Obituary: Henry Kimbro

FOR THE first half of this century the stars of the baseball Negro Leagues battled prejudice and sometimes near-poverty in a still firmly segregated America. Henry Kimbro was one of the last survivors from that era.

A stocky outfielder with an at times devastating bat, his aggressive approach to the game earned him the nickname the "black Ty Cobb" in emulation of the legendary "Georgia Peach". As his fellow player Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe later recalled, Kimbro was "the wildest man I ever saw in baseball and absolutely the hardest to manage".

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1912, his professional career began in 1937 when he joined the Washington Elite Giants, a team that had been based in Nashville. When the franchise moved to Baltimore the following year Kimbro went with them and, but for brief associations with the New York Black Yankees and the Birmingham Black Barons, remained an Elite Giant for the rest of his career. He compiled a lifetime batting average of .315. When he played for the Havana Leones against white Major Leaguers in the Cuban Winter League in 1947, his average of .346 gave him the League batting title.

The Elite Giants won the Negro American League title only once, in 1949. Kimbro represented the team at the Negro League East-West All-Star game, held annually at Comiskey Park in Chicago, on five occasions and proved highly effective.

The "great experiment" that saw Jackie Robinson join the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, thus paving the way for desegregation in the Major Leagues, heralded the end for teams like the Elite Giants and by the time Kimbro assumed the managerial reins at Baltimore in the early 1950s, they were an anachronism. He retired from the game in 1953 and moved back to Nashville, where he ran a service station and taxicab business.

In recent decades, interest in the Negro Leagues has grown considerably with several of its great figures receiving induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Kimbro may yet get the recognition he deserves.

Henry Kimbro, baseball player: born Nashville, Tennessee 19 February 1912; married (two sons, two daughters); died Nashville 11 July 1999.

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