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Walter Ball

George Walter Ball
Nickname: The Georgia Rabbit, The Black Diamond

Career: 1903-1923
Positions: p, of
Teams: Augusta, Georgia, Chicago Union Giants (1903, 1905), Cuban X-Giants (1904), Philadelphia Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants (1905, 1913), Leland Giants (1905-1909), Quaker Giants (1906), St. Paul Colored Gophers (1907), Keystones (1908), Chicago Giants (1910-1911, 1917-1921), St. Louis Giants (1912), Chicago American Giants (1912, 1915), Mohawk Giants (1913), New York Lincoln Giants (1914), Milwaukee Giants
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Born: September 13, 1877, Detroit, Michigan
Died: December 15, 1946, Chicago, Illinois

He was one of the best pitchers of the early years of black baseball. At the end of the first decade of the century, he, Rube Foster, Dan McClellan, and Harry Buckner were considered "head and shoulders above" other moundsmen. He was a smart pitcher with good control, and made frequent use of the spitball, but was not a power pitcher. Off the field, the premier hurler was noted for his sartorial splendor, wearing tailored suits and earning a reputation as the ''swellest'' dresser.

Ball pitched for eighteen years (1906-1923), primarily on Chicago-based teams, including the Leland Giants, Chicago Giants, Chicago Union Giants, and Chicago American Giants. He also played with the Milwaukee Giants and was one of the first black pitchers to play in the Cuban winter league, spending three winters on the island and compiling a 9-16 record.

He began his baseball career in 1893 in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the Young Cyclones team and continued his formative baseball career playing with the Occola team in the City League and with other city teams. In 1899 he pitched for the Grand Forks, North Dakota, team in the Red River Valley League (later changed to the Northern League), and in his first season pitched 28 games and won 25 to lead the team to the North Dakota championship. After two seasons the young pitcher left Grand Forks and split the 1901 season with two teams, beginning with the Lakota, North Dakota, team before leaving to captain the York, North Dakota, team during the last half of the season. The following season, 1902, he pitched the St. Cloud, Minnesota, team to the championship of eastern Minnesota.

Returning to Grand Forks for the winter, Ball was contacted by manager Frank Leland and signed to play with the Chicago Union Giants for the 1903 season. This was the first black team with whom Ball had ever been associated. Previously he had been the only black player on white teams.

Ball's excellent play in Chicago attracted the attention of E.B. Lamar, manager of the famous Cuban X-Giants of New York. Signing with Lamar, Ball went East for the 1904 season, but after only one year he joined the Brooklyn Royal Giants for the first half of the 1905 season. At midseason he returned West to reunite with Leland as a starting pitcher for the Leland Giants, in their first year of existence. During the last half of the season, Ball's hurling contributed significantly to a winning streak of forty-eight games.

In 1906 Ball went back to New York, this time with the Quaker Giants, but the team disbanded on the first of July, and once again he returned to Chicago, finishing the season with the Leland Giants. In 1907, at the behest of St. Paul, Minnesota businessmen Reid and Hirshfield, Ball organized, managed, and played for the St. Paul Colored Gophers. However, after a short while he again returned to Chicago to finish the season with Leland's team. The latter part of this season the Leland Giants played a series of games with an All-Star club at the White Sox grounds. Often playing in the outfield when not pitching, Ball made a phenomenal catch in right field in the last game, saving the championship for the Leland Giants.

In 1908 he went to Minnesota with the Keystones, but manager Leland again succeeded in getting Ball to return to his team, securing Ball's release from Keystones' owner Mitchell so he could finish the season in Chicago with the Leland Giants. After the season, Ball departed in December 1908 for Havana, Cuba, to play with the Fe club in the winter league. He pitched good ball on the island, losing only three games out of fifteen and snapping Almendares’s five-year string of pennants.

The Cuban winter season closed March 31, 1909, and Ball returned to the United States, joining the Leland Giants in Memphis, Tennessee, in April. During the team's southern tour the star hurler did not suffer a single defeat. He opened the regular season May 1, 1909, for the Leland Giants, and during the season pitched twenty-five games in the City League, losing only once to top the league in winning percentage and lead the Lelands to a pennant. Records credit Ball with a 12-1 record for the season, with 70 strikeouts, 34 walks, 12 hit batsmen, and I wild pitch to go with a batting average of .238.

During the season, the Kansas City, Kansas Giants arranged a three-game challenge series to determine the Colored Championship and offered a $1,000 purse to the winners. In the first game, Ball shut out the Kansas aggregation 5-0. Unfortunately, his fellow moundsmen could not duplicate his feat and lost the next two contests. Despite the Kansas team's claims, this was a midseason series, and by year's end other claimants for the title arose, including the St. Paul Colored Gophers, and a postseason Series was scheduled for the Western Championship. Rube Foster was injured and could not pitch in the Series, so the burden fell on Ball and Pat Dougherty. Ball pitched in two games but dropped his only decision as the Lelands lost the title. In a postseason exhibition series against the Chicago Cubs, he lost a 4-2 decision to Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown.

When owner Frank Leland and manager Rube Foster split in 1910, Ball remained with Leland and hit .359 for Leland's new team, the Chicago Giants, but injured his kneecap late in the season. He remained with Leland's Chicago Giants in 1911, but the following season he pitched with the St. Louis Giants, where he won 23 straight games against all levels of opposition. Three years later, in 1915, he was a member of Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants mound corps. One source indicates that he may also have pitched briefly with the Chicago American Giants in 1912 before joining the St. Louis Giants. Most of his later years were spent with lesser teams, including the Chicago Giants, who were in their declining years. With Chicago, fragmentary records show a 1-2 record against top teams in 1917 and a 0-3 ledger in league action in 1921.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.