pennsylvania’s Homestead Grays in the mid-1940s, one of the more stable and long lasting teams in the league. “I pitched on the 1945 Homestead Grays and my catcher was Josh Gibson,” Kaiser told Leland Stein III in the Michigan Chronicle. “But we also had Sam Bankhead, (Walter) ‘Buck’ Leonard, (James) ‘Cool Papa’ Bell and Jerry Benjamin. Any of those guys could have played in the White league.” Although Kaiser left the Grays in 1946, he returned once again, pitching for the team between 1947 and 1949. In 1947 he was at the peak of his career, earning $700 a month for his fastball. Following his first year with the Grays, Kaiser returned to the Latin American Leagues. He pitched six wins and twelve losses for San Luis in the Mexican League in 1946 with a .500 earned run average (ERA).
During the mid-to-late 1940s, the popular Negro Leagues lost their footing. First, Jackie Robinson signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers, then, other talented African Americans were offered contracts. “The begining
Born on June 27, 1916, in New York, NY.
Career: Detroit Stars, pitcher, 1939-40; Motor City Giants, pitcher, 1941-44; Homestead Grays, pitcher, 1945, 1947-49; Latin American League, pitcher, 1945-early 1950s; Pittsburgh Crawfords, pitcher, 1946; Canadian Provincial League, 1950-51; Florida International League, 1952; Detroit Industrial League, 1952-57.
of the end for the Negro Leagues came in 1947 when the door to the Majors began to reopen,” wrote Heaphy. “By 1959 all Major League clubs had at least one African American player on their roster.” By 1949, two years after Robinson signed, the Negro National League folded. And while the Negro American League held on until 1962, attendance fell precipitously. “You know,” Kaiser told Stein, “it’s kind of sad how it worked out. Jackie’s signing was good and we were happy, but it turned out bad in a way.” When the Negro National League dispersed in 1949, the players drew lots to determine where each player would be relocated. Kaiser was reassigned to the Cincinnati Clowns, but opted to return to Puerto Rico. “While most believed that the integration of baseball was a good thing,” noted Heaphy, “others were ambivalent because of the loss to the African American community of a major business.”
In the early 1950s, Kaiser’s adventurous spirit took him north where he pitched for Farnham in the Canadian Provincial League. He played 69 games in 1951 and when he wasn’t pitching, he played outfield. He pitched 14 wins and 13 losses, and had a batting average of .260 with four home runs. The following year he relocated to Tampa where he played 20 games in the Florida International League. In 1952 after Kaiser’s arm had gone dead, he left professional baseball. He played for the minor leagues in 1952 and then joined the Detroit Industrial League, playing with the Ford Motor Company team, for five years.
Recognition for African-American players like Kaiser would be a long time coming. Even with recognition during the 1990s, however, old slights sometimes bubbled to the surface. In 1995 Kaiser was invited to Cleveland where the players were offered $1,000 each to participate in the program. When the Detroit Tigers decided to also recognize players from the Negro Leagues, though, the team refused to pay a fee for participating. “I just came back from Cleveland and we got $1,000 a man. And I’m going to go for nothing?” Kaiser was quoted in the Baltimore Morning Sun. Slowly, however, Kaiser and others would win more respect. Ken Burns’ Baseball helped to remind many of the thousands of persons who had played in the Negro Leagues, and in 2003, the Detroit Tigers began hosting an annual Negro Baseball Leagues Celebration Weekend. “Baseball was so racist back when I played,” Kaiser told Stein, “that I can’t believe we are being recognized today.”
Heaphy, Leslie A., The Negro Leagues: 1869-1960, McFarland, 2003, pp. 5, 167, 211, 212.
Loverro, Thom and Fields, Wilmer, The Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball, Facts on File, 2003.
Riley, James A., editor, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, Carroll and Graf, 2002.
Baltimore Morning Sun, July 3, 1995, p. 4C.
Michigan Chronicle, August 6, 2003, pp. C1-2.
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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