Missed Chances and Broken Dreams
When he was 12, Quincy Trouppe used to hang out on Compton and Market Streets in St. Louis. He dreamed about the lucky days when he would race down the street and snatch up a ball flying out of Stars Park, where the St. Louis Stars of the old Negro leagues played. He redeemed those balls for tickets into the stadium to see his heroes play. It was his dream that one day he would be on that very diamond and other diamonds like it around the country. More than twenty years would elapse before black men would be allowed to play Major League Baseball. And, Quincy Trouppe was one of the first.
It was in the fading twilight of his illustrious baseball career that this Dublin man rose to the top of the game as the first African American catcher in the American League. But, all too soon, his life long dream turned into a disheartening nightmare when he was rejected by the game he loved so much.
Quincy Trouppe was born on December 25, 1912 in Dublin, Georgia. His family moved to St. Louis, Missouri before he reached the age of ten. At the age of 18, Quincy Trouppe realized his dream and began his professional baseball career with the St. Louis Stars in 1931. Over the next twenty seasons, Trouppe starred with the Homestead Grays, Kansas City Monarchs, and the Cleveland Buckeyes as well as a host of other teams in his eight seasons in the Mexican League.
Trouppe starred for the West team in five all-star games, four as a catcher from 1945 through 48. He managed the Buckeyes to Negro American League titles in 1945 and 1947 and one World Championship in 1945. After the 1936 season, Trouppe took off a year from baseball to box, having won a major heavyweight tournament title in 1936.
It was in October 1951 after returning from Mexico when Quincey got a call, one which would change his life forever, or so he thought. A bellboy in a hotel lobby in Caracas, Venezuela called Trouppe to the phone. On the other end of the line was Hank Greenberg, a former Detroit Tiger home run champion and a future member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Greenberg, a member of the front office of the Cleveland Indians, invited Quincy, who had another outstanding season in the Winter Leagues, to attend training camp with the Indians in the spring of 1952, sixty years ago this month.
"I was out of words," Quincy recalled in his autobiography, Twenty Years Too Soon. Greenberg offered Trouppe a minor league contract in Indianapolis But with the surprise proposal came an opportunity to make the big league team. It was the chance that Quincy Trouppe had been waiting for twenty years.
Excited to be in the big leagues, Quincy considered that he was in his best shape in many years. "No one who has ever broken into organized ball could have felt better than I did when I inked my name to that new Cleveland Indians contract," Trouppe wrote a quarter of a century later.
During spring training, Trouppe caught every third game and outhit the other two catchers, two to one. "I caught Early Wynn," a Hall of Fame pitcher, "for seventeen straight scoreless innings," he recalled. Trouppe also caught Hall of Famers, Bob Lemon and Bob Feller. Feller was considered as one of the greatest right-handed pitchers in baseball history.
In 1952, during the sunset of his career, Feller was beginning to struggle. Trouppe suggested to Indian fast baller that he develop a good change up and mix up his pitches. "I suggested this to Bob, and he pitched a shut out," said Trouppe, who never forgot the next day when Feller came up to him before the next game and said, "Quincy, you called a very good game yesterday. You used excellent judgment on the hitters, and you also knew how to use my most effective pitch. Keep up the good work."
It was on the last day of April 1952 at Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Athletics, when Quincy, wearing number 16 on the back of his gray flannel road uniform, played in his first game. At the age of 39 years, four months and five days, Quincey Trouppe became one of the oldest rookies in the history of baseball, a mark surpassed only by a scant few other older former Negro League stars.
Three days later at Griffith Stadium on a cool mid-spring Saturday in Washington, D.C., Quincy was catching when Indian manager Al Lopez, also a member of the Hall of Fame, called to the bullpen and signaled for Sam "Toothpick" Jones, Quincy's old Cleveland Buckeye teammate to come in to pitch in relief. Jones came into the game with one out trying to hold the Senators to a 5-4 lead.
Whether anyone among the 10,257 paid fans in the crowd noticed it or not, with Jones' first pitch to Senator's outfielder, Sam Mele, Quincy Trouppe and Sam Jones became the first black battery in American League history. The historic event seemingly went unnoticed in the sports pages across the country. Several years earlier, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League, became the first black battery in Major League history.
The American League record book was amended when the Indians tied an American League record when they used twenty-three players in a nine-inning game. After the game, Mele, who would pilot the Minnesota Twins to the 1965 American League Championship, was traded to the Chicago White Sox.
Trouppe was used sparingly, catching behind veteran Birdie Tebbetts, some six weeks older than Quincy and the decade younger catcher, Jim Hegan.
May 10, 1952 was a bittersweet day for Quincy Trouppe. For the first time in his major league career, Quincy Trouppe was a starting catcher in the major leagues. To make the game sweeter, Trouppe was playing against the Browns from his home in St. Louis. Early Wynn was pitching for the Indians, Tommy Byrne, a former Yankee star pitcher, for the visiting Browns.
Quincy came up to bat in the bottom of the third inning. He stroked his first Major League hit, a solid single to left, and scored his first major league run on Bobby Avila's single. It would be his last major league hit and his last major league run. It would be his last game in the major leagues.
In his ten-game stint with the Indians, Quincy, who got few opportunities to hit, posted a dismal .100 batting average, well below his .280 plus career average. Behind the plate, Quincy was as effective as ever, handling 25 chances without a single error and leaving the game of with a perfect major league fielding percentage.
While Quincy was working out the next day, he got a message to report to Greenberg in Manager Lopez's office. The news wasn't good. He was being demoted down to the farm team in Indianapolis. "This hit with such a force that I was speechless for a few minutes," Trouppe remembered. The veteran catcher spoke up in his defense that he felt he was being mistreated. Greenberg merely responded that the Indians felt that with him, they had no record to go on.
Quincy Trouppe became even more upset. During his 21 seasons in professional baseball, Trouppe had proven that he was one of the best catchers in Negro League history. He possessed a proven record of working with younger players and the game's greatest players as well.
Trouppe had caught some of the greatest pitchers in the game, including the legendary Satchel Paige and Dizzy Dean. He was once a roommate of Hall of Famer, Monte Irvin. Quincy played with and against many of the greatest players in the Negro League and baseball, period. His National League counterpart, Roy Campanella, had recommended him to the Indians.
Quincy Trouppe finished his career in Indianapolis before returning to St. Louis for a new life with his new wife, Myralin. Before the beginning of the 1953 season, the St. Louis Cardinals hired Quincy as a scout. Trouppe scoured the country for the best and most promising players.
Very quickly, he identified two outstanding young hitters and fielders. He began talking to the youngsters about signing with his team. Both were amenable and agreed to sign. But, when Trouppe presented his recommendations to the Cards' management, he was told not to offer the young men any contracts. The two men signed with other teams, one with Pittsburgh and the other with the Cubs. They were Roberto Clemente and Ernie Banks, two of the game's all time greatest players.
So you see this former Dublin man, who many regard as one of the best catchers in the history of the Negro Leagues, was denied the chance he so richly deserved. Nor was he ever praised by his team for his best two scouting recommendations, ones which were systematically rejected by his supervisors.
Despite the broken dreams and the missed opportunities, it was in the old days, his days, during the Golden Age of Baseball, when Quincey Trouppe, of Dublin, Georgia, was a shining star in a heaven of baseball greats.