By Glen Sparks
Baltimore Orioles Manager John McGraw surely wanted to do the decent thing when he tried to pass off his prospect Charles Grant as a Cherokee Indian named “Chief” Tokohama. The fact that the plan didn’t work does not reflect poorly on either man.
Grant was an African-American baseball player from Cincinnati. On this date in 1901, The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper reported that McGraw had signed the hometown second baseman to a contract. Grant, 26 years old, had been playing with the Chicago Columbia Giants, a Negro League team. McGraw, always looking for talent, saw Grant while in Hot Springs, Ark., and figured the young man could make it in the majors. The color line, though, stood in the way.
Now, a little bit of background. Baseball’s color line was a bit fuzzy in the early days. When Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, he was breaking the modern-day color line. There were many integrated teams in the early days of baseball. Frederick Douglass Jr., son of the abolitionist, played on an integrated team, for instance, in upstate New York in 1859, according to Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game by John Thorn.
Black players “Bud” Fowler and Moses “Fleet” competed on integrated professional teams in the 1880s, according to Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues, by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick McKissack Jr. Walker played for Toledo, Ohio, in the American Association, which did not prohibit black players.
Mostly, though, teams formed either black squads or white squads. Some of the early top African-American teams included the Uniques and the Monitors from Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Excelsiors from Philadelphia.
Adran “Cap” Anson, probably baseball’s first superstar, made everything worse. Anson, a Hall of Fame player and a creep of a guy, refused many times to step onto a field that included black players, writes David Fleitz in his SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) biography of the first baseman.
“His bellicose attitude made Anson, wittingly or not, the acknowledged leader of the segregation forces already at work in the game,” Fleitz writes. Officially, baseball did not adhere to a color line. It was more of a so-called gentleman’s agreement.
McGraw figured that he could get around baseball’s “gentleman.” Grant was light-skinned. So, the skipper dressed him up as the Hollywood version of an Indian, face paint and all, according to Black Diamond. Nothing about the get-up was authentic to the Cherokee culture, but that didn’t matter. McGraw found the name Tokohama by looking at a map of Hot Springs. It was a nearby creek.
The ruse worked for a short time. The players didn’t give up Grant. Charles Comiskey, owner of the Chicago White Sox, though, put an end to the Tokohama experiment. According to Thorn’s book, Comiskey said, “If Mugsy (McGraw) really keeps this Indian, I will get a Chinaman of my acquaintance and put him on third.” Grant insisted that his dad was white and his mom was Cherokee. McGraw finally let things go when he dropped Grant from the Orioles’ opening day roster, claiming his prospect needed more seasoning.
The color barrier lasted almost another half-century. Grant, who reported back to the Columbia Giants, played for several more years on several more teams. He died in July of 1932, while sitting in front of an apartment building in Cincinnati. A driver suffered a tire blowout, lost control of his car and fatally struck Grant. At the time, Grant was working at the apartment building as a janitor.