It's funny how one gets involved in these things. Forty-five years ago, in January 1965, I was working on the sports desk of the Yakima Morning Herald, just a month removed from three years' service in the U.S. Army. It was my first, full-time newspapering job. The proverbial eager-beaver, that was me, anxious to make a good impression.
Told to write an advance piece for that year's Harlem Globe Trotter visit to the eastern Washington city, I was expected to take the team's press release and pound out a perfunctory few paragraphs noting the date, place and time of the exhibition. Instead, I chose to recount the entire history of the team's visits to Yakima. Burrowing deep into the paper's morgue, I found that Abe Saperstein's storied team first appeared in the city on Monday night, January 11, 1937.
From my notes: "Bunny Leavitt sank 26 in a row, then threw one backwards over his head and into the net to cap his routine â€¦ Following a 32-27 victory over the local YMCA five (dribbling ace Bob Frazier had paced the visitors' scoring with 12 points), Saperstein told the (Herald) that the Trotters were now 54-0 on the year."
Hmmmm, I thought; if they went undefeated even in the early years, how did the Trotters ever come to lose â€¦ how many games? Hmmmm (notice the consistency of my thought processes, even then), I wondered; why did not the 1964-65 season press release, as dutifully delivered by craggy old Chicago scrivener and tub-thumper Eddie McGuire, include the team's all-time record?
Well, come to find out â€“ 37 years later -- that the Trotter front office, in Saperstein's waning years, moved to square up the 1927 Hinckley fiction with the "annual" numbers of U.S. tours displayed on the souvenir program customers. That is more exhaustively explained in a letter I wrote in May 2002 and which appears at the end of this already rather wordy preface (my on-line cognomen, DEMENTIA MAN, is not just an idle boast).
But, as far as how many games the club had lost by January 1965, well, one had to wait awhile before those numbers began appearing again in the pre-season press materials. Evidently, somebody back in the Chicago home office thought it might be a good idea not to be calling attention, right away, to how many games the team had played and won, and however many years it had taken to amass the record.
Tucked into some, but not all, of the next year's press releases was, finally, this blurb:
"The current Globetrotter team entered the 1965-66 campaign with a 39-year record of 8,434 victories against a mere 322 defeats."
Actually, I had already found the number of losses (322) as I scoured through the back issues of Yakima papers. I also â€“ surprisingly â€“ found one of the losses:
Yakima WA: January 11, 1950
(Armory, att. 1,850) â€¦ MADIGAN GENERAL HOSPITAL 40, HARLEM GLOBE TROTTERS 33 â€¦ said to be only the second loss of the season for this unit, after 65 or so in a row â€¦ first loss was supposed to have been in Minnesota â€¦ Trotters led, 28-18, at the half â€¦ Ellensburg Herald: â€œFor most of the second half there was more head knocking and posterior protruding than there was scoring, but the Madigans rolled in the final five minutes to their win.â€ â€¦ One account said the Trotters failed to score a field goal in the second half after leading by nine points at intermission.
This was just one in as many as a score of games played by the "western unit" Trotters against a team of Pacific Northwest professionals, many of whom had played in the reasonably fast Pacific Coast Pro Basketball League after the war. Al Brightman, a onetime Boston Celtic who went on to achieve coaching acclaim at Seattle University by recruiting the famous O'Brien twins (and, later, Elgin Baylor) to the Jesuit school, was a key figure on the team. Brightman went to his grave claiming he and his cohorts, who played under a variety of team identities in this early 1950s series, beat the Bob (Showboat) Hall-anchored Globe Trotters NINE times. (Still other accounts insist that, over a three-year span, the team known variously as the Mountaineers, or Madigan Hospital, or Tacoma Brewers, beat these western-unit Trotters on 12 of 20 occasions.)
One of those wins, though, was NOT the February 1950 rematch of the Trotter-Madigan General Hospital game. Hall had scored 20 by the time the Madigan center, Big Bob Graf, assaulted him with a minute or so left in the game, prompting the referees to blow the whistle and call it off, then and there, with the Globies leading, 58-54. When the Trotters found the then-named "Madigan Mountaineers" spoiling for a third game in Yakima the following January, 1951, they politely demurred, skipped visiting the town altogether, and went on down to neighboring Sunnyside, Wash., for a more peaceful outing against a local five.
Well, having gotten my nose into this heretofore unknown (to me) slice of Globe Trotter melodrama (which, to my editor's space-saving dismay, occupied a full half a page of the Yakima Morning Herald prior to the Trotters' 1965 appearance), I began what I now know, after 45 years, to be an impossible quest:
I determined to identify all the games LOST by the winningest team in sports history.
One product of this pretty much, life-long investigation was the aforementioned letter written from South Bend, Ind., after a three-day session in George Rugg's little heaven-on-earth, the Joyce Sports Research Collection in the basement of the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame. For your edification here it is:
The Globe Trotter File at Notre Dame ...
The Trotters' first yearbook/annual program was produced for the 1947-48 season ... in it, "as selected by Abe Saperstein," were the "All-time, All-Star Globetrotters":
(1929-34) Al (Runt) Pullins; (1934-39) Harry Rusan; (1930-44) Inman Jackson; (1939-42) Sonny Boswell; (1939--) Louis Pressley.
(1940-41, 1945-46) Zack Clayton; (1947--) Ernmer Robinson; (1941-42, 1946-47) Goose Tatum; (1939-42, 1945--) Ted Strong; (1934-39) Bill Ford.
