Full Name: John Arthur Taylor, Jr.
Born: February 4, 1916 - Hartford, CT
Deceased: June 15, 1987 - Hartford, CT
Weight: 165 lbs.
In the 1930s and 40s, Johnny "Schoolboy" Taylor, pitched his way into baseball legend as a Connecticut high school phenomenon and as an all-star pitcher in the Negro, Mexican and Cuban Leagues. His passion for the game prevailed in the face of racial segregation, Negro League team turmoil and America's entry into World War II. In spite of all of these obstacles, including severe personal injuries, the handsome and talented Taylor always provided fresh ink to the sportswriters of his day. With a high kick and smart play, Taylor earned his way into the hearts of baseball fans north and south of the border.
Johnny, a Hartford, Connecticut native, started pitching in the old Junior League with the Hornets in 1931. At Bulkeley High School, he competed on the track team for three years in the high jump and pole vault events before switching to the baseball squad under Coach Babe Allen for his senior year. In that one remarkable high school season of 1934, Taylor pitched eight of the nine wins to clinch the newspaper "Schoolboy Title" and had struck out 25 batters in one game. He appeared on more Connecticut sports front pages than any other high school athlete of his time.
Doc Granger of the Bridgeport Sunday Herald put the young high school graduate back in the headlines with a feature article on May 23, 1934 asking: "What is the future of the American Negro in sports?" The confident, mature Johnny Taylor was emphatic and prophetic with his answers adding: "I think eventually Negroes will be playing big league ball. It may not come in my career as a pitcher, but it will come. As time moves on, baseball shows signs of needing a tonic and it is my frank opinion that the Negro will be just the tonic needed."
Taylor continued to draw the big crowds to Bulkeley Stadium after his graduation when he pitched for the semi-pro Savitt Gems in Hartford. By now, young Johnny fanned more than 800 batters with 55 wins and 5 losses. The Major Leagues took notice. As Neil Lanctot wrote in Negro League Baseball, "The New York Yankees and Philadelphia Athletics, for example, eagerly pursued Hartford high school sensation Johnny Taylor in the early 1930s, abruptly withdrawing after discovering his racial identity."
Taylor's talent drew competing Negro League offers from the Philadelphia Colored Giants and the Philadelphia Stars. Manager Frank Forbes of the New York Cubans successfully signed the young John Taylor for the 1935 season. Taylor's mother co-signed the contract for the nineteen year old, and the sportswriters' would add "Schoolboy" to his name for his youthful face and lean body type. Johnny Taylor was now part of the strongest team ever fielded by owner, Alejandro Pompez, the Cuban American team owner now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Teammate Luis Tiant, Sr.(father of Major League pitcher Luis Tiant, Jr,) became a father figure to the talented teenager. Taylor's friendships with Cuban stars Martin Dihigo and Lazaro Salazar endured.
In the winter of 1936, Taylor followed Lazaro Salazar and several other teammates from the New York Cubans into the Baseball League of Cuba, joining the Marianao team. "Colegial" Taylor capped his first Cuban Baseball season with 22 wins and was dubbed "El Rey de Hartford" by his Cuban fans. He subsequently signed on with the legendary Santa Clara Leopards for the winters of 1937-1939 as Santa Clara became the powerhouse of the Cuban League with manager/player Salazar, Negro Leaguers Josh Gibson and Sam Bankhead, pitchers Armando Torres, "Cocaina" Garcia and Ray Brown. In those years, Santa Clara posted a win-loss record still at the top in Cuban Baseball League history. In Cuba, Taylor suffered a severe ankle injury and an equally severe shoulder injury from being hit by a Havana trolley car on a narrow street. Although sidetracked, nothing could stop the focused hurler.
Going back to September 1937, Taylor became a hot prospect after his legendary match-up against Satchel Paige. In a star-filled exhibition game at the Polo Grounds in New York before a crowd of 22, 000, Paige led an All-Star team of Negro League players who had jumped to the Dominican Republic for championship play. In spite of their Negro League ban, Paige and his "Dominican Stars" cashed in on his box office draw to take on a formidable Negro League All-Star line-up. Taylor went the distance and took the first with a 2-0 shutout. Paige roared back in a a crowd-pleasing rematch with a 9-5 win. A ruptured disc plagued Taylor that year, but did not keep him from pitching back in Connecticut with the Savitt Gems through his rehabilitation.
In 1938, future Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston, player-manager of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, signed up Taylor to replace the mercurial Paige in their line-up. That year, Taylor drew the most votes for a pitcher making the 1938 Negro League East versus West All-Star roster, and pitched two strong innings for the East.
