02/14/06 10:00 AM ET
'Cannonball' Redding was one of a kind
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
"Dick was so good that his fellow Georgian, Ty Cobb, reportedly refused to hit against him in batting practice. No wonder. Legend has it that Dick once struck out Babe Ruth three times on nine pitches," wrote author John B. Holway in his book, "Blackball Stars: Negro League Pioneers."Relying mostly on his heat, Redding won 17 consecutive games in 1911 while pitching for the barnstorming Philadelphia Giants. They had picked up Redding that season from the Atlanta Depins, a semipro team. In 1912, he joined the New York Lincoln Giants, a team that had a loyal following and drew thousands to its home games at Olympic Park on 136th Street and Fifth Avenue in Harlem. With Redding pitching, those Lincoln Giants fans rarely left the ballpark disappointed, as they saw Redding dispatch opposing hitters with ease. The 1913 edition of the Lincoln Giants, bolstered by a rotation that included Redding and Smokey Joe Williams, finished with a 108-12 record. Lincoln Giants owner Jess McMahon declared the team, which included Hall-of-Fame shortstop John Henry Lloyd, second baseman Grant "Homer Run" Johnson, third baseman Bill Francis and outfielder Spot Poles, to be the best anywhere, regardless of league. Few could say McMahon was wrong. Even fewer could say that Redding wasn't a star of stars. In 1915, he ran off his streak of 20 wins, a streak that included wins in barnstorming games against Major Leaguers. Yet a great as McMahon's Lincoln Giants were with Redding, they might not have been the best team that Redding pitched to great heights. In 1917, he joined Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants, a team that included Lloyd, second baseman Bingo DeMoss, outfielder Pete Hill and catcher Bruce Petway. Redding pitched for the American Giants until he left for France to join a segregated combat unit during World War I. At the time, Redding was in the prime of his career. Two years later, he returned to the United States to manage, pitch and play outfield for the Bacharach Giants. In 1923 he joined the Brooklyn Royal Giants, for whom he managed and pitched for the rest of his career. As a manager, Redding acquired and helped develop future stars such as Gene Benson and future Hall of Famer Buck Leonard, referred to as the "Black Lou Gehrig." But managing wasn't what brought Redding his fame. His fastball did that, and he might well be on the verge now of riding the pitch into Cooperstown, Negro Leagues historian Lawrence Hogan said. In his book, "Shades of Glory," Hogan compared Redding to Tom Seaver and quoted Negro League star Ben Taylor, himself a candidate for Cooperstown, as saying this about Redding, "From 1911, when he broke into fast company ... he used nothing but his 'smoke ball.' And it was impossible to hit it. I know, because I have tried."
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com staffer Brian Wilson contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.