Lefty Glover: Requiem for a Southpaw

 

The day after Christmas, 2020, I was sitting with my wife in her parents family room when I made the discovery that proved to be the beginning of the end of a mystery I had been trying to solve for more than three decades.

The story you are about to read is not your typical biography but the retelling of how I, with the help of several other researchers, pieced together the life and career of a little-known ballplayer named Lefty Glover. Instead of a linear timeline of his life, I’ll relay his story as I discovered it, starting with the middle, then the end, then the beginning. It may be a bit unorthodox, but to me it seems appropriate that I retell the story as it slowly revealed itself over the better part of thirty years.

It all goes back to Baltimore, 1988 or 1989. I was in art school back then, and one of my favorite things to do was wander the streets of the city when I wasn’t painting. In warm weather there was always a front stoop sale going on, and I was able to pick up many interesting things, particularly old Rhythm & Blues and Bebop records. But one afternoon, among the cardboard boxes of kitchen utensils and Roy Milton 78s, I found an old black and white press photo of a Baltimore Elite Giants player. I didn’t recognize the face, but I plunked down my 50 cents anyway and took it home.

Upon further inspection, the photo depicted a tall, slim man, possibly in his thirties, standing before a row of ballpark box seats. The warm afternoon sun danced over his worn wool uniform with “Elite Giants” in script across the chest. A bandage on his right forearm peaked out from beneath his undershirt sleeve. A penciled notation on the back identified the man as “Lefty Glover.” Little did I know that this junk sale find would start a research project that would last more than three decades.

Being the curious type, I wanted to know more about Lefty Glover, so I started in my library. As it was the 1980s, there weren’t many books on the Negro Leagues, but I found a short entry for my man in Robert Peterson’s Only the Ball Was White:

GLOVER, THOMAS (LEFTY)–1934-45–p, Birmingham Black Barons, Cleveland Red Sox, New Orleans Black Pelicans, Washington Elite Giants, Memphis Red Sox, Baltimore Elite Giants

With the dates of his career mapped out, I went to the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper archive at the library. From this, I was able to get a good idea of his career with the Elites. Lefty Glover was one of the players that followed the Elite Giants when they moved from Washington to Baltimore in 1938. At the time, the Elites had a pretty good pitching staff anchored by Bill Byrd, Pullman Porter and Schoolboy Griffith. Since the Negro Leagues played a short “official” season of 40-60 games, three good starters was above average. The rest of a Negro League team’s games were exhibitions against white semi-pros or other Black teams that did not count in the standings. For those games, Negro League clubs carried a couple of second-tier pitchers, and this is the role Lefty Glover filled.

That’s not to say he wasn’t good – he was. Newspaper stories described him as a speedball pitcher and curveball artist. For many of his games, I found box scores for a pitcher who recorded few strikeouts but many ground or fly outs, validating his mastery of a good curveball. The box scores also revealed that he typically ran out of steam around the seventh inning and sometimes had a problem with his control. The Elites apparently recognized Lefty’s weakness and often pitched him in the second game of doubleheaders, which at the time were seven inning affairs.

Because the Elites had Byrd, Porter and Griffith, Glover’s official Negro National League record is pretty skimpy; 6 wins and 6 losses for 1937-1939. Lefty’s non-league and exhibition games were not recorded.

1939 marked a major milestone in Lefty Glover’s career. That summer, the Elites finished the season with a record of 19-23, good enough to be one of the four teams invited to play for the Ruppert Memorial Trophy, a championship tournament played at New York’s Yankee Stadium and named after the Yankees’ recently deceased owner, Jacob Ruppert. The Elites wound up winning the Trophy, defeating the Homestead Grays, winners of the regular season pennant that year. Winning the Ruppert Cup gave the Elites the title of “Champions,” though the Homestead Grays believed their winning the pennant gave them rights to the title.

After going 1-2 in 7 league games for the “Champion” Elites in 1939, Glover was invited to join an exclusive group of Blackball players in the California Winter League. This loosely organized league had been in existence since the 1920s and featured a couple of all-White teams made up of LA-based major and minor leaguers and one all-Black team. Over the years, the Black team boasted such future Hall of Famers as Satchel Paige, Turkey Stearnes and Bullet Joe Rogan, along with many of Blackball’s greatest stars. Because the money was good, to be invited to play in the California Winter League meant you were deemed among the best and, in 1939, Lefty Glover made the grade.

