Thursday, January 21, 2016

Price West Doesn't Know Who You Are Either

Price C. West Jr. passed away on New Years Day, he was a former Montgomery player. I didn't know him before this, and he likely didn't know who I am. But I learned we should know him if we are to truly know Montgomery's baseball story.

I know he died because lists recently deceased players and I often check to see if the players have any connection with the Southern League. A look at his BRef page tells us that Price Charles West Jr. was on two teams in Montgomery in the 1950s.

Born in 1934, no birthdate listed, Bref says West appeared in just 21 games in two seasons, 7 games in the first in 1954 and 14 more in 1956, even those could have taken place when the team had moved to Knoxville. He did not appear to hit well in his short stint on the roster. Those two seasons are all that is listed of his professional baseball career.

When looking into a Rebels player history, it can be a tough search, since records are sketchy and info lacking. Its easy to skip past players who only appear in a weeks worth of games. However 1954 and 1956 are very notable seasons for the Montgomery team, so further reading ensued, even though West was only in a handful of games.

Quite fortunately there is an obituary on Mr.West that helped establish a few important facts about Price West Jr.

1954 was the season Montgomery put an integrated team on the field for the first time.

George Handy
Price West was among those to wear a Rebels uniform that year and along with veteran Negro Leaguers Johnny "Piper" Davis & George Handy, helped erase the color line in Montgomery.

Price West Jr's 7 games in '54 are a lot more significant than the mere numbers imply.

The obituary is short but it tells us much that Bref doesnt, that Price was a Montgomery native, born in February 1934. It also tells us he was known as "Pie" and briefly describes his baseball past, shedding light on an important event in Montgomery that transcends the game.

Price West was integrating his own hometown team at just twenty years old, a prospect shortstop starting a bright career in 1954. He didn't play much but got noticed, he went from Montgomery Rebels straight to the big time - playing in Yankee Stadium for the New York Black Yankees of the Negro National League. And seeing the country on barnstorming tours, of course.


Price West considered his career highlight to be a home run hit off Satchel Paige, hard to argue with that. But it was hardly the only high point for the Montgomery slugger.

West played for the legendary N.Y Black Yankees, the equally legendary KC Monarchs and illustrious Detroit Stars in his Negro Leagues career. Even his military service in Korea featured his appearance at shortstop with the 24th Infantry Division team.

1955 Black Yankees, #21 Price West on far right
Price West is described as one of the top hitters for the Black Yankees in '55 before being sold back to Montgomery as an outfielder for 1956. Negro teams were in the business of dealing talent in the mid-1950s and Dick Lundy's Black Yankees sold a handful of stars that summer, obviously Price West was among the prospects being offered.

The Center for Negro League Baseball Research lists top individual season stats for each year, the 1958 leaders include Price West with Detroit. West was 4th in batting average at .298, his 37 RBI were third in the league.

His teams should be listed as:
1954 Montgomery
1955 NY Black Yankees
1956 Montgomery/Knoxville - Price obit names Knoxville
1957 Army 24th I.D.
1958 Detroit Stars (aka Detroit Clowns)
1959 Rochester Yankees
1960 KC Monarchs

After West played for the first integrated Montgomery Rebels team in 1954 he went to New York and was touted a prospect for one full season before being sold back to the Rebels in 1956.

Probably not...

The Montgomery team was in transition after the death of owner Hoke Vandigriff, essentially run out of town in favor of segregated D-League ball. Price Wests obit lists Knoxville as a team he played for, the Rebels moved from Montgomery to Knoxville in midsummer and likely welcomed Price West back after leaving Alabama.

Two years in the military for Korea took one season away from the pro career but West signed quickly with the famous Detroit Stars upon his return. The Rochester Yankees picked up the outfielder for 1959 and in 1960 Price plays for the legendary KC Monarchs.

Price West wound his career up early after 1960 - he met Shirley, leaving the Monarchs and baseball to find another slugger. Price West Jr. would start a family as well as several businesses, had his own tv show and once ran for mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Jim Williams said...

I have multiple articles concerning baseball played at Cramton Bowl in 1930s by my grandfather--Racehorse Durden. Let me know you would like copies. I enjoy your stuff.

Dr.Miraculous said...

I would love to see articles on the 1930s, its one of the eras I have had trouble finding info on! That would be great, feel free to email me drmiraculous at knology dot net or on twitter as @drmiraculous