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Negro Leaguer of the Month
Teams: Wilson Stock Yards (Industrial League, Chicago ), Chicago American Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, Pipestone (Semipro, Minnesota ), Carman Cardinals (MaDak), Winnipeg Elmwood Giants (Man-Dak), Lewiston Broncs (Minors), Decatur Commodores (Minors), Danville Dans (Minors), Torreon (Mexico), Harlem Globetrotters, Satchel Paige All-Stars, Hankyu Braves (Japan), Brookings Jackrabbits (Semipro, South Dakota), Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Minors), Stockton Ports (Minors), Houston Buffaloes (Minors)
Al Spearman was one of the best pitchers in the waning days of the Negro Leagues, playing briefly with the Chicago American Giants and Kansas City Monarchs, before having a fantastic Minor League career.
Spearman grew up in Chicago and played in the strong semi-pro industrial leagues before signing with the Chicago American Giants in 1949 at age 22; Spearman also spent part of '49 with the Kansas City Monarchs as an outfielder before finishing the season playing semipro ball in Pipestone, Minnesota.
Spearman threw side-armed, much like a right-handed version of Major Leaguer Ewell Blackwell of the 1940s and 50s, and he coaxed batters to hit ground ball after ground ball. Spearman did not strike out nor walk a lot of batters, but “pitched to contact,” to use today's vernacular.
1951, Spearman, 22, started the season with the Chicago American Giants under manager Double Duty Radcliffe before jumping to the Carmen Cardinals of the Manitoba-Dakota League, a top semipro league featuring ex-Negro League, Major League, Minor League and college stars. Spearman was 5-5 on the mound in the regular season and threw a complete game win in a $600 Virden tournament over Yorkton, 17-9; he also batted .263 on the season. His teammates included Negro Leaguers Andy Anderson, Bob Johnson, Earl Bumpus, Lillard Cobb, Joe Greene, Gentry Jessup, Herb Souell and Burnell Longest.
The Carmen pitching staff of Spearman, Bumpus, Jessup, Anderson and Fred Drenzel kept the Cardinals competitive all year, and they made the playoffs, but lost a hard-fought seven-game series against the Brandon Greys in the semi-finals. Spearman's best game of the year was a 14-inning complete game win over Negro League star Gread “Lefty” McGinnis, 3-2, in July.
In '52, Spearman played with the Winnipeg Elmwood Giants under manager/catcher/pitcher Double Duty Radcliffe, joining Negro League stars Lester Lockett, Bubber Hyde, Lou Louden, Dan Wilson, Jesse Douglas and Othello Strong.
Spearman struggled in the regular season with a 1-3 mark, his only win coming against his old Carmen teammates, but, again, Spearman came up big in tournament play, winning the final game of the $3000 Brandon Tournament, beating his old Carmen team, 4-3, allowing only six hits, all singles; the key blow of the game was a booming triple by Lockett.
In 1952, the 20-year-old Spearman was signed by the Chicago White Sox and assigned to the Class A Lewiston Broncs of the Western International League where he split two decisions in limited time. In '53, Spearman was farmed out to the Danville Dans in the Class D Mississippi-Ohio League where he again went 1-1. In '54, Spearman left Organized Baseball and played with Satchel Paige's All-Stars, a traveling team, and in '55 he went to Japan to play with the Hankyu Braves, one of only four American in the league. His record was 9-8 with a 2.55 ERA.
In '56, Spearman re-entered Organized Ball with the Stockton Ports and went 18-3 and also batted .277 with a homer. In '57, Spearman had another great year, going 17-11 with Stockton and the Colorado Sky Sox and batted .280. In '58, Spearman had his first 20-win season, going 20-9 for Stockton, and he finished his Minor League career going 3-9 with the Triple-A Houston Buffaloes in '59. Spearman's overall Minor League record was 60-34 (a .638 win%) with a 2.84 ERA.
What made Spearman's Minor League career so incredible was not just his fine record, but his complete refusal to leave a game he started! In '56 he finished 18 of 19 starts, and in '57 he completed 17 of 19. He completed all 28 of his starts in '58 and his first three of '59 until, in May, he was taken out for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of a tie game, ending a steak of 33 consecutive complete games!
When his father passed away, Spearman retired from baseball at age 32, returned to his home in Chicago, and became a salesperson for 7-Up.