Robert Lee Griffith
Nicknames: Bob, Schoolboy, Big Bill
Positions: p, of
Teams: Nashville Elite Giants (1933-1934), Columbus Elite Giants (1935), Washington Elite Giants (1936-1937), Santo Domingo (1937), Baltimore Elite Giants (1938, 1941), Mexican League (1940), New York Black Yankees (1942-1943, 1946-1948), military service (1944-1945), Kansas City Monarchs (1946), Philadelphia Stars (1949-1951), Indianapolis Clowns (1952), Canadian League (1951, 1953)
Height: 6' 5'' Weight: 235
Born: October 1, 1913, Liberty, Tennessee
Died: November 8, 1977, Indianapolis, Indiana
The big, right-handed, hard-throwing spit-baller could break a pitch up, down, in, or out. He pitched in the 1935 All Star game, representing the Columbus Elite Giants, and, after a thirteen-year interim, made back-to-back appearances in 1948 and 1949, representing the New York Black Yankees and Philadelphia Stars. He was the winning pitcher in the latter contest.
As a young boy in his hometown during the late 1920s and early 1930s, he was a star pitcher for the Smithville Tigers and also played trombone in the town band that paraded before a game. He attended Tennessee State University in Nashville before signing with Tom Wilson's Nashville Elites in 1933, and remained with the franchise as the club relocated in Columbus, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. In 1936 he was selected to the Negro National League All Star squad that walked away with the Denver Post Tournament. Griffith struck out 29 batters in the 17 innings he pitched, allowed only two runs, and won both his decisions. During the 1936 regular season he was credited with a 21-9 record and was regarded as one of the brightest prospects in black baseball, a distinction he retained throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s.
In 1937 the Dominican dictator Rafael Tmjillo signed Griffith, Satchel Paige, and Leroy Matlock to pitch for the Ciudad Trujillo baseball club in Santo Domingo. The big fastballer threw smoke and won 2 of his 3 decisions in helping the team win the championship. At that time his services were also in demand in Cuba, and he spent two consecutive seasons (1937-1939) in the Cuban winter league, fashioning a composite 16-11 record. Following the last winter in Cuba, he signed with the Mexican League's Nuevo Laredo club for the 1940 season, where he was 7-6 as a pitcher and hit .321. Always a decent hitter for a pitcher, he batted .340 in both the 1947 and 1949 seasons, and hit .347 for Brandon in the Mandak League in 1953, his last season in baseball.
During World War II he served in the European Theater as a corporal in the Army. After the war he played briefly with the Kansas City Monarchs, but soon rejoined the New York Black Yankees and toiled for them during most of the 1940s. The team was the doormat of the Negro National League, and the poor support caused him back-to-back records of 2-3 and 2-9 in the postwar seasons of 1946-1947. With the Philadelphia Stars in 1949 he rebounded with a 9-3 record and a 2.31 ERA.
In September 1948 he was the winning pitcher for the American All-Stars over the Cuban All-Stars in Havana. He also played winter ball in Puerto Rico and in Venezuela, where he pitched for the 1949-1950 champion Megallanas ballclub. After the decline of the Negro Leagues, he signed with Granby in the Provincial League and had a 6-5 record with a 4.34 ERA, and finished his professional career with Brandon with a 8-5 ledger in 1953. However, he continued to pitch semi-pro ball while in his fifties.
After ending his career in professional baseball, he worked as a night watchman in city, county, and state governmental buildings in Indianapolis. He retired during the 1970s and was still living in Indianapolis when he fell in the bathtub and sustained head injuries that took his life.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.