2023 Frank Grant Meriden Baseball Story GHTBL

Frank Grant: the Hall of Fame Trailblazer who Began his Pro Career in Meriden

The year was 1886. Meriden was a thriving industrial city steeped in two things: cutlery manufacturing and base ball. Like most urban settings in America, The Silver City was captivated by the new National Game. Meriden enthusiasts formed a professional club – the Silverites of the Eastern League. The club’s best player was Ulysses Franklin Grant of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Frank Grant dominated on the diamond and as the first black player to sign with a minor league team in Connecticut, his presence was polarizing.

1886 Jun 10 Base Ball Hartfords vs. Meriden
Meriden defeats Hartford 8-3, June 10, 1886.

The Eastern League featured two other African-American players in 1886 – George Stovey with Jersey City and Moses Fleetwood Walker with Waterbury. Like Stovey and Walker, Grant previously competed for all-black clubs. His first foray into organized (white) baseball was with Meriden. He debuted on April 14, 1886, in an exhibition at South Meriden’s Hanover Park where he helped to demolish Trinity College, 22-0.

After the game The Sporting Life published an article stating, “Grant is our young colored player and his home run hit was the longest ever made on our [Meriden] grounds.” The same publication later attested, “Grant was again called to the box and proved that he can play any position in good shape.”

1887 Buffalo Bisons Frank Grant
Frank Grant (sitting second to right), Buffalo Bisons, 1887.

Frank Grant appeared in 44 games for Meriden at second base and pitcher. His .316 batting average, ranked as the team’s best and their only everyday player to bat above .277. Another reporter from The Sporting Life noted, “The Meridens seem to contain some really good material, but lack the proper coaching.” In addition to thin managerial support, Meriden was a small market team compared to the rest of the Eastern League.

The 1886 Meriden’s were financially weak. Shareholders of the Meriden Base Ball Association complained about their schedule at the beginning of the season, because the team had no weekend dates and only seven home games during the month of May. This negatively affected ticket sales early in the season. The team eventually disbanded on July 13, 1886, toting a miserable 12-34 record. As a result, Frank Grant left Meriden with two teammates, Steve Dunn and Jack Remsen, to join the Buffalo Bisons of the International League.

1888 Frank Grant Baseball Player Buffalo
Frank Grant, Second Baseman, Buffalo, 1888.

Grant was happy to join a more wealthier club. One Hartford Courant reporter stated, “Grant gets double the pay in Buffalo he received in Meriden.” However, in Buffalo his race became more of a controversy than it was in Meriden. Several news outlets alluded to his ethnicity. According to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper, “The Spaniard is what Grant, the colored player of the Buffalos, is called.” The Syracuse Evening Herald announced, “Manager [John] Chapman of Buffalo calls Grant, his colored second baseman, an ‘Italian.’”

Some sportswriters nicknamed Grant “The Black Dunlap,” as a reference to Fred Dunlap, a top-fielding second basemen of the 1880’s. In three seasons with Buffalo, Grant welcomed loud cheers but he also dealt with numerous racial taunts and threats. Players and officials by International League tried to ban black players. Despite the animus against him, Grant hit .353 and led the league with 11 home runs and 49 extra-base hits in 1887. He hit for the cycle and stole home twice.

1895 Aug 28 Cuban Giants Frank Grant Poem Franklin Repository Newspaper
Frank Grant featured in The Franklin Repository, August 28, 1895.

Grant’s departure from the International League was attributed to racial bigotry. He faced discrimination from his opponents and his own teammates. He wore wooden shin guards to protect himself from the cleats of sliding baserunners. Pitchers threw at him intentionally on a few occasions. Teammates threatened to strike if he continued to play, and some refused to pose with him in photographs. When Grant asked for the same salary as the previous year ($250 per month), Buffalo denied his request and he went elsewhere.

1896 Cuban Giants Frank Grant
Frank Grant (seated middle, second from right) and the Cuban Giants, 1896.

By 1891, Grant had become the highest paid member of the New York Gorhams – one of the best black teams of all-time. The Gorehams were granted into the Connecticut League as the club representing the Town of Ansonia. When his team traveled to Cape May, New Jersey, in mid-August, they won a game with United States President Benjamin Harrison in attendance. Harrison was the only sitting President to witness a black club in action during the era of segregated baseball.

1902 Philadelphia Giants Frank Grant Sitting Second From Left
Frank Grant (sitting second from left) with the Philadelphia Giants, 1902.

Grant played professionally for another sixteen years. He starred for the Cuban Giants, Page Fence Giants, New York Gorhams, Cuban X-Giants, Philadelphia Giants and Brooklyn Royal Giants. His last known games were with Brooklyn in 1907. He retired from the game at 42 years old after a long and successful career. The 1910 United States Census listed Frank Grant’s occupation as “baseball player” – even though his diamond days had already ended.

1904 Philadelphia Giants Champions Frank Grant
Frank Grant (sitting, front and center) and the Philadelphia Giants Champions, 1904.

After baseball, Grant worked as a waiter for a catering company in New York City. He died on May 27, 1937, at age 71. He was buried in East Ridgelawn Cemetery in Clifton, New Jersey, and his grave was unmarked until 2011. Frank Grant was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, along with class from the Negro Leagues.

Frank Grant Grave Marker Baseball Player
Frank Grant gravestone, Clifton, New Jersey.

Frank Grant…in those days, was the baseball marvel. His playing was a revelation to his fellow teammates, as well as the spectators. In hitting he ranked with the best and his fielding bordered on the impossible. Grant was a born ballplayer.”

Sol White (a National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee and a teammate of Frank Grant)
National Baseball Hall of Fame Grant Frank Plaque
Frank Grant’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.
Sources

1. Frank Grant by Brian McKenna
2. Safe at Home by John Thorn
3. Frank Grant player page on Baseball-Reference.com
4. Agate Type: Benjamin Harrison Sees the Big Gorham’s
5. National Baseball Hall of Fame: About Frank Grant

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