Jess James Hubbard
Positions: p, rf, lf, cf, 1b
Teams: Brooklyn Royal Giants (1917-1926), military service (1918), Hilldale Daisies (1919, 1930), New York Lincoln Giants (1923), Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1927-1928, 1934), Baltimore Black Sox (1928-1929, 1933-1935), Homestead Grays, minor leagues (1931), New York Black Yankees (1932-1933)
Height: 6' 2'' Weight: 200
Born: July 18, 1895, Bering, Texas
This big, light-complexioned Texan, who was nicknamed "Mountain," was part Indian and almost passed for white to make it to the major leagues, but destiny dictated that his career would be spent entirely in the Negro Leagues. The New York Giants sent him to their farm team in Massena, New York, and tried to pass him as white, and the Detroit Tigers were among several teams that expressed an interest, but none took the risk to sign him.
After attending public schools through the fifth grade, he dropped out and, at age sixteen, began working in a sawmill in Elizabeth, Texas, and playing baseball. From there he progressed to a semi-pro team in Beaumont before joining the Houston Black Oilers in 1915. After one year there, he played in Alexandria, Louisiana, for a year before his first contact with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, in 1917. In 1918 he was inducted into the Army and pitched for the baseball team at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
In 1919, after his Army service, he rejoined the Brooklyn Royal Giants, whose pitching staff spotlighted two of the greatest pitchers of all time, Smokey Joe Williams and Dick Redding. However, this duo did not entirely overshadow Hubbard, who had an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities when he pitched 2 shutouts against the New York Giants.
He remained with the Royal Giants as they entered the Eastern Colored League in 1923, but in 1925 he suffered from a bad arm. Fortunately, the arm responded to treatment and he played that winter in California with the Philadelphia Royal Giants. The big hurler had begun his career as an overhand pitcher, but as he gained more experience he developed both sidearm and underhand deliveries to give batters a variety of looks. He also was mostly a "junkball" pitcher, but could hum a fastball when necessary and sometimes, in critical situations, he would utilize a "cutball" to pitch out of a jam. Although he started as a pitcher, and enjoyed moderate success on the mound, throughout his career he was oft used in the outfield or as a pinch-hitter. A respectable hitter with good power, incomplete statistics show a .316 lifetime batting average and a high of .409 in 1930.
Although Jess spent most of his career with the Royal Giants, he joined the Bacharach Giants in 1927 at age thirty-two and posted an 8-3 ledger to help pitch them to the Eastern Colored League pennant. In the ensuing World Series against the Chicago American Giants, the giant right-hander won one of his three starts, but in a losing cause. The next season the league folded and he joined the Baltimore Black Sox under Ben Taylor. In 1929 Frank Warfield replaced Taylor, and Hubbard pitched for another pennant winner as the Black Sox captured the American Negro League flag in the league's only year of existence. Unfortunately he was not able to complete the season, being released by the Black Sox in late July after suffering side injuries.
After his release he opened a restaurant, and after recuperating returned for the 1930 season with Hilldale. The next year he played for Providence, Rhode Island, the only black team in the New England League. In 1932 he returned to New York City and joined the New York Black Yankees. In his earlier years with the Royals he pitched batting practice to Lou Gehrig in the spring, when he was still a student at Columbia University. Handsome and a sharp dresser, Hubbard was a ladies' man and had a lasting preference for big cigars and bigger Cadillacs. He continued playing baseball until 1938, appearing with half a dozen teams, and always maintained his popularity with the fans.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.