Negro Leaguer of the Month

NEGRO LEAGUER OF THE MONTH
June, 2000
Maceo "Breed" Breedlove
Position: P, OF
Career:
1922-1944
Teams:
Johnny Baker Legion, St. Paul Giants, Pioneer Limited of Minneapolis, Original Negro House of David, Twin Cities Colored Giants, Broadway Clowns, Chicago-Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, St. Paul Giants

HT:
6'-1"; WT: 220 lbs
Batted:
right; Threw: right
Born: August 7,
1900 in Fayetteville, Alabama
Died: May 18,
1993 in Minneapolis, MN

I had the great fortune to meet Mr. Breedlove in 1993, a few months before he died at the age of 92. He was very sick and unable to speak, but he let me know how grateful he was that I had found the box score that he had been searching for over 50 years, the box score I'll describe shortly.

Maceo grew up in Fayetteville, Alabama and played baseball with his four older brothers. His father was a coal-miner, and moved the family to Edgewater, Alabama for work where Maceo hooked up with a local team made up of the children of miners.

Maceo was blessed with a great arm, and his early success came as a pitcher. But like another pitcher-slugger named Babe Ruth, Maceo's lethal bat had to be in the lineup everyday so he became an outfielder.

Breedlove moved to the Twin Cities in 1922 and lived there for more than 70 years. Although Minneapolis didn't have what was considered a "Negro League" team in one of the organized leagues, they did have some very good black traveling teams, and the best of these was the Twin Cities Colored Giants, which in 1934 featured teenager Toni Stone, who would later become the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues.

Now to the "box score." Maceo talked for years about a game in which he homered twice off Satchel Paige, but without proof, many thought it a tall tale, something Breedlove was famous for. But, as fate would have it, I found the box score after months of research, and three others in which Maceo faced top Negro League pitchers.

In 1934, Maceo faced Double Duty Radcliffe in Jamestown, North Dakota, and while Radcliffe's team won handily, 19-3, with Radcliffe getting five hits, Breedlove singled in four at bats off Jamestown's top pitcher Radcliffe, on his way to a 17-3 season record.

The following year, Maceo's Giants played a three-game series versus a Bismarck, ND integrated team loaded with Negro League pitchers.

In the first game, Maceo ripped two singles off Barney Morris, a top Negro League pitcher known for his incredible knuckleball.

In game two, Maceo belted a homer and single in four at bats off Hilton Smith, a man who many think was every bit the pitcher Satchel Paige was, and who, like Paige, is in the Hall of Fame.

In the last game Maceo faced Paige, who was in his prime and in the middle of a 30-win season. In the first inning, Maceo belted a two-run homer over the wall. He doubled in his second and third at bats, barely missing homers. Breedlove flew out in his fourth at bat, and in his last at-bat.........

Maceo recalled the at bat in an interview in the 1980s. It matches the Bismarck Tribune's account.

"At the time, Satchel Paige was the greatest man that was out there. He struck out a man any time he wanted. So they had us beat pretty bad, and wasn't nobody out there but him and his catcher [Satchel had called in all the fielders].

"Looked like everybody in North Dakota at that ball game. One boy on the Bismarck club knew me and said, 'Satchel done picked the baddest boy on the club to show up.'


"I bet I hit 15 foul balls. He was throwing so fast I just couldn't get around in time. He couldn't get me out with his fastball so he threw me his dinky curve and I hit it into left field and nobody was out there! I ran around the bases and came in!"

Yes, there were no fielders to catch Breedlove's routine fly, but a homer is a homer, especially off the greatest pitcher who ever breathed air!

Need proof that Breedlove could have played with many of the top Negro League teams of the 1930s? In those four games against four of the top 25 pitchers in Negro League history, Breedlove batted .529 (9 for 17) with two doubles and two homers for a 1.176 slugging percentage, while his teammates batted .220 with only four extra-base hits in 123 at bats.

Breedlove played with various other teams in the Twin Cities, including the Colored House of David, the Broadway Clowns, and the Johnny Baker Legion team, and many of his best games came at Nicollet Park, home of the Minneapolis Millers. 

The store fronts on Nicollet Avenue across from the stadium were often in danger when Breedlove smashed one out of the park, as they were before him (Millers' slugger Joe Hauser) and after (Millers' Triple Crown winner Ted Williams).  Some store owners put up awnings on their windows to protect themselves from Maceo’s long homers.

In the annals of baseball in Minnesota, Breedlove belongs on the "Mount Rushmore of hitters" with Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett.  Harry Davis, whose father played with Breedlove said Maceo was “as good as Puckett and (Dave) Winfield.”

Teams that Maceo played for traveled in two cars, and usually towed a small trailer behind one of the cars where Maceo’s friend Smokey would sleep.  Smokey was a driver, mechanic and player in a pinch for years with Maceo’s teams and lived with him until Maceo died. 

Maceo had many adventures during his playing career: after one of the cars broke down, Smokey tied both cars bumpers together to get the cars to the next town.  On another occasion, after a few rain-outs, Maceo had to sell his watch to get the team to its next play date.  Often the players camped out or slept in hobo jungles when they couldn’t find lodging, and they often fished for their dinner.

Though Maceo had the talent to play with most teams in the Negro Leagues, he preferred to play close to home, and with the Twin Cities Colored Giants Breedlove was truly a big fish in a small pond.
 
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THE BOX SCORE!!!

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