That winter the all-Black team was called the “Philadelphia Royal Giants,” and they fielded a good cross section of stars. Besides Lefty Glover, the pitching staff included Elites’ teammate Bill Harvey and New York Black Yankees ace Terris McDuffie. The rest of the club included Jim West at first, Jake Dunn at second, Marlin Carter at short, Hoss Walker at third, Wild Bill Wright, Mule Suttles and Bill Hoskins in the outfield and Pepper Bassett behind the plate. The all-Black entry was the smart pick for winning the short season, with former Brooklyn Dodgers star Babe Herman’s “White Kings” team expected to come in a close second.

I know what you’re thinking: “White Kings”? No, Babe Herman was not skipper of a white supremacist aggregation; “White King” was a brand of soap made in Los Angeles and a longtime sponsor of its namesake team in the California Winter League.

On November 6, 1939, the White Kings met the Royal Giants in a double header at Hollywood’s Gilmore Field. When it was over, Glover had pitched a no-hitter and gained immortality for himself in Blackball lore. True to form, Lefty only recorded four punchouts, but his curveball allowed only three balls to leave the infield. His control stayed true as he issued just two bases on balls. The Royal Giants won the 1939-40 Championship with a 10-6 record. Besides his no-hit masterpiece, Lefty Glover led the league with a .750 winning percentage and 3-1 record. It’s at this point that Lefty Glover decided to capitalize on his fame and follow the money. In 1940, this meant south of the border.

While baseball had been played in Mexico since the 1840s, the country’s first functioning league did not start up until 1925. By 1940 the league’s leading benefactor was Jorge Pasquel, a rich import-exporter from Monterrey and baseball fiend. Pasquel knew that to have a thriving league he needed to import established stars to both attract fans and help native players elevate their game. Inducing the better-paid White players to come to Mexico was not feasible, but Negro League and Cuban-based players, who drew less pay and faced racial discrimination up north, could. Lefty’s no-hit masterpiece was reported in most sports pages, making him a known commodity and ripe for Mexican League recruitment.

However, if Glover thought Mexico was going to be easier than the California Winter League, he was very wrong. Besides the best Latin players of the day, the 1940 Liga Mexicana was a veritable who’s who of Negro League superstars, including future Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Leon Day, Martin Dihigo, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Dandridge and Willard Brown, plus almost all of Glover’s Royal Giants teammates. Against this star-studded Outsider Baseball congregation Lefty went 8-13 in 36 games with an ERA over 5.00. He also bounced around throughout the season, playing for La Junta de Nuevo Laredo, Unión Laguna de Torreón and Gallos de Santa Rosa, teams that finished 5th, 6th and 7th in the seven team league. Glover stayed in Mexico the following year, winning four and losing six for the last place Carta Blanca de Monterrey.

Just when the Liga Mexicana was shaping up to be a haven for Negro Leaguers, World War II stepped in. Ballplayers in Mexico were instructed to return to the States to make themselves easier for their draft boards to reach and persuaded to take jobs in a war-related industry. Glover returned to Baltimore and rejoined the Elite Giants.

In an interesting aside, a full version of my old photograph of Lefty was published in the Baltimore Sun in 1993. In the expanded photo, Glover is one of four Elite Giants pitchers posing on the field in Oriole Park. I determined the photo was taken in the spring of 1942, since three of the players are wearing the Elites 1941-42 uniform while Glover dons the team’s 1940-only jersey, made distinctive by the script and “1939 Champions” patch on the right sleeve. As a recent returnee to the Elites’ fold, Glover must have been given an old uniform to wear before the season started. The photo was credited to the Babe Ruth Museum, but my inquiry there came to naught as I was told many items had “disappeared” from their collection, and their copy of the photograph no longer existed.

Throughout the summer of ’42, the Elites battled the Homestead Grays for first place, but eventually came up short. During a crucial point in the season, Baltimore lost catcher Roy Campanella to Mexico and, lacking his bat in the lineup, lost the pennant to the Grays on the last game of the season. Glover was the team’s third starter and had gone 5-3 with a 3.38 ERA.

The next year Glover was expected to take a bigger role in the team’s rotation, with the Baltimore Afro-American reporting, “indications point to Tom Glover as the North Carolina portsider appears to be the farthest advanced of the Elite flingers in the matter of conditioning.” Both the Elite Giants and Lefty Glover underachieved in 1943, with the team falling to a distant third place and Glover delivering a disappointing 3-5 record. Off the field, Lefty did find success, marrying in June of that year to a woman whose name I had yet to uncover.

