Goose Tatum


(©"Black Baseball in Detroit" by Larry Lester, Sammy J. Miller & Dick Clark)


“[The Clowns] had a fella who played first base with legs so long, he was a basketball player, Goose Tatum. Listen, the man was so limber he looked like he didn't have no joints. Goose Tatum would tickle you to death. He could hit. He played first base and he could hit that ball."
--Norman Lumpkin, Negro League outfielder


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©Harlem Globetrotters Basketball Club

 

Negro Leaguer of the Month
May, 2004


Reece "Goose" Tatum

Born: 05/03/1921 in Eldorado, Arkansas
Died: 01/18/1967
Ht:6'-4", Wt: 175
Batted right and threw right.
Position: first base
Years: 1937-1955
Teams:Louisville Black Colonels, Memphis Red Sox, Birmingham Black Barons, Indianapolis Clowns

Reece “Goose” Tatum was born on May 3, 1921 in Eldorado, Arkansas and the Louisvile Black Colonels was the first pro team that saw potential in the gangly youngster, signing him as an outfielder and first baseman.

A year later, Memphis Red Sox manager Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe saw Tatum and signed him for his team. One problem: Double Duty also had budding star Buck O'Neil playing first base. Radcliffe solved the problem by trading O'Neil, and Tatum, though not the player O'Neil became, was still a star in his own right.

Tatum was a solid hitter--if he could get his arms extended he hit the ball hard. Pitchers worked him inside and tied him up often.

It was as a first baseman, though, that Tatum made his greatest imprint on Negro League baseball. With his long arms and legs helping him stretch on close plays, and his instinct as a comedian, Tatum turned himself into one of the most talented and most entertaining first basemen in baseball. Tatum loved to "clown" during warmups, catching balls behind his back and joking with opponents.

Oh, yeah, you might know Tatum better as a star guard/forward for the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. Tatum's #50 was retired recently by the Globetrotters, and the entire Globetrotters team was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Tatum's Globetrotter days are a far cry from the standards of today's team; certainly he did not stay in luxurious hotels in Orlando or hotels in New York. In society today Tatum would not only be welcome to luxurious surrounding he'd be a star of the highest magnitude.

Tatum is credited by many as the inventor of the hook shot, was an outstanding ball handler and outside shooter, and was a crowd pleaser. Many times Tatum poured in 50 points or more in a game.

Still, baseball was Goose's first love, and after a stint in the Air Force during World War II, Goose returned to baseball every summer through the mid-1950s, mostly with the Birmingham Black Barons and the Indianapolis Clowns.

In 1947, Tatum played in the East-West All-Star game at Comiskey Park representing the Clowns, and singled twice in four at bats, helping his West club to a 5-2 win. Major League scouts approached Tatum after the game, but Tatum was content as a two-sport star and thought taking the road to the Majors as he approached 30 might be too hard.

Tatum became owner of Detroit Clowns baseball team in the late 1950s and played several games before hanging up his baseball cleats.


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