Carl Russell Long
Born: May 9, 1935 (Rock Hill, South Carolina)
Died: January 12, 20015 (Kinston, North Carolina)
A bootlegger’s son, Carl Long was one of eight children. He grew up in segregated Rock Hill, S.C., where the roster of the local professional team, the Chiefs, remained staunchly white. Instead, he signed at age 16 with the Nashville Stars, an independent Negro League team. He was promptly nicknamed The Kid. He also played for the Birmingham Black Barons and Indianapolis Clowns.
As a young man, he played alongside and against such greats as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Satchel Paige. (Another rival was Charley Pride, who found future fame as a country and western singer.) Long, who was 6-foot-3, 192-pounds, played at third base and in the outfield. At age 18, he played centre field for the East squad in the annual East-West Negro League all-star game at Comiskey Park in Chicago.
In 1954, while still just 18, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was assigned to the St-Jean (Que.) Canadians of the Provincial League. He led the Class-C team with 20 home runs, third best in the circuit. The switch-hitting slugger also smacked 18 doubles and five triples in 418 at-bats. His batting average was .275.
His sterling play earned plenty of notice in the local newspaper, The News and eastern Township Advocate. “Long gave fans their money’s worth with his sensational fielding, and his shoestring catch off Khouri’s low liner was a brilliant one,” the newspaper reported after one game. In another game, a 20-1 victory over Thetford Mines (Que.) Miners, “Long smashed the longest home run seen in the Provincial loop in a long, long time.”
He split the 1955 season with the Billings (Mont.) Mustangs and Phoenix Stars. By 1956, he was back in the Carolinas with the Kinston (N.C.) Eagles, where he had the unenviable duty, alongside teammate Frank Washington, of integrating the team. In 537 at-bats, he hit 18 homers, twice as many as anyone else on the club. He had 21 doubles, two triples and a .291 average. His fellow players voted him into the league’s all-star game in July. (He played alongside Curt Flood, a future star with the St. Louis Cardinals.)
The following season was spent with the Beaumont (Tex.) Pirates of the Big State League and the Mexico City Tigres of the Mexican League, a Double-A circuit. A shoulder injury limited his effectiveness and he wound up his baseball career.
He had married a Kinston woman while playing for the Eagles and so made his permanent home there, where his career as a law enforcement officer also broke down barriers. When he was hired by Trailways as a driver, he became the company’s first black commercial driver. Later, he was the first black deputy sheriff in Lenoir County on his way to becoming the county’s first black detective.
His autobiography, titled, “A Game of Faith: The Story of Negro League Baseball Player Carl Long,” was published last year.