In Right Off the Bat, Martin and I delve into the thorny subjects of empire and race as related to cricket and baseball. Two perhaps lesser-written-about Negro Leagues players, with a couple of the most unforgettable monikers ever, are Judy Johnson and Ghost Marcelle.
I am not sure if Ghost Marcelle self-identified as African-American or mixed-race: Creole. He nonetheless was involved in one of the most bizarre, violent, and downright ghoulish stories that ever surrounded a ballplayer, as described in Wikipedia. Marcelle’s memory in the Negro Leagues was redeemed almost exactly eleven years ago:
“In a strange incident in the late 1920s, Marcelle’s teammate Frank Warfield reportedly bit Marcelle’s nose off after the two got into a fight, when both men were playing in the Cuban Winter League. Bill Yancey, another teammate of Marcelle’s, said, “What got [Marcelle] out of baseball, he and [teammate] Frank Warfield had a fight in Cuba [probably in the winter of 1927-28, over a dice game] and Warfield bit his nose off. He was a proud, handsome guy, you know, and then he used to wear a black patch across his nose and he got so he couldn’t play baseball anymore.” Marcelle had been a staple of the Cuban Winter League throughout the decade. In the 1923-24 season, he batted .393 to lead the league. He ended with an overall .305 average in Cuba.
“After some time with the Detroit Stars, Marcelle didn’t play very much longer. His final career average was supposedly around .315 with 11 home runs.
“Marcelle died in poverty in 1949 in Denver, Colorado and was buried in an unmarked grave in Riverside Cemetery.
“Forty-two years after his death, Oliver Marcelle’s last chapter was finally closed. At 10:30 a.m. on June 1, 1991, members of Riverside’s ownership, the Fairmount Cemetery Co., gathered with members of the Erickson Monument Co., the Black American West Museum, and the Denver Zephyrs, the Triple-A inheritors of, in part, Marcelle’s Denver baseball legacy, to honor The Ghost one final time. In the culmination of a long effort led by baseball historian and Denver-area resident Jay Sanford, there, weeks shy of what would have been the legend’s ninety-fourth birthday, they unveiled a simple grave marker.”