Johnny Allen, Shortstop for the Oakland Larks (WCBA)
Using a wonderful quote made by Sammie Haynes, catcher for the Kansas City Monarchs, from the book “Black Baseball In Kansas City” written by Larry Lester and Sammy J. Miller, “Sammie, would you rather go to Heaven or Kansas City?” he would have said, “Lord I’ll see you later, but right now I want to go to Kansas City”. The quote itself has been retold any number of ways. The idea behind the story was true of many baseball players who were given the opportunity to play for the Kansas City Monarchs. Johnny Allen was one of those players, but he chose to stay and play for the Oakland Larks of the West Coast Baseball Association instead of going to Kansas City.
Sammie Haynes played three years for the Kansas City Monarch, and in his early days, he played for the Atlanta Black Crackers. Sammie Haynes also managed the Atlanta Black Crackers from 1945 to 1947. He founded the International Society Of Athletes in Los Angeles. At the best of times, in his own words, Sammie Haynes made $200 a month, netting $140 or less after meal expenses. Not much is known about Johnny Allen, except he was an exceptional athlete, who played baseball, basketball, and football, and played all three at ‘professional’ level. Johnny’s talents in sports was recognized at an early age as a Berkeley High Yellow Jacket. He was the other half of the Mel Reid–Johnny Allen Yellow Jacket Duo. Mel Reid, nephew of Charlie Reid, is a baseball story in itself.
Johnny Allen’s talent as a heavy hitting shortstop could be seen in his early years when he was batting .475 for the Junior American Legion, Berkeley Post No. 7, for Coach Elgin Erickson. Johnny went on to play baseball, football, and basketball for the San Jose State Spartans. As a basketball player for the San Jose Spartan team, he earned the nickname, “The Ebony Express”. based on his level of playing endurance, by playing a total of 555 minutes out of a possible 660 total minutes playing time for the 1940 Spartan Basketball season. Producing an 84% ‘off the bench and on the court’ time was a new San Jose State record, for this hard playing, Spartan defensive point guard.
In 1946 (according to Baseball-Reference.com), the replacement shortstop for Jackie Robinson, Jim Hamiton, played one part of the 1946 season with the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Baseball Association, and spent his remaining time with the 1946 season with the Kansas City Monarchs, until a 1946 Negro League World Series game injury knocked him out of baseball for good. Israel Harvey suffered a dislocated knee, and Hamilton received a broken leg on a attempted double play. I’m not sure if it was Harold “Yellowhorse” Morris‘ idea to send Jim to Kansas City, but I’m sure he was happy for him. Hamilton was them replaced by Othello “Chico” Renfroe, the star of the 1946 Negro League World Series. Recently, a book was written about William “Youngblood” McCrary, called “A Legend Among Us” by Linda Pennington Black. where a claim is made that he was the Jackie Robinson replacement shortstop between 1946 to 1948.
T.Y. Baird, who in 1946, was the main Kansas City Monarch scout, recruiter, and game scheduler when professional baseball was in its greatest transition. The fact the Branch Rickey never contacted T.Y. Baird when it came to Jackie Robinson’s transitioning to AAA ball without Baird’s permission, and then on to the Majors, remained a sore spot with Baird for years to come. T.Y Baird was a wheeler dealer when it came to contracts and signing talent for the Kansas City Monarchs. I think the only time he ever kicked himself was for not have a long-term contact with rookie shortstop, Jack Robinson. He vilified Branch Rickey for “stealing” what he considered his “property”. I’ve never quite understood Baird’s disdain for Rickey on the issue of not including in the Robinson crossover. It been said by those who knew of him, that Baird ransacked leagues all over the nation for African American talent, wherever he could find it, without any concern for the team or leagues he pillaged from. Never the less, he raked Rickey over the media coal, because he felt slighted.
Between 1946 and 1956, Baird sold 38 of these African American players, 29 of them to Major League teams, making an exorbitant amount of return on his initial investment. Near his retirement date, he had the nerve to complain that all that was left was 4 ballplayers and a bus driver. Tim Rives essay on T.Y. Baird called, “Tom Baird: A Challenge To Modern Memory Of The Kansas City Monarchs“, found in “Satchel Paige And Company“, edited by Leslie A. Heaphy, is an astounding piece of research that unveils Baird’s innate acumen as a cunning business man, who saw African American players as nothing more than chattel property, absent of human qualities and personal needs to excel at their profession. Possessing a discrimination factor and depth of perception so acute, that Baird himself could not see the writing on the wall of Major League Baseball change, and basically destroyed all that he built, while laying the blame at Rickey’s feet. Even with his connections to the Ku Klux Klan, posing as a political figurine, and the mere suggestion of being related to Cole Younger of the Jesse James-Cole Younger gang, speaks of how deep his connections to the Knights Of The Golden Circle really were.