(1930-33) Rock Anderson; (1929-30) Tommy Brookins; (1938-41, 1943-47) Bernie Price; (1947--) Marques Haynes; (1934-39) Bob Frazier.
Then, in the 1949-50 annual, a revised edition of the "All-time, All-Star Globetrotters, Selected by Abe Saperstein":
Al (Runt) Pullins (1929-34), Harry Rusan (1934-39), Ermer Robinson (1947--), Reece (Goose) Tatum, 1941-42, 1946--), Inman Jackson (1930-44), Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton (1948--), Ted Strong (1939-42, 1945--), Louis (Babe) Pressley (1939--), Wyatt (Sonny) Boswell (1939-42), Marques Haynes (1947--).
Zack Clayton (1940-41, 1945-46), Rock Anderson (1930-33), Tommy Brookins (1929-30), Opal Courtney (1935-37), Bernice Price (1938-41, 1943-47), Andy Washington (1929-30), Bill Ford (1934-39), Bob Frazier (1934-39), Walter (Toots) Wright (1929-33), Randolph Ramsey (1930-31).
Of course, by the time of the (1962)-63 yearbook, Abe's all-time Trotters were:
Harry Rusan (1935-42), Sonny Boswell (1939-42), Clarence Wilson (1950--), Al (Runt) Pullins (1929-34), Inman Jackson (1928-42), Wilt Chamberlain (1959-60), Babe Pressley (1936-52), Hilary Brown (1939-41), Bill Ford (1932-36) and Charles (Tex) Harrison (1952--).
And, in the (1970)-71 yearbook, this little snippet:
"We're often asked who were the five players on the first club back in 1927, who bounced around the country with the late Abe Saperstein, the team founder and sixth player. They were Andy Washington, Willie (Kid) Oliver, Walter (Toots) Wright, Byron (Fats) Long and Al (Runt) Pullins."
The first yearbook (issued in late 1947) lists the all-time, year-by-year record, beginning with the 1927-28 season (101 wins, 6 losses).
And then, this from the (1972)-73 yearbook, excerpted from the "Trotters' Roster 1927-1973):
* Original Team, 1926-27 season
Long, Byron "Fat"
Oliver, William "Kid"
Pullins, Al "Runt"
Wright, Walter "Toots"
Okay. Toss out of the obvious typos (discrepancies in years played, and what sort of things strike the eye?
For me, that no one on the "original" team played before the (1928)-29 season, according to the late '40s all-time teams ... which declare, outright, that Pullins, Washington and Wright and ... Jackson (two starting years given in the all-time compilations) were members of the (1928)-29 squad, along with Tommy Brookins.
How's that for the inaugural Trotter team? ... Close, but not quite. That honor seems to befall the same five who played the Jan. 25, 1929 game in Davenport IA (as noted in the above ruminations by Keith). And, unless you want to believe Runt Pullins, as a mid-term high school junior (still busy playing a scholastic schedule) was already barnstorming/on the road as a pro, all thoughts of a January 1927 Globe Trotter origin fly out the window. But back to Abe's "best player" lists, since they were my first clue â€“ long, long ago â€“ that January 7, 1927 was a hollow, not hallowed, date in team history:
Of course, after Tatum and Haynes (and, later, Clifton) joined up with the Magicians, they were deleted from these lists -- although, curiously, Pullins -- another expatriate -- never was. But what are we to think of Abe's regard for Ermer Robinson and Ted Strong ... who were among the first 10 in the late '40s, but even after the Tatum, Haynes and Clifton spots opened up, were dropped ... for, among others, the oldtimer Hilary Brown, who suddenly appears on the 1962-63 list.
In the Magicians' yearbook from the season when Tatum joined Haynes came this observation from Haynes (in a letter to Los Angeles Examiner columnist Bob Hunter):
"It is my opinion that very few, if any, of Mr. Saperstein's players are financially satisfied. I know of many individual cases where this could very well be verified, but due to the players being employed by him, I won't mention any names."
Oh, one other interesting tidbit. In a box of Trotter programs/yearbooks, there were typed notes, either on stationery or note cards dating from when the club was owned by George Gillette and his partners ... leading one to believe that either that a Joyce collection archivist or some donor had asked the Trotter office to contribute some books to make a full set. And one of the notes reads as follows:
There is no 38th season book. At this point in time a recount of seasons was made -- and the Yearbooks were "off" ... in order to correct the error -- European tour of 1964 was designated Season 38 -- with the 1965 book correctly named 39th Season.
Think about that. The yearbooks jumped from (1963)-64 being designated the 37th season to (1964)-65 being designed the 39th season. In other words, it finally dawned on someone if the Trotters were going to persist in the fiction that the team first played during the 1926-27 season, the yearbooks should match up numerically.
So, what I'm left with after this little burst of discoveries: a) the 1947-48, or inaugural, yearbook shows the team's "authentic" won-loss records beginning with the 1927-28 season, and the next 16 yearbooks list the cumulative number of seasons based on that "fact" before a year is skipped to make the yearbooks agree with the 1926-27 "origins"; b) and, at the same time, none of Abe's all-time teams shows any of the "original" Globetrotters playing before the (1928)-1929 season.
Respectfully submitted by â€¦
J MICHAEL KENYON
Port Orford OR