Big Bob Griffith

"The West was helpless against the pitching of burly Bob Griffith, Philadelphia righthander who started on the mound for the East."
--Chicago Defender, 11/20/49
Quoted from "Black Baseball's National Showcase,"
by Larry Lester

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Kyle McNary: Double Duty Radcliffe: 36 Years of Pitching & Catching in Negro Leagues Baseball

Kyle McNary: 1935 Negro League East-West Game

Negro Leaguer of the Month

November, 2009

Big Bob Griffith
Born: Oct. 1, 1913 in Liberty, TN
Died: Nov. 8, 1977 in Indianapolis, IN
Ht:6'-5", Wt: 230
Batted and threw right
Position: pitcher
Playing Years: 1932-1953

Teams: Smithville Tigers, Nashville Elite Giants, Columbus Elite Giants, Washington Elite Giants, Baltimore Elite Giants, New York Black Yankees, Kansas City Monarchs, Philadelphia Stars, Indianapolis Clowns, Ciudad Trujillo Dragones, Mexico, Brandon Greys,

Like most pitchers of the 1930s, Big Bob Griffith played in the shadow of the great Satchel Paige, but Griffith was a star in his own right, a multiple East-West All-Star, and was capable of eye-popping performances.

In the early 1930s, Griffith was a student athlete at Tennessee State University and a semipro pitcher with the Smithville Tigers when he was signed by the Negro Leagues' Nashville Elite (pronounced "eee-lite") Giants. He stayed with the Elite Giants as they moved to Columbus, Washington DC, and finally Baltimore. It was with Baltimore that Griffith achieved star status.

Griffith grew to six-foot-five, and was well over 200 pounds in his prime, had a blistering fastball, and knew how to throw the devastating (and illegal) emery ball.

Griffith pitched in his first East-West game in 1935, representing Columbus, and allowed four runs, three earned, in two innings against the East wrecking crew of Martin Dihigo, Jud Wilson, Biz Mackey and Ray Dandridge, all Hall of Famers. The '35 game was one of the best in East-West history, and a re-creation of this game is available as an MP3 download by clicking here!

In 1936, a Negro League All-Star team was formed by manager Candy Jim Taylor to compete in the Denver Post Semipro Tournament. The roster chosen included Griffith, Satchel Paige, Sam Streeter, Ray Brown, Jack Marshall, Vic Harris, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Sammy T. Hughes, Double Duty Radcliffe and Chester Williams. Radcliffe was the only player to turn down the offer as he was offered more money to play in Mexico.

The Negro Leaguers, nicknamed "the Chocolate Whizbangs" by the Denver Post newspaper, made mincemeat of the competition, with Griffith, Paige and Gibson leading the way. A short synopsis of the action:

Game 1: Griffith 11-0 win, 16 strikeouts
Game 2: Paige 7-2 win
Game 3: Griffith 13-0 win, 3-hitter, Gibson three hits and homer
Game 4: Paige 12-1 win, 6-hitter, Gibson homer
Game 5: Griffith 10-2 win, 5-hitter, Gibson homer
Game 6: Paige 7-0 win, 18 strikeouts, Gibson two hits

In 1937, Griffith and Paige again joined forces, this time with the Ciudad Trujillo Dragons of the Dominican Republic league. The Dragons had hired many Negro Leaguers in order to help President Rafael Trujillo win the baseball league, and help him politically. Griffith won two of the three decisions he had in the last weeks of the season, and the Dragons won the championship thanks to a grand slam homer by Negro League great Sam Bankhead in the title game.

In 1948, Griffith pitched in his second East-West Game, representing the New York Black Yankees, and he allowed one run on three hits in two innings of work. In '49 Griffith started the East-West classic for the Philadelphia Stars, throwing three shutout innings, rapping a single in his one at bat, and picking up the win.

In 1953, when the Negro Leagues floundered, Griffith played for the Brandon Greys of the Manitoba-Dakota league, fashioning an 8-6 mound record, while batting .347.

Griffith couldn't get baseball out of his system, and pitched semipro ball into his 50s. He died at age 64 not long after a terrible fall in his home.