Jerry Benjamin

"Jerry Benjamin is the best outfielder in baseball."
--Negro League beat writer Sam Lacy, 1946
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Negro Leaguer of the Month
September, 2005

Jerry Benjamin

Born: November 9, 1909 in Montgomery, Alabama

Died: date unknown
Ht:5'-9", Wt: 165
Batted both and threw right
Position: centerfield
Years: 1932-1948
Teams: Homestead Grays, Memphis Red Sox, Detroit Stars, Birmingham Black Barons, Newark Eagles, Toledo Crawfords, New York Cubans

According 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.

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 ball!

So 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 Benjamin.

Benjamin 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

Benjamin 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."

In 1940, Benjamin was back with the Grays and stayed with the team until he was traded to the New York Cubans in '47 for Tom Parker.

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.

The 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 lights.

In 1948, Benjamin became player-manager of the Norfork-Newport New Royals of the Negro American Association (basically a black Minor League).

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.

Note: 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 and Tigers took longer to integrate.

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