Every year, Capitol Hill Little League’s Majors Division teams have been named after many of the great Negro League baseball franchises, in order to honor the history of the game of baseball. Throughout the season, CHLL will post profiles of the Negro League teams for which the CHLL teams are named, including some of the standout players who played for these teams. First up in this occasional series: The Memphis Red Sox.
Memphis Red Sox
The Memphis Red Sox franchise began in 1923 and ended with Negro League’s demise in the late 1950s. Over its 30+ years in existence, the Memphis Red Sox were affiliated with multiple Negro Leagues and saw its best success when in 1937 Memphis became a charter member in the Negro American League. That year saw two championships; the Red Sox winning the first half with a 21-4 record. Only the Kansas City Monarchs (37 years) had longer run in the Negro leagues.
The Red Sox featured such stars as Verdell Mathis, Marlin Carter, Neil Robinson and Larry Brown. Aside from their first half championship in 1937, Memphis consistently finished in the middle to lower standings. The Martin Brother’s, a prominent family in Memphis, owned the Team for the majority of its existence and built Martin Park on Crump Boulevard for the club. The Red Sox were one of the few clubs in the Negro Leagues to own their own ballpark.
Four players went on to play in Major League Baseball; Dan Bankhead, Marshall Bridges, Jay Heard and Bob Boyd. Country singer, Charley Pride played for Memphis in 1953 at the young age of 15 and again in 1958. Of the many players who came through Memphis’ Negro League team, four went on to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The most recognizable pair is pitcher Satchel Paige and outfielder James ‘Cool Papa’ Bell (who sportswriter Joe Posnanski ranks the 99th greatest baseball player of all time). The other two are Willie Wells and Turkey Stearnes (Posnanski gives Stearnes the #58 ranking in his all-time list of baseball greats).
James “Cool Papa” Bell Norman “Turkey” Stearnes
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball and most teams’ players soon left for the “big leagues”. The Memphis Red Sox lasted until the late 1950s.
In 2009 Memphis Redbirds, a AAA affiliate for the St. Louis Cardinals, paid tribute to the Memphis Red Sox and sported the Red Sox uniforms while playing the Omaha Royals (sporting Homestead Grays uniforms).