Negro League Baseball: Judge John Bussey, Sunny Jim Bonner and Joe DiMaggio

A long, long time ago in a city called San Francisco, there was this team called the San Francisco Giants. This is what they were  called. The year was 1934….

S.F. Giants Cop Another Triple Decides Contest-9-20-1934-i

The San Francisco Spokesman, September 20, 1934

Wait,..1934?

In 1934, John W. Bussey and Henry Williams would sponsor a African American baseball team called the San Francisco Giants. I find this interesting because these San Francisco Giants were not a part of the Berkeley Colored League. They played predominantly in San Francisco as an Independent semi-professional team, that scheduled games with teams all over San Francisco and East Bay Area, most of them being Caucasian. It is said that Byron “Speed” O’Reilly and James W. Bussey had a standing rivalry, who’s Acorn and Alpha Phi Alpha club teams faced off many, many times–in the name of fun, and the loser would be responsible for supplying the winning team with a sumptuous feast with all the trimmings.

John W. Bussey-Ebony Magazine-July 1962

Judge Hon. John W. Bussey, Ebony Magazine July 1962 Issue

John “Buzz” Bussey was a Harvard Law graduate, who was also a extremely athletic competitor, in both boxing and baseball. This seemed to be the one-two punch, sports combination during the Great Depression, that most team owners, managers, and promoters worked on, trying to make an extra buck while pursuing their steadfast careers. Byron promoted every sport he could, while pursuing a career in the arts and entertainment. John’s focus while playing the game was much different. He was a community builder. A man of integrity, an Alpha Phi Alpha, John Bussey began his career in law while being a formidable Bay Area sports figure.

Amateur Boxing Instructor John Bussey-May 11, 1933

The San Francisco Spokesman, May 11, 1933

The 1940 U.S. Census states that John W. Bussey was born in 1905, in Georgia. I’ve found no information how he arrived in California. He lived in Oakland, even though he operated his law office on Sutter Street in the city of San Francisco. Beyond being a boxing instructor, he also taught law and prepared those who wanted to pass the bar exam with flying colors. He was one of California’s earliest Civil Right attorney’s and often represented the N.A.A.C.P. on discrimination cases long before the Civil Rights movement gathered national steam in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In many respects, he was ahead of his time. in 1949, the law offices of Bussey, Montgomery & Smith could be found in San Diego on Imperial Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. He was one of the founding members of the Charles Houston Bar Association in 1955. Like Mayor Lionel Wilson of Oakland who became the first African American to sit on the bench in Alameda county, John Bussey who was his friend and his counterpart, became the first African American judge to sit on the bench in the county across the bay in San Francisco.

John W. Bussey-1940 U.S. Census

1940. U.S. Census Record for John W. Bussey

When “Buzz” Bussey decided he wanted something out of life, there was very little that could stop him from doing just that. When Bussey decided that he would manage and play on the 1934 San Francisco Giants, and that he would stock his team full of as much talent as he could possibly find, he pulled them from the East Bay and San Francisco. Sunny Jim Bonner, as he was called in 1934, had a ‘million dollar arm’, and by all accounts Bonner was a well known pitcher in the East Bay Area, long before he played for the Berkeley Colored League or the Dai Tokyo in Japan.  It’s true what they say about Sunny Jim, the submariner, for he had pitched no-hitters before he played for the Berkeley International League. Most of them were with the 1934 San Francisco Giants.

Jim Bonner Pitches No-Hit Game For S. F. Giants Team-7-26-1934-i

The San Francisco Spokesman, July 26, 1934

He lost games also.

Ernie Elliot lost this one against the Salesian Jolly Knights. Back then they just called them the San Francisco Boys Club.

S.F. Giants Lose-Go To Market For New Players-8-9-1934-i

S.F. Giants Lose-Go To Market For New Players-8-9-1934-ii

S.F. Giants Lose-Go To Market For New Players-8-9-1934-iii

The San Francisco Spokesman, August 9, 1934

Now, here’s where it gets confusing.

Both Joe DiMaggio and his younger brother, Dom DiMaggio, played shortstop before they went to the majors. Joe was supposedly out of action with a career threatening knee injury early in 1934, missing more than 70 games for the San Francisco Seals, but it is a known fact that he had played for the San Francisco Boy Club for many years prior to this injury. Joe fell off the baseball grid in 1934, and his career ending knee injury has possessed that quality of mystery. The question is, would he have picked up games with the S.F.B.C. whenever he could to make a few bucks? Graham’s $75,000 firm asking price as a New York Yankee was out of focus for Depression era baseball. $25,000 was the final agreed upon price tag for the future Yankee Clipper. In 2006, there was an auction of his 1932 S.F.B.C. ring, which had an estimated value between $5,000 and $7,500. For you collectors of finer DiMaggio artifacts, Item 1013 Did Not Sell. The ring itself proves there was a Joe DiMaggio stint with the S.F.B.C. no matter what name they played under.

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 9.49.45 PM

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 9.49.56 PM

Joe’s connection to this game between the 1934 San Francisco Giants goes a little deeper. There are two players on the S.F.B.C. team with the last name “Baumgartner” in the line up. In the book, “Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life“, by Richard Ben Cramer“, a “Bummy” Baumgartner” is mentioned, to the effect of in 1932, he paid Joe to play a pick up game with his team called Sunset Produce. Joe was a ball hawk, and he liked money. Joe bailed on his team, Rossi Olive Oil, and Dom was left playing with the guys that they started the team with. Sandlot ball was a rough game back in the day. Especially during the Depression. The things that Joe DiMaggio had in common with Lefty Gomez was 1) money demands, 2) Bill Essick, and 3) those wonderful San Pablo Park baseball players.

Now, also in 1934, Dom was senior at Galileo High School. The story goes… in 1934, Dom played ball for the North Beach Merchants, another semi-pro San Francisco Sandlot team in, while working at Simmons Mattress Factory. If that isn’t confusing enough, in the 1940 San Francisco Industrial League, Marino “Red” Petri pitched for the Simmons Co. Baseball Team, while Frank Sancimino played Left Field, and Sam Tringoli played 2nd Base.

1941_Simmons_Mattress Cutaway

If I had to guess, when posed with the question, “Was the San Francisco Bay Area instrumental in helping expedite the concept of playing desegregated baseball?“, my answer would be a resounding “Yes“. I would give the same answer if asked, “Was John W. Bussey a integral part of integrated baseball in America?”. If some one asked me, “How old was Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows, when he hit that long ball triple that drove in Bussey and Bonner against Golden State Meat in 1934?“, the answer would be 42, hence the comment “despite his tender years”.

But…if someone asked me, “Was it Joe or Dom that played Shortstop against the San Francisco Giants of 1934?”, my answer would be…

“Your guess is as good as mine!”

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