Dick Newberry

While initially doing research,  I found this information in the Town Ball book done by
Armand Peterson and Tom Tomashek.

At the time I was more focused on so-called “local players” that I knew played with and against my father.  Although I also included touching on players that played in Minnesota, Dick is a player that still has family in Minneapolis and surely deserves to be included in the Untold Stories of Minnesota Black Baseball. 

After reading this story, you’ll understand that he was surely denied an opportunity to play at a higher level.

“Dick Newberry’s story is similar to many African American players of his generation – he was too young to be noticed when the color line was broken in organized baseball is 1946 and 1947, and too old to be considered a prospect by the time he’d fully developed his baseball skills.

Photo courtesy of Newberry Family and Armand Peterson

Newberry was born in Alabama in 1926, but his family moved to Chicago when he was a youngster.  The slight young man did not play organized sports in high school. He had played sandlot, American Legion, and some semi-pro baseball, though and joined the Chicago American Giants of the Negro American League in 1947, where his brother Hank played.  Another brother, Jim, was a veteran pitcher in the Negro Leagues, having started with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1942.

Newberry played for the touring Colored House of David and other semipro teams for the next three years.  In 1951 he broke into organized baseball, signing with the Duluth Dukes of the Class C Northern League.  He stayed there four years, hitting .289, .307, .326 and .330 successively.  It’s curious why he never moved up in calls.  For example, his batting statistics in 1953 – .326, with 17 home runs and 93 RBIs – topped those of Fargo-Moorhead’s Roger Maris, .325, 9, and 80.  Yet Newberry was stuck with Duluth in 1954 while Maris moved up to the Class B Three-I League.

Perhaps age and size were the reasons; Maris was 19 and six feet tall at the time, while Newberry was 27 and five-foot-seven (to be generous).  It is understandable that scouts saw more potential in a younger player like Maris.  Race probably played a factor as well.  At the time, professional baseball teams had picked off most of the established stars from the Negro Leagues and were signing young black prospects for their minor league systems, but they weren’t very patient with older players like Newberry.  They had plenty of journeymen white players to fill their rosters.

While in Duluth, Newberry married a white woman he’d met in a lawyer office.  They began to spend the off seasons in Minneapolis, which was a more hospitable place for a mixed race couple.  After the 1954 season he decided to retire from organized baseball and become a full-time tailor, an occupation he’d been learning between baseball seasons.  He signed a contract to play with the Waseca-Owatonna Twins of the Southern Minny League and was delighted to find that he could earn more money there than he had with the Dukes, and could still hold down a regular job while doing it.

Newberry hit .320 in 1955 and returned to the Twins in 1956 and improved to .383 He was very popular with the local fans and received several gifts and awards during the season.  When the Twins folded, he was signed for 1957 by the Rochester Royals, and had a monster year.  His .420 average topped the modern league record .404 set by Jack Verby in 1948.  He also had 15 home runs and 49 RBIs in the 42 game schedule.

He stayed home in Minneapolis in 1958, as the era of semipro ball was coming to a close in Minnesota.  The Southern Minny dropped to Class A, and a four-team league, at that, drastically reducing the number of salaried positions.  Rochester, choosing to experiment with sponsorship of a team in the professional Class B Three-I League, withdrew from the Southern Minny.  Newberry played the next two years with Cozy Bar and Cassius’s Bar in the Park National League (Minneapolis City League) but then retired to devote his time to his job and family.

In the end, Newberry was like many other baseball nomads who found their way into Minnesota after giving up dreams of playing major-league baseball.  While sad, in a way, these are also success stories.  Baseball gave Newberry, like the others, an opportunity to find jobs and a new home while making some good money during the journey. “

The following information of the poster of the Ricwood Classic with Jimmy Newberry’s photo and the census reports were received from Joseph (Jeb) Stewart of Birmingham, Alabama after he called me to see if I had any additional information regardingJimmy Newberry for an article that he was writing.

Looking at the 1930 census from Wilcox County, lines 71-82, Will and Lula were the parents and they had 10 children.  Jimmie was child #6 and Richard was child #9.  Henry was reputed to play ball too.

By 1940, the family was in Birmingham. In fact this census shows they were there by 1935, lines 1-7.  Jimmie is listed as James and Richard is also identified.

Note the family resemblance in the photos of the brothers, Jimmy and Dick (Richard).