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Johnny Wright, the Forgotten #2

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  • Johnny Wright, the Forgotten #2

    John Richard Wright

    New Orleans-born, 5'11", 175-lbs, righthanded pitcher Johnny Wright started his professional career with the New Orleans Zulus in 1936 at age 17. The Zulus were as much sports enterainment as a legitimate baseball team, in the mold of the Harlem Globetrotters of the era.

    Playing in Louisville in 1937, Wright was picked up by the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League, a big league club. He also played for the Atlanta Black Crackers and Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1938, Toledo/Indianpolis Crawfords from 1939-40 before joining the famed Homestead Grays in 1941.

    The Grays of the era won an unprecedented nine consecutive pennants. The club, managed by Candy Jim Taylor, boasted some of the game's all-time greats: Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Howard Easterling, Sam Bankhead, Jud Wilson.

    The club won its first Negro World Series in 1943 behind the pitching of Ray Brown, Roy Partlow and Wright. Wright won 25 games during the regular season and posted two shutouts during the series.

    Wright was known as a speedy pitcher with good control and a sharp curve. Opponents described Wright as throwing harder than Satchel Paige. Monte Irvin, a former teammate and opponent, described Wright's curve ball as "major-league quality."

    After the 1943 season, Wright joined the U.S. Navy during World War II. While in the Navy he pitched for the Great Lakes Naval Station team, a black club.

    By 1945, he was playing for the Brooklyn Naval Air Base team where he posted a 15-4 record and was said to have the besr ERA in the armed forces. Also in early 1945, he pitched well in an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. At the end of the season in 1945, Wright joined the Grays and pitched in three contests; winning them all. He also appeared in the Negro World Series.

    In late October 1945 Branch Rickey made the announcement of the jackie Robinson signing. Two+ weeks later, the Negro leagues were protesting to Commissioner Happy Chandler claiming that Rickey was tampering with their players. Wright and Robinson were the named players. (Chandler refused to hear the protest.)

    So, soon after the Robinson announcement, the Dodgers were chasing Wright; in fact, reports suggest that Wright actually signed a contract on November 20 with the Dodgers.

    However, the Dodgers made no such announcement until January 29, 1946. Thus, Wright became the second officially recognized African-American to sign a contract with organized baseball during the integration era.

    Several reasons would later be given for Wright's signing . Among them some speculate that Rickey merely wanted a compatriot for Robinson during his first spring in organized ball. Other strongly contest this, noting the skill and proven effectiveness of Wright on the mound.

    Clyde Sukeforth, Rickey's scout, chimed in, "I don't think that the reports indicated that Johnny Wright was an outstanding pitcher, but apparently Mr. Rickey thought he would be an excellent companion."

    At the beginning of spring training on March 4, 1946 at about 9:30 am Robinson and Wright walked onto the field at Daytona Beach, Florida, the first openly-accepted black players of the 20th century.

    Both men were married (Wright with two children); however, unlike Robinson, Wright did not have his family staying with him at Sanford that spring. Wright's season wouldn't go as well either.

    In the spring Wright was hit hard in an intrasquad game against the Dodgers, giving up 8 runs on 10 hits in five innings. In another intrasquad game, he walked four in four innings, giving up two runs on three hits. In his last appearance, he walked four and hit another in one inning.

    Both Robinson and Wright land with the Montreal Royals of the International League when the season began. In his first appearance (against Syracuse), Wright entered in relief. He gave up 4 runs and 5 hits over 3.1 innings.

    The next time on the mound Wright pitched in Baltimore, the southern-most city in the
    International League, and a hostile environment for black players. He entered in the sixth
    inning behind by five. He retired the side and finished the game without giving up a hit. After that, he sat idle for two weeks and, despite the impressive outing, was demoted to Three Rivers (Quebec) of the Class-C Canadian-American League on May 14. Roy Partlow would join Wright at Three Rivers.

    Wright went 12-8 with Three Rivers, plus winning the deciding game of the championship series. At the end of the season, Wright would barnstorm with Robinson's "All-Star" squad.

    Wright rejoined the Grays for 1947, making the All-Star team and winning eight games. H retired after the 1948 season, returning to New Orleans. There, he worked for National Gypsum Company, rarely discussing his baseball days.
    Last edited by Brian McKenna; 02-29-2008, 12:46 PM.

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