Cowan F. "Bubba" Hyde Biography
Negro Leagues baseball star
The full and fascinating history of baseball's Negro Leagues remains to be written. While African-American baseball players gained attention from white audiences in the years before and just after the integration of Major League Baseball in 1947, and "Satchel" Paige and other charismatic players became household names, many other highly talented players emerge from history only in outline form. One of those players was outfielder Cowan F. "Bubba" Hyde, who entertained fans by racing horses around the bases and was an unusually consistent performer over his long career.
Hyde was born on April 10, 1908, in Pontotoc, Mississippi. His baseball talents showed up at an early age. When he was only 14, he had a tryout with the Negro Leagues' Memphis Red Sox. The team was apparently willing to sign him up, but either out of homesickness or due to parental pressure he left the Red Sox training camp and returned home. He returned for another short stint with the Red Sox in 1927 but once again departed and pursued his education. At Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, his athletic skills were on display as he became a member of the baseball, football, and track teams.
Playing for various baseball teams in the early 1930s, including the Birmingham Black Barons (where he finally began his career in earnest in 1930) and the Indianapolis Athletics, Hyde made a strong impression on Cincinnati Tigers manager "Double Duty" Radcliffe while playing for that squad in 1937. A small player at 5-foot, 8-inches tall and 150 pounds, Hyde made up for his lack of size with his speed on the bases. Radcliffe brought Hyde with him to Memphis when he signed on to manage the Red Sox, and he gave Hyde standing permission to steal a base whenever could get a long lead. On the Negro American League-leading 1938 Red Sox, Hyde played left field. He also played other outfield positions and could move to second base as needed.
Hyde remained with the Red Sox until 1950, taking only the 1940 season off. He played for a team in Santa Rosa, Mexico, that year and then returned to the United States and played briefly for an independent Chicago team, the Palmer House All-Stars. He was also said by his daughter to have played for teams in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. In the years before multimillion-dollar salaries it was common for baseball players to supplement their incomes by playing in winter leagues in Latin America, and the incentive to do so for the poorly paid players of the Negro Leagues was doubly strong.
Hyde was a threat at home plate as well as on the bases. He consistently batted close to .300 for the Red Sox, with a Negro Leagues career best of .313 in 1942. Twice, in 1943 and 1946, he played for the West squad in the popular Negro Leagues East-West All-Star Game. Coming to bat three times, he notched two hits. In those same two years he played in exhibition games against white major-league teams and faced the top pitchers of the day. A right-hander, he often batted leadoff.
Whatever his skills as a hitter, it was his speed that really endeared him to fans. His daughter Almerth Owens-Long recalled to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Hyde was a "speed demon." He beat the horses he took on in his pregame base-running contests, which were an ongoing attraction. "But the horses couldn't round the bases," Owens-Long told the Post-Dispatch. "That's why he always outran them." He was also said to have taken on famed Olympic sprinter Jesse Owens in a similar contest, beating him for the same reason: Owens wasn't used to the sharp turns on the base paths. "With exceptional speed on the bases, this Memphis Red Sox outfielder could run as fast looking back as anyone in baseball," opined author James A. Riley.
After Jackie Robinson's epochal breaking of Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, Hyde was one of a number of players who tried to land spots in the majors themselves. He played for a Bridgeport, Connecticut, team in the Colonial League in the major-league farm system, hitting an impressive .327 even though he was over 40 years old. The following year he won a place at the training camp of the major-league Boston Braves. With major-league slugger Jimmy Foxx serving as Bridgeport's manager, Hyde seemed a strong candidate for elevation to the majors. Once again, however, he chose family over baseball. In a prime example of the hardships and discrimination early black major-leaguers faced, he was cut from the squad after leaving camp to accompany his wife Edith to the hospital for the birth of the couple's only child, Almerth.
Hyde left American baseball altogether after playing briefly for the Chicago American Giants, but he didn't close the book on his career. He went to Canada and played for various professional teams there, performing well even into the second half of his fifth decade. He played for the Elmwood Giants, Winnipeg Giants, and Brandon Greys teams in Canada's Mandak League, notching a batting average of .348 for Elmwood in 1951. That year, he also played for the Farnham team in the Canadian Provincial League. In 1954 he finally left the game, having first taken the field with a professional team 30 years earlier.
Settling in St. Louis, Missouri, Hyde worked for 20 years for the General Cable company, retiring in the early 1980s. He continued to play baseball at Negro League reunion games into his eighties, and he stayed active for 20 years as a Meals on Wheels volunteer until he turned 90. In later years he lived with his daughter Almerth, and his family finally talked him into taking a break from Meals on Wheels. In 1997, Hyde became one of the first group of players inducted into the Negro Leagues Wall of Fame at Milwaukee's County Stadium, and his uniform was displayed at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Hyde died at age 95 on November 20, 2003, in St. Louis after a short illness.
Riley, James A., The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, Carroll & Graf, 1994.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, November 25, 2003, p. B5.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 24, 2003, p. B4.
"The Conscience of the Trade," Mudville: The Voice of Baseball, www.mudvillemagazine.com/archives/12_2003 (August 14, 2004).
"News and Notes," Western Canada Baseball, www.attheplate.com/wcbl/news3.html (August 14, 2004).
—James M. Manheim