Despite threatening to stay out of baseball in 1944 and remain in his steel plant job, Glover stayed with the Elites but only managed a 2-2 record. 1945 turned out to be Lefty Glover’s Negro League swan song. Though he finished the season 2-4, the fans thought enough of Baltimore’s lefthander to vote him onto that year’s East-West All-Star Game. Glover was picked to start the game but was sent to the showers in the second inning after giving up 4 runs to the West team. He was credited with the loss in the West’s 9-6 win.

It was here that the newspaper story of Lefty Glover ended for me. I now knew all about his professional career in the Negro National League, California and Mexico. Even found out he was married. But what became of Lefty, and where had he come from? One clue was that 1943 Afro-American article I mentioned above which called him the “North Carolina portsider.” Yet, beyond that, I could find nothing else.

While still in art school, I had made the acquaintance of Leon Day, the great Newark Eagles ace, eventual Hall of Famer and longtime Baltimore resident. Over the years, Leon introduced me to many of his Negro League friends, and whenever the chance came around, I asked about Lefty Glover. Through these former ballplayers I gained a little more insight into Glover’s career, such as he was blackballed from the Negro Leagues in 1945 for breaking his contract and playing in Mexico and that he passed away shortly after that.

According to the August 11, 1945 Afro-American, Lefty gave the Negro National League the big “to-ell-with-you” and rejoined the Carta Blanca de Monterrey, going 5-1 for the remainder of the season. He moved further south in 1946, first playing winter ball in Panama, where he made the Pro League all-star team and pitched against the visiting New York Yankees, then summered in Venezuela with the Pastora club. As for his death, it took me a while, but I eventually found this heartbreaking item in the March 13, 1948 edition of the Afro-American:

Glover at Henryton

Tom Glover, former Baltimore Elite Giants pitcher, is at Henryton Health Sanitarium and anxious to see his old Baltimore friends and fans.

Henryton was a segregated tuberculosis sanitarium in Marriottsville, 30 miles outside Baltimore. Though called a hospital, Henryton was basically a place of exile for TB patients rather than a treatment center. Inevitably, a few months later on June 12, his obituary appeared in the Afro-American:

Ex-Baltimore Elite Giants Hurler Dead

BALTIMORE Death closed the career of Thomas (Tom) Glover, former southpaw pitching star of the Baltimore Elite Giants, here Monday morning.

Glover, who joined the Elites in 1935, saw service in the Negro National League and also performed in the leagues of Mexico, Cuba, Panama and South America. He was said to be 36 years of age.

His most notable achievement was a no-hit, no-run game he pitched against an all-star major and minor league team on the West Coast in 1939.

Glover is survived by his wife Gertrude. His death occurred at Henryton Sanitarium.

Now I had his approximate death date and place, approximate birth date of 1912 and the name of his wife. The last part of Lefty Glover’s life had come into focus. Over the years, my Lefty Glover file had grown; the 1990s had brought several good books on the Negro Leagues and a new crop of Blackball researchers were uncovering more and more statistics and information. Two groundbreaking volumes were James A. Riley’s Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues and The Negro Leagues Book by Dick Clark and Larry Lester. The former had an entry on Glover but did not offer anything I hadn’t already found myself. The latter book also had something on my man, this one adding a little to the entry in Peterson’s Only the Ball Was White:

GLOVER, THOMAS MOSS (LEFTY)–1934-45–p, Birmingham Black Barons, Cleveland Red Sox, New Orleans Black Pelicans, Washington Elite Giants, Memphis Red Sox, Baltimore Elite Giants, Columbus Elite Giants

Here “Moss” was given as his middle name. I made a note of it and placed it in my file.

The digitization of old newspapers starting in the 2010s opened up a whole new avenue of research for me. Whereas before I had to physically go to a library or university to access microfilm of local newspapers, sites such as Newspapers.com brought papers from all over America right to my desktop. Through this method I was able to grab a few more pieces of Lefty Glover’s career before he came to Baltimore.

The first mention I found of Lefty was of him pitching for the Montgomery Grey Sox in 1933. Montgomery played in the Negro Southern League, a sort of minor league of the Negro National League teams. In the three box scores I found, Glover did pretty well, pitching a 3-hitter against Birmingham in July and a 4-hitter against Detroit in August. Glover next surfaces in late May of 1934, when Birmingham played a series of spring training games with a tall, lanky newcomer on the mound. Called “Walter Glover” by the Birmingham press, this was actually Tom Glover, and he made an impression right out of the gate. Facing the Atlanta Black Crackers, Glover 3-hit them and won 8-0. The southpaw then threw another shutout against the Cleveland Cubs, followed by a 6-hit 5-2 win over the legendary Kansas City Monarchs. By the time the 1934 Negro Southern League season opened, Tom “Lefty” Glover was Birmingham’s best pitcher and given the honor of being the team’s Opening Day hurler. Facing the Memphis Red Sox in the first game of a double header, Glover relinquished only six hits while striking out seven to win 5-4. Two weeks into the season Birmingham’s ace disappeared, making a beeline north to join the Cleveland Cubs of the Negro National League.