Back in Connecticut for state Baseball League action in 1939, Taylor continued to feel the sting of racial bias. He was banned from pitching in a Memorial Day New Britain League game. In newspapers throughout the state, he became the "cause celebre" of sportswriters, clergy and fans. Their write-in campaign to league officials brought an end to "Jim Crow" in all Connecticut Baseball League games, eight years before Major League Baseball dropped its ban when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed on Jackie Robinson in 1947.
In 1939, on the heels of his reinstatement in the Connecticut Baseball League, Taylor was lured to the Mexican Baseball League by a generous contract offer from the millionaire League founder, Jorge Pasquel. He quickly became a fan favorite as "Escolar" Taylor in the color-blind Mexican League, playing side-by-side with many of the Cuban-born stars from his former New York Cuban team and other Negro League standouts.
An all-star in his first Mexican season with Cordoba, Taylor had a masterful record of 11-1 with a 1.19 earned run average. Pasquel added Taylor to his championship Veracruz team roster in 1940-41 with Negro League stars. By then, the Mexican League featured Sam Bankhead, Cool Papa Bell, Barney Brown, Buster Clarkson, Ray Dandridge, Josh Gibson, Willie Jefferson, Leroy Matlock, Roy Partlow, Quincy Trouppe, and Willie Wells. By 1942, Roy Campanella and Monte Irvin from the Negro Leagues joined the growing list of notables south of the border. America's entry into World War II brought these American players back to the United States and Taylor back to his home state of Connecticut.
War-time travel restrictions kept Taylor home in 1943. Deferred from the draft with his back injuries, he went to work for defense contractor United Aircraft during the week, and pitched on Sundays for the New York Cubans in New York and Washington, DC. He pitched again for the Savitt Gems in '44 and also for Frank Davey's formidable Waterbury team. Taylor joined catcher Yogi Berra ( then stationed with the Navy in Connecticut) and pitcher Frank "Spec" Shea (later picked up by the Yankees) on the Waterbury team. Over a two-week span, Taylor and his Waterbury team beat three major ball clubs – The Dodgers, the Phillies and the Yankees in exhibition games. During the Yankees match-up, pitcher Shea turned the game over to Taylor in the seventh inning to seal the 1-0 win. Connecticut sportswriter, "Hank" O'Donnell, confirmed the racial sentiments of the time when he reported in his column: "There were some southerners among the Yankees who didn't relish hitting against a black but one of their teammates, the late "Monk" Dubiel, also of Hartford, assured them Taylor was a control pitcher and had long been his friend…"
Taylor married registered nurse Estelle Singleton of New Britain, Connecticut in October of 1944. It was a quiet family affair yet heralded by The Pittsburgh Courier as "Schoolboy weds Schoolgirl". Connecticut papers showcased the handsome wedding photograph of the two. Taylor's marriage was the stellar "match-up" of his lifetime. Together, he and his spouse, Estelle, would raise a family of four children, John III, Lynette, Maureen and Kathie in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut.
In 1946, Jorge Pasquel sought out Taylor again. Always with a strong desire to stay in the game, Taylor brought his new bride and infant son to Mexico. A severe injury to his throwing arm interrupted his play with the Mexico City franchise under Pasquel, yet Taylor returned to the mound playing for friend and manager Salazar in Monterrey, Mexico – a location which allowed Taylor to seek medical treatment and rehabilitation across the border in Brownsville, Texas. Pasquel's Mexican League now had several Major League jumpers under contract - Max Lanier, Sal Maglie, Ace Adams, Harry Feldman, Danny Gardella and Mickey Owen. Ironically, Taylor and other Negro Leaguers remained the standouts among the Major Leaguers who now played for more money in the Mexican League.
At season's end in October of 1946, Taylor and his family returned to Connecticut for family reasons. Taylor joined his father who was journeyman lather in the building trades. Taylor later became a journeyman himself and remained in this career until retirement. By 1947 when Robinson entered the Majors, Taylor was 31 and working hard in order to purchase a family home.
With his solid baseball career fading into his life's background, Taylor was once again called to the mound in 1949 by the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League (and farm team to the Boston Braves). The Hartford Chiefs tapped the still trim 33 year- old Taylor as their hometown draw, signing up Taylor as a relief pitcher. Taylor took to the mound with no time for Spring training. At the end of the season with a 6-7 win/loss record and an ERA of 3.39, he was released and left the game for good. Pitcher Bob Buhl, Taylor's teammate with the Chiefs, would move up to the Braves with an 8-8 win/loss record and an ERA of 4.43.