The year was 1886. Meriden was a thriving industrial center steeped in two things: cutlery manufacturing and base ball. The Silver City, like most urban settings in America, was captivated by the new National Game. Local enthusiasts formed a professional club called the Silverites and entered them into the Eastern League. Meriden’s best player was Ulysses Franklin Grant of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Frank Grant dominated on the diamond – though as the first black player to sign with a minor league team in Connecticut, his presence was polarizing.
Grant competed previously for all-black clubs, but his first foray in organized (white) baseball was with Meriden. He debuted in an exhibition on April 14, 1886, at South Meriden’s Hanover Park. Grant helped to demolish a Trinity College nine, 22-0. After the game The Sporting Life published: “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 that, “Grant was again called to the box and proved that he can play any position in good shape.”
He appeared in 44 games for Meriden at second base and pitcher. Grant’s .316 batting average, ranked him as the team’s best hitter. He was the only everyday player who batted over .277. Another reporter from The Sporting Life noted: “The Meridens seem to contain some really good material, but lack the proper coaching.” The Eastern League also featured two other African-American players in 1886 – George Stovey with Jersey City and Moses Fleetwood Walker with Waterbury.
Meriden was a small baseball market compared to the rest of the Eastern League, and they 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. Meriden 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.
Grant was happy to join a 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 an issue than it was in Meriden. 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.’”
Sportswriters nicknamed Grant “The Black Dunlap,” a reference to Fred Dunlap, a top-fielding second basemen of the 1880’s. In three seasons with Buffalo, Grant dealt with numerous racial taunts from fans. There were efforts by International League players and officials 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 also hit for the cycle and stole home twice.
Grant’s departure from the International League was attributed to racial bigotry. He faced discrimination from his own teammates and opponents alike. He wore wooden shin guards to protect himself from the cleats of sliding opponents. Pitchers threw at him intentionally. 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.
By 1891, Grant had become the highest paid member of the New York Gorhams – one of the best black clubs of all-time. The team was granted entry 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 defeated their opposition 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.
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 was 42 years old and nearing the culmination of a long and successful career. The 1910 United States Census listed Frank Grant’s occupation as “baseball player” – even though it had already come to end.
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…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)