“I couldn't say what my greatest game was. I've had a whole lot of them to be proud about, and a whole lot to be sad about...I never did pin any roses on myself.” --Harry Salmon*
*from interview with John Holway in the 1970s
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©Copyright 2010, Kyle McNary, McNary Publishing
Negro Leaguer of the Month
Harry “Beans” Salmon
Born: May 30, 1895 in Warrior, Alabama
Died: July, 1983 in Pittsburgh, PA
Ht:5'-10", Wt: 185
Batted and threw right
Position: pitcher, outfield
Playing Years: 1915-1935
Teams: Birmingham Black Barons, Pittsburgh Keystones, Memphis Red Sox, Detroit Wolves, Homestead Grays
Satchel Paige was probably the greatest pitcher who ever toed a rubber, but on the first top pitching staff he belonged to, with the 1927 Birmingham Barons, he was not the ace of the staff; the ace of that staff was Harry Salmon.
Salmon couldn't throw as hard as Paige (no one could), but he was a hard-throwing right hander with a fine curve and spitball, and led the '27 Barons with a 14-6 league record while Paige sported an 8-3 mark. Salmon and Paige provided a great 1-2 pitching punch for the Black Barons from '
27-'30, with Salmon tutoring the raw rookie on the finer points of pitching.
Salmon was born in Warrior, Alabama on May 30th, 1895, and started working in the coal mines at age eight! In his teen years Salmon worked in Kimberly, Alabama and played for their Edgewater mine team. After a hitch in the army where he starred for the Fort Benning baseball team, Salmon was back in the coal mines and was finally discovered and signed by the Black Barons at the age of 24; Salmon would play with the Barons for 13 seasons.
Salmon, heavily-muscled from years of shoveling coal, was known for his unusual pitching delivery in which he would step toward third and throw side-armed across his body. This delivery was especially tough on right-handed batters as pitches seemed to break over the plate at the last instant, barely missing batter's heads.
During his prime, Salmon won between 15 and 20 games per season, threw a no-hitter, and beat some of the best pitchers in the game, including Satchel Paige (who left the Barons after the 1930 season), Sam Streeter and Bullet Joe Rogan.
Negro Leaguer Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe listed Salmon on his all-time all-star team's pitching staff, along with Satchel Paige, Max Manning, Sug Cornelius, Hilton Smith, Ray Brown, Sam Streeter, Willie Foster, Ted Trent and Harry Glass. "That's 10," remarked Radcliffe. "We don't need 12 like the big leagues 'cause these boys can pitch!"
Salmon's list of the toughest hitters he faced included Dobie Moore, Pete Hill, Cristobel Torriente and Turkey Stearnes.
Salmon spent his last few seasons with the Homestead Grays, joining future Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Ray Brown and Smokey Joe Williams.
Salmon was one of the top hitting pitchers of his era, often pinch-hitting or playing outfield on days he didn't pitch, and called his game-winning pinch-hit single to beat Streeter in a 1920 game one of his biggest baseball thrills.
Salmon worked in the coal mines every winter until the late 1920s, then played winter ball in Cuba and Puerto Rico until he retired from baseball after the '35 season.
During the winter of 1929-'30, Salmon played on the championship Cuban team, Cienfuegos, that went 32-19. The team included pitchers Lefty Williams, Connie Rector and Sam Streeter, catcher Frank Duncan, shortstop Willie Wells, third baseman Newt Joseph, and outfielders Chaney White and Cool Papa Bell.
After he retired from baseball, Salmon worked as a cab driver in Pittsburgh. He died in 1983 at the ripe age of 88.
The 1929-30 Cuban Winter League Champions, Cienfuegos featuring Harry Salmon (top row, far left), Willie Wells (top row, fourth from left), Frank Duncan (top row, far right), and Cool Papa Bell (bottom row, far right).