On this day in 1901, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports the signing of a mysterious player named “Chief Tokohama” to baseball’s Baltimore Orioles by manager John McGraw. Chief Tokohama was later revealed to be Charlie Grant, an African-American second baseman. McGraw was attempting to draw upon the great untapped resource of African-American baseball talent in the face of baseball’s unspoken rule banning black players from the major leagues.
John McGraw, manager of the Orioles from 1899 to 1902 and the New York Giants from 1902 to 1932, had great respect for African-Americans’ baseball abilities and was at the forefront of the effort to integrate the major leagues. Reporters often spotted McGraw in the stands at Negro League games, watching and taking notes, and later copying the strategies used by black teams. In fact, legend has long held that McGraw had pitcher and Negro National League founder Rube Foster teach Giants star Christy Matthewson how to throw his “fadeaway” pitch. McGraw also held exhibition games between his team and Negro League teams, providing them with a good payday and publicity. In October 1917, Negro Leaguer “Smokey” Joe Williams pitched against the National League champion Giants, striking out 20 batters before losing 1-0 on an error in the 10th inning. Had records been kept in those exhibitions, the mark of 20 strikeouts would stood for 69 seasons. McGraw was not the only big leaguer who favored integration, or took up the cause. Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Dizzy Dean, Paul Waner, Lloyd Waner and Jimmie Foxx were among the players who would barnstorm with all-star Negro League teams in the off-season before black players were allowed to play with them in the regular season. In 1901, however, integration was still a long way off.
After Grant signed with the Orioles as Chief Tokohama, Chicago White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey discovered his real identity and led the charge to ban him from the league. Grant ended up spending the 1901 season playing stand-out second base for the all-black Columbia Giants. John McGraw went on to win eight National League pennants as the manager of the New York Giants, as well as three World Series. He died in 1934, 12 years before Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, finally integrating Major League Baseball.