Still, he was not infallible.
Baird, in no uncertain terms, was a Donald Sterling archtype character of that period in baseball history.
Baird was no angel; he was a pirate.
Baird gave the pretense of being a ‘farmer’, but people were disposable to him.
So far we have rookie shortstop who takes the risk and decides not to return to the World Champions Kansas City Royals, moving on to bigger and better things with the Montreal Royals, and another heavy hitting shortstop who was a former West Coast Baseball Association player, with a broken leg which now ended his baseball career permanently. What would Johnny Allen do? How would he look at these things and his future? So far as stories go, it wouldn’t end here. I ran across some correspondence between Ed Harris, manager of the Oakland Larks and Co-Founder of the West Coast Baseball Association and T.Y. Baird of the Kansas City Monarchs. I was compelled to share it with those who might have an interest in such research, because people often assume that the West Coast Baseball Association was an inferior league, with inferior players. Research on the subject has proven solidly to the contrary. The WCBA is just not as well studied as other leagues as it should be. The following letter, seen below, is in response to Ed Harris requesting a few practice sessions and possible exhibition games with the Kansas City Monarch after becoming WCBA Champions, and seeing if Mr. Baird could find it possible to arrange a few games with the 1946 Champions Oakland Larks.
T.Y. Baird correspondence with Ed Harris, Oct. 22, 1946
One can look at this letter any number of ways. Baird’s reasoning seems forced, but as a business man, who was often perceived as a hard man of ideals, also realizes that he’s pulled one over on Abe Saperstein and Ed Harris by acquiring Jim Hamilton at the end of the 1946 season, when the San Francisco Sea Lions were out of the running. At that time, owners of professional baseball teams, both from the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball, were on the hunt for prospective additions to their teams and new talent that would match the Robinson move made by Branch Rickey. Those that were selling contract were buying new ones, and those that were buying were paying hefty prices for this inexplicable “new” commodity, even though it had been around for many years. Baird never considered the West Coast Baseball Association a viable ‘professional’ league, unless he could use it as his own personal farm. Then his attitude was much more amenable, when it benefited his wants and desires. Ed Harris was no one’s fool, and Baird assumed the Ed Harris and the West Coast Baseball Association was easy pickings.
T.Y. Baird correspondence with Ed Harris, January 6, 1947
It was a well known fact, that Johnny Allen was considered by the International League, who had followed him the summer of 1946, to be the next Jackie Robinson. If the truth be told, so did T.Y. Baird. Baird, in respect to Ed Harris, could never be ‘too condescending’. It was in his nature as a negotiator to make those he dealt with feel inferior to him, especially if they were African American, and well educated. In making a stab at a request to buy Johnny Allen’s contract from Ed Harris and the Oakland Larks franchise, Baird’s comment about “if you want to give him a shot to go up”, while at the same time refusing to schedule any games with his Kansas City Monarchs, present us with Baird’s air of superiority stands out above all. In other words, –‘Your team and your players aren’t good enough to schedule a game with, however–I’d like to buy one of them from you–if you can see your way to release him to me for a $300 bribe‘.
As an added insult, Baird “suggest” that Ed Harris “write a little slower”, as not to appear too intelligent in the face of Baird’s self-aggrandizing awesomeness. These are moments that either make one cringe, or accept the devil in the details of how things really happened in those days, without the necessity of sugar coating them for posterity’s sake. Baird was who he was, and Ed Harris was who he was. They both butted head, proudly, at a time when the greatest game in the world would change the American perception of how people of color should be accepted in a nation undergoing undeniable shifting, that would offer no other choice but to move it forward.
It was also a time of great confusion.
Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 14, 1946
I do not know if “Effa Cared More Than Jackie?!?!?!?“, which was asserted by Lawrence Rushing at the 2014 Jerry Malloy Conference in Detroit. Ryan Whirty who wrote this blog gives a blow by blow details of what Mr. Rushing asserted that brought the house down. Such comparative analysis often requires proof. When proof is presented, then said assertions are undeniable. 1945, 1946 and 1947 were a time of tremendous upheaval in the all professional MLB, AAA baseball, and semi-professional baseball, with a change that would ignite conflicting political stances across the board. Things would never be the same again, and that would certainly sadden some and uplift others. Johnny Allen spent 1946 with the Oakland Larks, as their heavy hitting shortstop. He spent 1947 and 1948 on the road, barnstorming the United States and elsewhere with the Oakland Larks, even though the West Coast Baseball Association disbanded after only one season. Finding places that would allow them to play presented more of a challenge when it came to all the changes that were taking place in the United States and also on the West Coast.
There’s no telling what Johnny Allen would have done, or how far he could of gone if he had a mentor like Branch Rickey.