"Call me bill 'ready' cash"
most events recorded in history are more remarkable than important, like eclipses of the sun and moon, by which all are attracted, but whose effects no one takes the trouble to calculate.
— henry david thoreau
Man, I don’t know what got into Larry Doby’s head, but he was hauling around third base like nobody’s business--head down, dirt flying behind him.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Ruppert Stadium, Newark, New Jersey. May 5, 1946. Opening day for the Negro Leagues. Bottom of the sixth. Two outs. The Philadelphia Stars, my team, was in a tough one against the Newark Eagles, down one to nothing, and getting screwed by the umps. The Eagles’ eight thousand fans were excited as all get out.
And here’s Larry Doby, one of the best ever to play baseball, trying to score from second on a slow ground out. I mean, what was he thinking? Most players with good sense would’ve held at third. But Doby wasn’t most players. The only thing standing between him and home plate glory was little old me, Bill “Ready” Cash.
I whipped off my catcher’s mask, snagged the relay throw from first baseman “Doc” Dennis and went up the third-base line. Doby, chugging like a freight train, dove and hit the dirt on all fours, sliding head first for the plate. I hit the dirt on all fours, too. And made the tag.
Home plate was four feet behind me.
“Safe!” the umpire screamed.
“Whaaaatt?!” I yelled. Oh, I was mad, I tell you. And when I shot my arms up in the air in protest, my gloved hand smacked the umpire, who was white, under his chin, knocking him to the ground.
Things got crazy after that.
The play nearly caused a riot right there on the field. My teammates came from everywhere to lay the umpire out. One of them kicked him in the butt while he was still on the ground. Fans jumped out of the stands and onto the field. Cops were called to restore order. It took thirty minutes for the dust to settle. And I got kicked out of the game.
The call was bad, just plain bad. A photograph of the play taken by the New York Amsterdam News backed me up, but that didn’t make no difference to the league office. I got fined twenty-five dollars and suspended for three games.
And to this day, some people think the reason I didn’t make it to the majors was because I smacked a white umpire. Shoot, as bad as that call was, I should’ve stomped him.
Look, I’m not a household name, OK? Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neil, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Monte Irvin--most of these guys were Negro League ballplayers. But there were lots of Negro League ballplayers like me, excellent athletes who didn’t have Josh’s power—man, could he crush a baseball—but who were the league’s backbone.
We didn’t get fame or notoriety like Josh, Satchel and them, but we were important. In black neighborhoods desperate for hope, we were heroes.
I’m ninety-one now and don’t move as fast as I used to. But in my prime? Shoot, I was six-foot, one-and-one-half-inch, weighed 195 pounds and could fire a ball to second base faster than a bullet from a .30-30 hunting rifle. Well, at least that’s what some guys said--and I’m not going to argue to that.
I spent seventeen years playing semi-pro ball, seven in the Negro Leagues, and I’ve got the injuries to prove it. Check out the fingers on my right hand. They’re all crooked from getting smacked by foul balls and nicked by bad pitches. I’ve broke two fingers, a thumb, and a leg.
Like I said, I played some ball.
I was picked to play in the famous East-West Game—that’s what we called the Negro League all-star games—back in ’48 and ’49. I played in six countries, set records in a couple of leagues, threw out hundreds of base runners, including the legendary “Cool Papa” Bell. I might not have been flashy, but I sure was steady. I was always ready to play ball.
So you’re probably wondering if I was so good, why didn’t I make it to the majors? Well, the way I look at it, I was a black man with a lot of pride, a lot of talent, but little patience for liars. More on that later.
My family was among the tens of thousands of blacks that left the South in the early 1900s for the promise of jobs up north. I watched America stumble, recover and grow into the strongest nation in the world. But you know something; I got more respect in countries like Cuba and Mexico than in my own.
I’ve seen and done a lot in my time on God’s green earth. And I thank Him for this chance to share my experiences. Pull up a chair and get comfortable. Man, I do have some stories to tell you.