In the spring of 1935, the Pittsburgh Courier reported that Allan Page, owner of the New Orleans Black Pelicans, had gone to great expense to create a good ball club and that Lefty Glover was their ace. Once again, Glover jumped clubs, this time to the Columbus Elite Giants of the Negro National League. His reputation with the Elites was such he came in 19th in the voting for pitchers for the 1935 East-West All-Star Game. However, because the Elites already had a solid rotation, Glover left the team in June of 1936 and rejoined the Montgomery Grey Sox before jumping to the Birmingham Black Barons in July. He returned to the Elites in 1937 when they relocated to Washington and remained with the club when they finally settled down in Baltimore in 1938.

Now I had a clear picture of Lefty Glover’s professional career – but I still had no idea where he was from. That North Carolina reference in the Afro-American article still remained my only clue.

Like the digitization of newspapers, the advent of Ancestry.com made priceless records easily available to researchers. Yet, years of searching through their website brought me no additional facts on Lefty’s life. I figured there would be no census data on him since he would have been in Mexico when the 1940 census was taken, and I had no idea where he was in 1930 or before. Draft records were also of no help; Thomas Glover was not registered. The one avenue I felt for sure I would find something was in travel or immigration records. Lefty played in Mexico, Venezuela and Panama, so there had to be some sort of passport or port of entry record. However, after an exasperating search which had me trying every conceivable misspelling of “Glover,” I found nothing. This was completely baffling because researchers such as Gary Ashwill had found countless Negro League players through their overseas traveling records. I now began to wonder if Glover was not Lefty’s real name, and if that was true, then what the heck was it?

Over the years, I made a habit of putting out a call every December to all my research acquaintances, asking for any information on Lefty Glover. Mark Aubrey, one of the most dogged researchers I’ve ever met, went so far as to attempt to track down the old records from Henryton Sanitarium, which he learned, no longer existed. Gary Ashwill, whose mystical research ability earned him the title of “baseball archaeologist,” found a gem of a clue when he came across an April 16, 1933 article in the Montgomery Advertiser that heralds the arrival of “Lefty” Glover on the Montgomery Grey Sox. The story added, “It is reported that he hurled three no-hit games while in high school.” Infuriatingly, which high school and where was not mentioned. But out of all that I became convinced that Glover was from Alabama, not North Carolina. And that’s where my Lefty Glover research held steady as 2020 came to a close.

In December of 2020, my wife and I flew to California to spend Christmas with her family. As I always do when I travel, I took a few of my research files with me to read on the flight. This year, Lefty Glover was one of those files. Over a couple of complimentary bourbons I re-read the entire Glover file. One of the little handwritten scraps I came across gave his middle name as “Moss” with no source listed. This was likely one of my early notes from the 1980s when I was only interested in Lefty for fun and not concerned with recording sources.  A little deeper into the file I came across a second mention of a middle name “Moss,” this time attributed to a March 23, 1946 article in the Pittsburgh Courier. A third mention of “Moss” was attributed to Clark and Lester’s The Negro Leagues Book. Those notes had been in my file for years, but this time the gears were set in motion; “Moss” seemed to me an odd middle name. I made a mental note to check into that when I had some time. That time came the day after Christmas. I typed “Thomas Moss” with an approximate birthdate of 1912 into Ancestry.com. In seconds I had a hit, and it was right where I expected it to be.

A June 18, 1947 Pan-American flight manifest from Panama listed a Thomas Moss of 1622 Chase St., Baltimore, Md, accompanied by his wife Gertrude – and Thomas’ occupation is listed as… BASEBALL PLAYER!

So, Lefty Glover was actually Thomas Moss. How about that. My wife, who thankfully is a huge baseball fan as well as an actual scholar, knew all about my Lefty Glover quest. She was sitting next to me when I found the final clue and shared in my excitement at having cracked my oldest cold case. From this flight manifest I found Thomas Moss’ Social Security Death Record, which lists his birthdate as February 11, 1911 and his birthplace as Alabama.

