Baseball Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge, Richmond native
Brooks Smith has been rediscovering Richmond's sports history. Today, he recalls the career of baseball star Ray Dandridge.
Farrar: Brooks Smith has been rediscovering Richmond's sports history, and today Brooks, we're going to talk about a native Richmonder who is in the Baseball Hall of Fame but never got to play in the major leagues.
Smith: That's right, Ray Dandridge, a native Richmonder, born here in 1913, back when there were corn fields within the city limits, he played in 'em. And as the story goes, he would rake up the field and then find a tree branch for a bat, construct a make-shift ball out of twine and tape, and play with the boys up on Church Hill.
He attended what was then known as George Mason High School and then he played for several local amateur teams here in Richmond, including the Violets, All-Stars, Grays and Paramounts, before being discovered and turning pro for the Detroit Stars.
Farrar: Being an African-American, he was not allowed to play in the major leagues at that time or the major league organizations back in the segregation days, but he played professionally, as you said, in the Negro Leagues, later played in the Mexican League, I understand.
Smith: That's right, this is one of the tragedies of baseball history, here is somebody who is considered to be one of the best third basemen in baseball history, but obscured because he played and he peaked before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
Farrar: At that time when Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers was looking for a promising African-American athlete to break the color barrier in the major leagues, Ray Dandridge by that time, though he was a star in the Negro Leagues, was probably past his prime.
Smith: That's right. After he played in Mexico for 7 or 8 years, he actually came back in the late 40's when he was at the ripe old age of 36 or 37, he played for a Giants farm team in Minneapolis. Amazingly, at the age of 36, he was Rookie of the Year and at the age of 37 he was the league MVP and by all rights, should have been called up as the Giants were making a run on the pennant, but he was considered too old.
One of the interesting stories that comes along with Ray Dandridge is around that same time, he befriended and played ball with Willie Mayes, who was just coming up; of course, Mays was called up very quickly. Ray remarked later in life after he was officially recognized and inducted into the Hall of Fame, that he just wanted to play one game in the majors. He just wanted a cup of coffee and to get his foot in the door, but alas, he never got that chance.
Farrar: And he was inducted into the Hall of Fame after the Baseball Hall of Fame began to recognize the great players from the old Negro Leagues, and he was recognized for his great achievements as a professional ball player.
Smith: Yeah, what's interesting is he was apparently built in an unlikely manner for a superstar. He was short and bow-legged, in fact, his nickname was "Squat," and he had just an incredible glove, so he was a great defensive player. People remarked that a train was more likely to go through his legs than a baseball, and he was an incredible contact hitter. He batted well over 300 in his professional career; during the Negro League stint, he was up in the 350's, in Mexico he was in the 330's and even in those final years in the minor leagues, he was batting in the 310-320 range, so pretty remarkable guy.
When he made his acceptance speech in 1987, late in life, he said "Thanks for letting me smell the roses, but what took you so long?"
Farrar: Ray Dandridge, Richmond native and Hall-of-Famer. Thanks to Brooks Smith.