Mississippi has produced talented African-American baseball players, among them: Cool Papa Bell, Starkville; Howard Easterling, Mount Olive; Luke Easter, Jonestown; Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, Meridian; and Ellis Burks, Vicksburg.
A 19-year old Bell got his nickname in 1922 when he displayed calmness and finesse as a lefty pitcher with the St. Louis Stars. His switch-hitting/base-running catapulted him to Cooperstown in 1974. He batted .343 in a storied Negro Leagues career, with St. Louis, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays and others. Bell played winter ball in Cuba; summer ball in Mexico; and with 1937 Trujillo All-Stars in the Dominican Republic. He died in St. Louis, at 87.
Easterling, a switch-hitting third baseman, had a decade-long Negro Leagues career, punctuated by .399 for the 1943 Homestead Grays, with Josh Gibson (catcher), Buck Leonard (1B) and Cool Papa Bell (CF). Easterling hit .311 in the Negro Leagues and .347 in three Puerto Rico winter seasons. Easterling’s 1946-47 Ponce Lions defeated the 1947 New York Yankees, Feb. 24, 1947 spring training game in San Juan. He passed away in Collins, Mississippi, at 81.
Easter, a 6’4”/240-pound giant, was once called “the greatest home run hitter since Babe Ruth.” He starred on the 1948 Homestead Grays, which defeated the Birmingham Black Barons, with 17-year old Willie Mays, 1948 post-season. Easter hit .274, 93 homers, 340 RBI with Cleveland, MLB; 269 homers in 13 minor league seasons; and .402, 14 homers, 80 RBI, 80-game 1948-49 Puerto Rico season for Mayagüez. He played in the first (Feb. 1949) Caribbean Series, in Cuba.
Oil Can Boyd got his nickname from “rot-gutter whiskey” via a Meridian moonshiner. He attended Jackson State University prior to his 10-year MLB career with Boston, Montreal and Texas. Boyd was 16-10 for the 1986 Red Sox, and pitched in the World Series versus the Mets. He also pitched for San Juan (1992-93) and Santurce (1995-96) in Puerto Rico’s Winter League.
Burks’s 18-year MLB career with Boston, Chicago White Sox, Colorado, San Francisco and Cleveland, included three years (1987-89) as Oil Can Boyd’s teammate. Burks received a World Series ring after his final (2004) season with Boston. He hit .291, 352 home runs, 1,206 RBI in the majors. His 1986-87 Puerto Rico 54-game season with Caguas: .291, 7 homers, 30 RBI.