My next step was to order a copy of Glover’s death certificate from the State of Maryland. This was a pretty straight-forward online process and turned out to be well worth the $35. After an agonizing three week wait, the document finally arrived, and I eagerly tore open the envelope to see what information it contained.

I learned that his name was officially recorded as “Thomas Glover Moss,” his birthdate was February 11, 1911 and date of death was “June 7, 1948.” It shows that Glover was admitted to the “Colored Branch” of the Maryland Tuberculosis Sanatorium at Henryton two days after his 37th birthday and passed away 3 months and 25 days later at 8:30 in the morning.

The certificate confirms that his wife was “Gertrude Moss” and that his occupation was “Baseball.” Most revealing was that his birthplace was listed as “Montgomery County, Alabama” and that his mother was Luvelia Moss, born in Montgomery, Alabama and his father was Willie Glover, birthplace unknown. That solves the origin of his dueling last names, but the reason why still remains murky. It could be that Willie Glover passed away when Tom was young or that he was born out of wedlock and Willie played no part in his son’s upbringing. Whatever the reasons, it appears that he used “Moss” for the early part of his life and switched to “Glover” when he turned professional. I did find a box score from August 1, 1932 that has “Lefty” Moss pitching for the semi-pro Atlanta Shops team against the Montgomery Grey Sox. Since my earliest reference to Tom “Lefty” Glover is as a pitcher for the Montgomery Grey Sox in the spring of 1933, I guess this brings me full circle.

So, that’s the story of Lefty Glover. I know that my research won’t change the course of baseball history. In fact, likely only a handful of people will take notice. But for me, finding out where Lefty Glover came from and what happened to him completed a three decade quest. There’s still some pieces I wish I knew, such as what happened to Gertrude and why the name change. I often wonder if any of “his old Baltimore friends and fans” made the trip to Henryton to see Lefty in his final days. One of the oddest things I discovered in my three-decade search for Lefty Glover was that he and Gertrude lived at 1622 E. Chase Street. This was pretty close to where I lived when I plunked down my 50 cents for that old photograph. I wonder who it was that was selling the picture, and if they had any connection to the old ballplayer who once lived in that neighborhood. I guess I’ll never know. But for now, I can finally put away the file of research I started thirty years ago knowing that I learned as much as I can about the man in the photograph I found so long ago.

*  *  *
Although finding Lefty Glover had been a thirty year quest that was very personal to me, I could not have solved it had it not been for the help of several baseball historians. The first was Dr. Bob Hieronimus, who introduced me to Leon Day, who in turn opened the door to his old teammates and friends from the Negro Leagues. Then there was Scott Simkus and Gary Ashwill, the two leading researchers of what I call the “new wave” of Blackball historians. Mark Aubrey’s indefatigable research skills not only dredged up a few choice clues but served as an inspiration to me to always dig deeper and never give up. And among the many people who answered my annual Lefty Glover call for information, Rod Nelson and Gary Fink unearthed a couple of gems that kept my research alive and moving.

Then there are the authors whose books offered up clues that helped me build an outline of Lefty Glover’s career: Only the Ball Was White by Robert Peterson, Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues by James A. Riley, The Negro Leagues Book by Dick Clark and Larry Lester and The Negro Southern League: A Baseball History, 1920-1951 by William J. Plott.

To all those that helped me in my thirty-year search for Lefty Glover, I sincerely thank you.

*  *  *

This week’s story is Number 32 in a series of collectible booklets.

Each of the hand-numbered and signed 4 ¼” x 5 1/2″ booklets feature an 8 to 24 page story along with a colored art card attached to the inside back cover. These mini-books can be bought individually, thematically or collected as a never-ending set. In addition to the individual booklets, I envision there being themed sets, such as the series I did on Minor League Home Run Champions. You can order a Subscription to Season 3 as well. A year subscription includes a guaranteed regular 12 issues at a discounted price, plus at least one extra Subscriber Special Issue. Each subscription will begin with Booklet Number 030 and will be active through December of 2021. Booklets 1-29 can be purchased as a group, too.

3 thoughts on “Lefty Glover: Requiem for a Southpaw

    1. Thanks Dan, I wasn’t sure how the disjointed timeline would work, but it just seemed right to tell the story as it unfolded in real life

  1. That was a fascinating adventure to read about.
    A true historian never gives up, regardless of what type of history is being researched. You, sir, are a true historian.
    To be so dogged over such a long period is an exceptional quality possessed by few.
    Now you need to find another equally interesting mystery to unravel.

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