August 5, 2004

NLBPA Board Member, HAROLD GOULD is interviewed by Stan Hochman.

Posted on Thu, Aug. 05, 2004

Stars pitcher was called up from farm, literally

For the Daily News

Third in a series

HAROLD GOULD scans the major league box scores and sees all of those names ending in "z" and sighs, sadly.

"There are more Dominicans playing now than Afro-Americans," he said the other day. "Afro-Americans are not playing baseball these days.

"All those kids, they want to be basketball players. There are more brain surgeons in America than pro basketball players, but that's what they want to do. They all want to be Michael Jordan, and some of 'em won't grow to be 6 feet tall."

Gould grew up on a farm in South Jersey. Played baseball because it was fun, pitched because he had a strong arm and he could strike people out.

A pitcher, he never dared dream of being Dizzy Dean because big-league baseball was for white folks only.

"I'd heard of Satchel Paige," he said. "That he was the greatest. But it didn't impress me. I was never gonna pitch against him, never gonna hit against him."

He is 79, with an amazing resemblance to Billy Williams, the sweet-swinging former Cubs outfielder. At 18, Gould was pitching for a team sponsored by the local Army-Navy store.

"One day," Gould recalled, "I came into the store and the owner, Leonard Phlum, said he wanted to talk to me. Said I was too dominant to play around here. I thought, 'My God, he's gonna kick me off the team.'

"He said he had a friend in Philadelphia he wanted me to see. His office was on Chestnut Street and his name was Eddie Gottlieb. I got there, he had his back toward me. He said, 'Your name Gould? The contract's on the desk. Sign it.'

"I did what he told me to do. He said there was a game on Sunday at the Polo Grounds. I caught a train to Penn Station in New York and then took the subway. Underground, couldn't see a thing. I had to get out, see daylight.

"Got out, asked directions, walked about 20 blocks, got there. Pitched against the Cubans [the name of a team in New York] that day. I won. Pitched six or seven innings and then they took me out. Didn't know if I did good because where we came from you pitched nine innings."

That introduction to Gottlieb, his Philadelphia Stars and Negro league baseball came at the tail end of the 1945 season. The next year was prosperous - jobs were plentiful, people had money to spend. Gould signed for $350 a month, plus $2 a day in meal money.

Pitched for three seasons and then, when the Negro leagues withered and died, he went to Canada and pitched for a team in Farnham.

"After Jackie Robinson started playing for the Dodgers," Gould recalled, "you could see our attendance go down. By 1950 it was all over."

And now, a group of dedicated folks in West Parkside is raising money to create a memorial to the Negro leagues. A black-tie fund-raiser is scheduled for Sept. 2 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, honoring the five surviving members of the Stars: Gould, Stanley Glenn, Bill Cash, Mahlon Duckett and Wil-mer Harris.

"Pitched that one game, season ended, I thought I'd never see them again," Gould said. "Then I got a letter saying that spring training was starting in Jacksonville. Florida? I had never been out of Gouldtown [a South Jersey town named after a family member], hardly. Got to Jacksonville and it was as cold as New Jersey.

"Joined up with another team, the Raleigh Tigers or the Atlanta Black Crackers, and played all around the South. On the field, it was fun. I was winning. I had people who could snag fly balls, pick up grounders. All I had to do was get the ball over the plate and get somebody out.

"Off the field was different. In Atlanta they wouldn't let us use the showers. Got back on the bus in our stinking uniforms. Finding a place to stay was hard. Finding a place to eat was hard. Ate on the bus lots of times.

"Goose Curry was our manager, our pitching coach, our hitting coach, our fielding coach. Traveled in a raggedy bus, but all the teams had raggedy buses. Played home games at 44th and Parkside, right near the train depot.

"All that smoke and soot, it was hard to see the ball. When we played at Shibe Park, we wore our white uniforms. When we played at Parkside we wore Oxford grays because they didn't show the soot as much."

And then Branch Rickey changed the face of baseball forever, putting Robinson in a Brooklyn uniform in 1947.

"I'm sure, in the back of his head," Gould said, "he was thinking he was gonna put a lot of people in the stands if this guy turns out to be the ballplayer we think he is.

"He thought they had a gold mine. And that there were millions of players out there who could be Jackie Robinson. He tapped into our population, Afro-Americans."

The Phillies were slow to respond. "Ben Chapman, the manager, was a die-hard [racist]," Gould said. "It only takes one man to poison things. Management didn't want to change. Maybe the players felt threatened."

It is hard to pin down how good a pitcher Gould was. One encyclopedia lists him as John Gould. Another calls him Willy.

"Documentation about black players is way off base," Gould said sadly. "Team records, won-loss records, they're all way out of line."

Shoddy statistics can't rob Gould of his memories, even the grim ones. He is excited about the proposed memorial at Belmont and Parkside avenues.

"They want to refurbish the memories that have been lost," Gould said. "It's sad, but there are people who don't even know who Jackie Robinson was.

"Now, what they're trying to do is let the minority population know what really happened. The Negro leagues, that's something to be proud of, something to be remembered."

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