Baseball is back and the movie “42” based on Jackie Robinson’s historic entry into Major League Baseball is opening next week. But Jackie was not the first black baseball player to play in the big leagues . . .
Duncan Putney, screenwriter of Barehanded Champions, joins us to celebrate Opening Day with the forgotten story of the Providence Grays professional baseball team of 1884, the real first World Series champions. The Grays of the National League beat the New York Metropolitans of the American Association three games out of three in the first post season championship series. (Hmm, imagine that sons of New England beating the New York Mets in the World Series.)
The Grays had the first African American player, the first Latino player, and the first Californian to play in the major leagues. Their center fielder was partially deaf and is the reason umpires started using hand signals. In addition to a host of other baseball firsts, the human drama of these barehanded baseball players, including illness, salary disputes, drinking, bigamy, and womanizing is even more compelling.
They also had a pitcher who won 59 games that year.