Leaguer of the Month
Born: November 9, 1909 in Montgomery, Alabama
Died: date unknown
Ht:5'-9", Wt: 165
Batted both and threw right
Teams: Homestead Grays, Memphis Red Sox, Detroit Stars, Birmingham
Black Barons, Newark Eagles, Toledo Crawfords, New York Cubans
to former Homestead Grays player Maurice Peatros, Grays owner
Cum Posey loved to sign large players. "They
had to be at least six feet tall or 200 pounds," explained Peatros. "Posey
thought of us like the New York Yankees. When we got off the
bus, we looked like the Los Angeles Rams football
team. We were big hulking monsters. And people would come
out early just to watch us take batting practice."
During the Grays' sensational run of nine straight Negro National
League pennants (1937-45), there was one notable exception
to this unwritten rule: Jerry Benjamin.
was neither tall, nor heavy, standing 5'-9" and weighing
160 pounds soaking wet by the end of each hectic season. Benjamin,
though, could flat-out play
fast and sure-handed was Benjamin as a centerfielder, that
when the Grays picked up Cool Papa Bell in 1943, the future
Hall of Famer Bell played left field, deferring to the younger
may not have been as fast as "Cool" in his prime, but he could
run with anyone in the Negro Leagues of the 40s, and had a
strong and accurate arm.
Benjamin grew up in the hotbed of baseball in the early 1900s:
Alabama (Montgomery to be exact). Almost 300 Major Leaguers
have hailed from Alabama, and some of the greatest names in
Negro League history as well, including Satchel Paige, Willie
Mays, Hank Aaron, Double Duty Radcliffe and Sam Bankhead. It's
interesting to note that the greatest Major Leaguer from Benjamin's
hometown of Montgomery was speedy centerfielder Willie Wilson
who starred in the 1970s and 80s.
Benjamin started his Negro League career with the Birmingham
Black Barons in 1934, then was traded to the Grays
batted leadoff or second on the great Grays teams of the late
30s and 40s, and was always among the league's best percentage
hitters and base stealers. In '43 he flirted with the coveted
.400 mark, finishing in the low .390s.
In 1939, Benjamin was traded to the Newark Eagles straight
up for future Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge, but he refused to
report to the Eagles, and he joined the Toledo Crawfords, managed
by Oscar Charleston, under the assumed name of "Christopher."
1940, Benjamin was back with the Grays and stayed with the
team until he was traded to the New York Cubans in '47 for
In 1943, the Grays beat the Birmingham Black Barons in the
Negro League World Series, and Benjamin was named to Cum Posey's
postseason All-America team (basically a post season honor;
the team played no actual games together) along with teammates
Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Howard Easterling.
Grays dominated the Negro National League for a decade, and
only the '45 Cleveland Buckeyes seemed to end their dynasty
when they swept the once powerful Grays in that year's Negro
League World Series.
Famous Negro League beat writer Sam Lacy wrote in his column
that the Grays were long in the tooth, and only the sensational
play by Benjamin had kept them a top team.
Once broke ankle tripping over wires of temporary
1948, Benjamin became player-manager of the Norfork-Newport
New Royals of the Negro American Association (basically a black
Integration came too late for Benjamin, as he was already 38
during Jackie Robinson's rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
It was rumored for many years, though, that the Washington
Senators had a great respect for Benjamin and would have signed
him if the team's owner, Clark Griffith, had allowed it.
Despite sharing their stadium with the greatest franchise in
the Negro National League, the Senators
didn't integrate until 1954. Only the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies
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