Rufus Ligon with the Ligon's Colored All-Stars
(Image courtesy of Marvin Ligon)
published on www.attheplate.com)
“I started my own team in about 1937 and made it a traveling team. Had it for 15 years. We played in many tournaments in Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas, everywhere. Even traveled to Mexico and Canada.”
George Ligon, owner of the Ligon's All-Stars
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©Copyright 2012, Kyle McNary, McNary Publishing
Negro Leaguer of the Month
Bats: Right, Throws: Left
Height: 5'- 11", Weight: 195 lbs.
Born: May 6, 1903 in Memphis, Tennessee?
Died: September 24, 1992 in Dunlay, Texas
Teams: Texas Black Spiders, Memphis Red Sox, Ligon’s Colored All-Stars
Rufus Ligon was a fine left-handed pitcher during his 25-year career with some famous, and not so famous, teams.
Ligon, a crafty lefty with a decent fastball and good curve, played semipro ball around Texas before he signed with the Texas Black Spiders in the late 1930s featuring Negro League star Neil Robinson, brother of Negro League catcher Frazier Robinson. After several years with teams that might be considered Minor League, Ligon pitched with the Memphis Red Sox in 1934 on a staff with Bill Harvey and Herman Howard, and later from 1944-46 when he was already in his 40s; he was player-manager for the Red Sox in ‘46.
His record in league games was mediocre, and the Red Sox already featured a young pitching staff with Verdell Mathis, Porter Moss and Chin Evans, so he joined his brother, George, on the road with the Ligon’s All-Stars (which had been formed in 1937) which also featured brother Marvin Ligon.
The All-Stars were based out of Brawley, California, but were on the road constantly and were one of the top gate attractions in the Minnesota, North Dakota and Canada. In a typical year, the All-Stars played more than 200 games, and Rufus could be counted on for about 20 wins per year. At the plate, Ligon wasn’t an automatic out, and usually batted above .200 and if the ball was thrown where he was swinging he occasionally hit one into the bleachers.
Over the years, the All-Stars featured such stalwarts as Fred Bankhead (brother of Sam and Dan Bankhead), pitcher Roy White and catcher Art Knowles, who often caught several innings in a rocking chair like the Negro Leagues’ Pepper Bassett.
In 1948, the All-Stars lent their star lefty pitcher, Johnny Johnson, to Regina for a tournament and he threw three complete games in two days to almost single-handedly win the top prize money.
Though Rufus was rumored to be over 50 years of age in 1949, he turned back the years in a big $1200 tournament in Nipawin tournament. In the opening round, Ligon locked horns with 19-year-old flamethrower Pete Polus of the Carrot River Loggers. Depite the 30 year age difference, Ligon came out on top, 2-0, allowing only five hits, and for good measure he knocked in both of his team's runs!
In 1950, Ligon brought his team to Canada to compete in the prestigious Indian Head Tournament which offered $2000 in prize money. More than 15,000 fans attended the two day tournament and the Ligon’s All-Stars won it all. In the final, the All-Stars beat the Wilcox Cardinals 13-0, but to get to the final they had to face Williston, North Dakota featuring former Major Leaguer Bert Shepard. Shepard was a top Minor League left-handed pitcher in the early 1940s, but during World War II he had his leg amputated after his fighter plane crashed in Germany. Shepard learned to pitch with an artificial leg and in 1945 he pitched 5-1/3 innings for the Washington Senators before playing several more years of Minor League and semipro ball. In the ’47 Indian Head Tourney, Shepard matched up against Ligon’s All-Stars and lost, 1-0!
Note: In 1949, Shepard went 5-6 and batted .229 with four homers for the Class B Waterbury Timers despite his artificial leg!
Ligon's All-Stars continued to tour Canada into the mid-1950s, and it's believed that Rufus played until he was close to 55.
Ligon eventually retired and died in 1992, several months short of his 90th birthday.