The other night I found myself with a bit of time, and not much to do. In these situations, I usually end up on the Internet, bouncing around different baseball sites in search of something interesting. On this particular day, I my travels eventually took me to the Negro League History Blogs. I have read a handful of books about the Negro Leagues, but plan to read more. It's a fascinating part of baseball history, and one that I think more people should know about.
Anyway, browsing around the site, I ended up at the site store looking at bobble heads. I am not a bobble head collector, but was intrigued to see who they had selected for a set they call the Negro Leagues Centennial Team. If you scroll through the collection, you'll see that it's a who's who of Negro League baseball. Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Satchel Page, Biz Mackey, Pop Lloyd, Buck O'Neil. I mean they're all there. And then I saw a name that surprised me: Cannonball Dick Redding.
Now, I've heard of Dick Redding, but only because of one game. In April, 1919, while George Gibson was managing the Toronto Maple Leafs, they hosted an exhibition series with the Pittsburg Colored Stars of the Buffalo City League. Pitching for the Colored Stars in the first game of that series was one, Dick Redding. In front of 2,500 fans, Redding, who was described then as being as fast as Walter Johnson, and has since been described as being faster than Bob Feller, held Toronto to 5 hits, and led his team to an easy 7-0 shutout. The Globe covered the series, and made it very clear that Redding was good. But I had no idea just how good.
Richard 'Dick' Redding, was born in 1891 in Atlanta, GA, and is considered by some to be the fasted pitcher ever to compete in the Negro Leagues, which is obviously where the nickname 'Cannonball' originated from.
Held out of the Major Leagues because of the colour of his skin, Redding instead terrorized the Negro League circuit for for a little over two decades, from 1911 until 1932. Amidst the prime of his career, Redding's career was interrupted by WWI. He enlisted in the US Army, and saw combat in France, but was lucky enough to return to US soil after the war, and continue his baseball career. Redding had a reputation as one of the hardest throwers in the league, which was coupled with a willingness to use that speed to knock batters down to assert his dominance.
During parts of his playing career, Redding also took on the role as manager, managing the New York Bacharachs in 1921. He pitched to a 17-12 record that season, and in 1922 went back to being a player, only. As with all athletes, Redding's skills began to deteriorate as his age caught up with him. But he was still a big name in Negro League baseball, and had significant experience. He parlayed this into another managing opportunity, managing the Brooklyn Royal Giants for six seasons, from 1927-1932.
"Cannonball" Dick Redding passed away in 1948, in Islip, New York, leaving behind a legacy as a hard thrower and a fierce competitor, while also being good natured and easy going. According to Buck O'Neil, he "was a nice fellow, easy going. He never argued, never cursed, never smoked as I recall; I never saw him take a drink."
From 1911-1932, there were 34 no-hitters thrown in Major League Baseball. Against all levels of competition during his career, Redding is credited with 30 no-hitters himself, and as many as 7 in a single season. To have this level of success, on top of being compared with Walter Johnson and Bob Feller, to play and to manage over the course of a couple decades, and to serve in World War I, and to remain relatively unknown, at least to this baseball fan, is unthinkable. And embarrassing.
And yet, this is what's great about baseball. There's always more to learn!
If you're interested in learning more, the following sources were used for this post: