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Cannonball Will Jackman -
The Least Known Best Pitcher Ever

Cannonball Will Jackman’s longtime battery-mate Burlin White fashioned a letter to the sports editor of the Brockton Enterprise, detailing their winter of 1926-27 playing in Florida. About a particular game, White wrote: “It was a grand ball game, and the Giants won, 3 to 2, before a capacity crowd of local fans that jammed every available inch of space around the playing field. At least 5,000 people must have crashed through the walk-over gates last night, although they tell us 3,200 cash customers were present."

"With elongated Bill Jackman on the mound for the Giants, the Bearded Wonders kept splitting the atmosphere with their swishing bats most of the time. The children of David jumped on Bill in the first inning, gathering three hits for two runs. Thereafter, however, Mistah Jackman preceded to underhand his opponents to death. While the shades of night were falling fast, Jackman sent the white pill through the celebrated Alpine village with rare abandon, although he forgot to shout 'Excelsior.’"

In July of '27, Boston Daily Traveler writer Herb Finnegan dubbed Jackman one of the best pitchers in the country, "... Walter Johnson, Flint Meadows and Grover Cleveland Alexander notwithstanding..."

In 1930, the Taunton [MA] Daily Gazette called Jackman "...the world's greatest colored pitcher," crediting him with a 1929 record of 48-4 with two no-hitters.

According to James A. Riley's "Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues," Jackman was "52-2 one season with the Giants, bested Satchel Paige twice in two outings," earned "$175 a game" and $10 per strikeout in his prime.

John McGraw once said that if he could sign Jackman, his biggest dilemma would have been deciding whether to use him as a pitcher or as an everyday player, because he was such a dangerous hitter. That was never said of Paige.

On July 31, 1929, Jackman tossed a two-hitter against Reading of the Boston Twilight League. He fanned 13 and homered in both games of a double-header.

Hank Martyniak, now 82, pitched against Jackman in the Taunton Twilight League championship of '42, and says Jackman was as fast as anyone he ever saw. Jackman beat Martyniak, 19, and his team 2-0, fanning 16. Jackman was 45 years old at the time.

Gordon Ross of Keene, NH, who just passed at 87, batted against Robin Roberts, and told me Jackman, who was middle-aged when he faced him after World War II, was better.

Printed the Baltimore Afro American, on Saturday, June 1, 1935:  

"The Eagles exhibited a pitcher of top class Sunday in big Will Jackman, six-foot-two underhand right-hander. Jackman stepped into the breach in the first game with a startling relief performance and then came back in the second game to replace Jim Reese after the later had thrown to only two batters. ”

And from the same paper, eight years later: "The Watertown Arsenal A.A. baseball club has several colored aces, among them Will Jackson [sic], former Philadelphia Giants ace pitcher, who in his hey day put many a four-figured white pitcher to shame…[he] one pitched exhibition games all over the eastern seaboard, demanding and getting from $500 to $800 a game against white semi-pro teams."

In the New York Times of July 17, 1944, there's an article about Jackman beating the Brooklyn Bushwicks, 3-1, at Dexter Park. That's notable for two reasons: Jackman was 47, and the Bushwicks were the premier semi-pro outfit of the era.

In 1952 and '53, when the Red Sox front office was finally preparing to break their self-imposed color barrier, Jackman was one of the former Negro Leaguers they would consult on whom they should sign. The Boston Guardian and Boston Chronicle, Black weeklies, documented these meetings.

By Bijan C. Bayne. Bayne is the author of "Sky Kings: Black Pioneers of Professional Basketball,” available on Amazon. Check out his blog, www.bbayne.com.



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