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Ex-pitcher brings Negro League exhibit -- and some controversy -- to town this week

Dennis "Bose" Biddle
Dennis "Bose" Biddle

Dennis "Bose" Biddle, who brings his exhibit of Negro Leagues memorabilia to the Mall of America Thursday through Saturday, tells wonderful stories.

Biddle, 73, bills himself as the youngest surviving Negro Leagues player. He said he signed with the Chicago American Giants as a 17-year-old out of high school in 1953, and has a dated copy of the contract to prove it.

A pitcher, Biddle said he earned the wordy nickname "The Man Who Beat the Man Who Beat the Man" for a victory his first season over Lefty McKinnis, one of the few pitchers who ever defeated the legendary Satchel Paige.

So why did Biddle, a retired social worker who lives in suburban Milwaukee, call himself "the most hated player to play in the Negro Leagues" in a telephone interview with MinnPost this week? 

Some historians, surviving players question his credentials
Because some Negro Leagues historians and surviving players question whether Biddle played in the Negro Leagues at all.

At issue is when the Chicago American Giants, one of the legendary franchises in Negro Leagues baseball, went out of business.

In a 2006 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reporter Don Walker found a former Birmingham Black Barons player named Carl Long who said he homered off Biddle when he pitched for the Giants in 1953. But Walker also found three Negro League veterans who claimed the Giants did not exist at that time.

Todd Bolton has researched Negro Leagues baseball for 30 years as a member of the Society of American Baseball Research's Negro Leagues Committee. In the course of its research, the committee examined standings and dispatches in the black press, including newspapers such as the Chicago Defender.

According to Bolton, the Giants vanished from the Negro American League standings after 1952, the season before Biddle said he joined the team. The Negro National League had folded several years before, so the NAL was the only one left, Bolton said. His research matched the recollection of a former Giants player named Al Spearman, who two years ago told the Journal Sentinel that the Giants "dissolved" in 1952. So technically, Biddle probably never was a Negro Leaguer.

However, Bolton said Biddle's contract — which Biddle reprinted in his book, "Secrets of the Negro Baseball League" — could be legit.

Final years of Negro League teams not always clear
At the time, Bolton said, barnstorming outfits often co-opted the names of defunct Negro League teams like the Newark Eagles or the Baltimore Black Sox. "There could have been a team called the American Giants that had nothing to do with the Negro Leagues," Bolton said in a telephone interview from his home in Maryland.

In our interview, Biddle suggested the Giants were such a barnstorming team when he played for them.

In addressing the doubts about his authenticity, Biddle said others have tried to discredit him out of jealousy, because the organizations he founded — Yesterday's Negro Leagues Baseball Players Foundation and Yesterday's Negro Leagues Baseball Players LLC — are the only ones truly interested in assisting former players. (Neither has raised much money for the task, according to published reports.)

Unfortunately for Biddle, some players who might have clarified things have passed away — men like Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, who Biddle said managed him with the Giants; James "Cool Papa" Bell, who Biddle said mentored him; and Buck O'Neil, who Biddle claims he once struck out in his biography on his organization's website.

Dr. Raymond Doswell, the curator and education director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, told the Journal Sentinel two years ago that museum researchers could not confirm Biddle's connection to the Giants. Doswell did not respond to a voicemail message. 

"The new people down there don't know," Biddle said of the museum's staff. "They just go by what people told them."

Additionally, Biddle claimed he went to spring training with the Chicago Cubs in 1955, but broke his ankle in two places sliding into third on the first day of camp. This is a slightly different version of a story he told the Milwaukee Journal in 1995, in which he was quoted saying the injury happened to his leg in a game in Racine, Wis., before the Cubs could purchase his contract. 

A Mall of America spokesperson was unaware of the doubts about Biddle when contacted by MinnPost this week. Mall officials declined to speak to MinnPost, but a spokesperson said the exhibit would go on as scheduled. Biddle hoped to have with him James (Red) Moore, a star Negro Leagues first baseman from the 1930s and '40s. But Biddle said Moore was ill and might not make the trip from his home in Atlanta. 

Biddle says his job is to keep alive "the true history" of the Negro Leagues, especially from 1950 on, when national focus shifted to black stars playing in the recently integrated major leagues. The last of the Negro Leagues vanished in the late 1950s.  

"The history is what's being destroyed," he said. "They don't know when the leagues ended. That history didn't end."

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