James Elbert Greene
Nicknames: Joe, Pea, Pig
Positions: c, 1b, of
Teams: Atlanta Black Crackers (1932-1938), Homestead Grays (1939), Kansas City Monarchs (1939-1943, 1946-1947), military service (1943-1945), Cleveland Buckeyes (1948), minor leagues (1951)
Height: 6' 1'' Weight: 200
Born: October 17, 1911, Stone Mountain, Georgia
Died: Stone Mountain, Georgia
The catcher who handled the great Kansas City Monarchs' pitching staffs of the 1940s, he was a good and durable receiver with a quick release and a powerful throwing arm. Complementing his defensive skills, he was a fastball-hitting pull-hitter with good power, and batted fifth in the order behind Willard Brown. Playing against all levels of competition, he was credited with league highs of 33 and 38 home runs in 1940 and 1942, respectively. His primary shortcoming was a lack of speed on the bases. In the Monarchs' 1942 World Series victory over the Homestead Grays, he hit .444 and homered to key the Monarchs' offense. At that time he was considered the best catcher in the Negro American League and made his second appearance in the All Star classic.
In 1943, following his three best years, he entered military service during World War II. While serving with the 92nd Division in Algiers and Italy and spending eight months on the front lines in a 57-millimeter anti-tank company, he was decorated for his combat experience. When his company entered Milan, they had to take down the bodies of Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, who had been executed and were hanging upside down.
While in service he also played with the baseball team that won the championship of the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. After his discharge, he returned to his spot behind the plate for the Monarchs and caught for the 1946 pennant-winning Monarchs, and registered averages of .300, .324, and .257 in 1946-1948, but he never fully regained his old form after the end of World War II.
This big catcher had two nicknames, earning his first early in his career when, with the Atlanta Black Crackers, he was called "Pig" because of the quantity of food he ate. Later in his career he earned his second nickname, "Pea," because he threw "peas" to second base.
He began his professional career with the Atlanta Black Crackers in 1932, when they were in the Negro Southern League, and continued with the ballclub until they finally joined the Negro American League in 1938. That season he was the starting catcher, and his bat provided the impetus for the team to win the second-half Negro American League title. With the 1938 Atlanta Black Crackers he improved his ability to hit a curveball. After leaving Atlanta he joined the Homestead Grays for a short time, but he still had some difficulty with a good curveball despite an extra-long thirty-seven-inch bat that the Grays brought specifically for him to reach curves on the outside part of the plate. Before the season was over he left the Grays for the Monarchs, where incomplete statistics show averages of .231 and .225 in 1941-1942. A decade after joining the Monarchs, he was traded to the Cleveland Buckeyes, where he finished out his Negro League career in 1948.
In 1951 he played with Elmwood in the Mandak League, batting .301 for his last year in professional baseball.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.