Fats Jenkins

Fats Jenkins can do more with a basketball and a baseball than the men who invented or perfected the game.”
-- Kansas City Call Newspaper

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Negro Leaguer of the Month

December, 2010

Clarence “Fats” Jenkins

Positions: Outfield
Bats: Left, Throws: Left
Height: 5' 7 ", Weight: 175 lb.
Born: Jan. 10, 1898 in New York City
Died: Dec. 6, 1968 in Philadelphia, PA
Career: 1920-1940

Teams: New York Lincoln Giants, Atlantic City Bacharachs, Harrisburg Giants, Hilldale Daisies, Baltimore Black Sox, New York Harlem Stars, Pittsburgh Crawfords, New York Black Yankees, Brooklyn Eagles, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Toledo Crawfords, Philadelphia Stars.

Don’t let the nickname fool you, Fats Jenkins may have been the second fastest--no one as faster than Cool Papa Bell--player in Negro League history. His nickname came because he resembled his brother, who was on the heavy side.

Jenkins was born in New York City, and he became a fantastic baseball and basketball player, good enough to play professional for decades in both sports.

After several seasons with a top youth basketball team, Jenkins played in the early 1920s with the “Loendi Big Five,” coached my future Homestead Grays’ owner Cum Posey. Jenkins, a fine point guard, then moved to the famous New York Renaissance Five who were crowned the “Colored World Champions” in 1925, and winner of more than 80 games in a row at one point with Jenkins as captain.

As for his baseball playing, Jenkins is most associated with the New York Black Yankees, but he played with many teams, including the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords, one of the greatest teams ever assembled, featuring Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, Jimmie Crutchfield and Double Duty Radcliffe.

Jenkins started his Negro League career with the New York Lincoln Giants in 1920 featuring Hall of Famer Smokey Joe Williams. After the 1923 season, Jenkins signed with the Harrisburg Giants where he blossomed, batting over .320 in league games. It was with Harrisburg that Jenkins was part of what many believe is the greatest outfield in Negro League history: Oscar Charleston in center, Jenkins in left and Rap Dixon in right. All three were .300 hitters (Charleston was a .400 hitter!), all could cover lots of ground in the field, and all could throw!

Jenkins was a fleet-footed outfielder, who used his great speed to catch everything in sight, as well as leg out his share of base hits.

Jenkins, a left-handed slap hitter similar to Lou Brock, usually batted in the lead-off spot in the order, was an expert bunter, great base-stealer, and consistently batted between .300 and .350.

Jenkins stayed with Harrisburg through '27, then played seasons with the Atlantic City Bacharachs and Philadelphia Hilldales. In '30 he had a 26-game hitting streak.

The short and muscular Jenkins was not a home run hitter, usually hitting a handful per year, but was usually among the league leaders in stolen bases, averaging 30-40 per season in his prime.

In '31, Jenkins signed with the New York Black Yankees, and he stayed with them for most of the next eight seasons. The Black Yankees paid players a percentage of their gate receipts, which, with their schedule of 200+ games per season made them one of the best-paying teams in black baseball: Jenkins' teammates during his Black Yankees tenure included such Negro League legends as Barney Brown, Double Duty Radcliffe, John Beckwith, George Scales, Ted Trent, Bill Yancey, Jake Stephens and Clint Thomas.

Jenkins played in the inaugural East-West Game in 1933, going 0 for 2, and in the ’35 game, going 0 for 5.

Jenkins finished his Negro League career with the Philadelphia Stars in 1940. After retiring from baseball with a lifetime average over .330, Jenkins started his own business and worked part-time as a boxing referee. Jenkins was talented outside of sports: he had a great singing voice and could play the piano.