Grant, Ulysses Frank
- Rob Ruck
Grant, Ulysses Frank (01 August 1865–27 May 1937), an early African-American professional baseball player, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the son of Franklin Grant and Frances Hoose, farm laborers. Grant’s father died when the boy was only four months old, and in 1871 his mother relocated the family to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where Grant and his older brother played for the high school baseball team. Grant also played for the Greylocks, a South Williamstown sandlot team, in 1884. The following year he was living in Plattsburgh, New York, where he may have been working at a Lake Champlain resort. He also played for a local semipro club, the Nameless. In 1886 he signed with Meriden, Connecticut, in the Eastern League and established himself as a minor league player of considerable talent. He started at second base, sometimes pitched, and was leading the team in hitting when the club folded in midseason.
Grant had little difficulty finding a new team and enlisted with Buffalo, which had lost its National League franchise in 1885 and entered the International League. He played for Buffalo the remainder of 1886 and during the 1887 and 1888 seasons, compiling a cumulative batting average of .354. He hit for power and ran the bases well. Described as a flashy, yet consistent, fielder, he displayed wide range at second base. The 5′ 7½″, 155-pound Grant was third in the league with a .340 batting average in 1886 and fifth at .346 in 1888. A Sporting Life story in 1888 called him the best all-around player to don a Buffalo uniform.
During a series of exhibition games against National League clubs in 1887, Grant had been regarded by the Boston Post as Buffalo’s top player. A young and still improving athlete in one of baseball’s toughest minor leagues, he was, according to baseball historian James E. Overmyer, “one of the few [blacks] who would have had the chance to make a long career in the majors or high minors.” But the nation’s shift toward greater segregation was about to drive the handful of black players in baseball’s upper echelons out of integrated baseball.
In 1887 Grant was one of seven black players in the International League. That season witnessed several racially charged incidents in which whites refused to appear in team photographs with black teammates or to play with or against black players. In July the league’s Newark team capitulated to Chicago White Sox manager Cap Anson, who refused to take the field for a well-attended exhibition game unless Newark played without its star black pitcher, George Stovey. That same month the league’s directors voted not to approve any more contracts with black players. Although Grant played another season in the league, his future looked grim. So many rival players tried to spike or hurt him as they slid into second base that he left the infield for a safer spot in the outfield. He also encountered abusive tauntings from fans.
Grant barnstormed with the Cuban Giants after the 1888 season and did not go back to Buffalo the following spring. Only Moses Fleetwood Walker, of all the black players in the International League, returned for the 1890 season. Grant instead stayed with the Giants, a black club that played in the otherwise all-white Middle States League, a weaker minor league circuit. In 1890 he left the Cuban Giants for Harrisburg, an integrated team in the Eastern Interstate League. Harrisburg switched to the Atlantic Association in midseason, which meant that Grant was forced to travel farther south and face segregated dining and lodgings. Although he finished fifth in the league in batting with a .325 average, he signed with the Big Gorhams, a black team in New York City that barnstormed its way to a 100–4 record in 1891. Despite the players’ ease of winning, the club lost money and disbanded. Grant returned to the Cuban Giants, with whom he played during the century’s closing decade. He then played with the Philadelphia Giants, a top black club in 1902 and 1903, before drifting into athletic retirement at the age of thirty-eight.
He spent most of his later years in Manhattan, working as a waiter for a caterer. He died in New York City and was buried in a pauper’s grave without a headstone.
Grant may have been the greatest black player of the nineteenth century. He sometimes was called the “Black Dunlap,” a comparison to Fred Dunlap, considered at the time the best second baseman in the major leagues. Sol White, a black player of that era and the first chronicler of black baseball, wrote that Grant’s “playing was a revelation to his fellow teammates, as well as the spectators. In hitting he ranked with the best and his fielding bordered on the impossible.” Had he and other African Americans not been driven out of integrated baseball by the mounting racial enmity of the 1890s, Grant could have been the first black player in the “white” major leagues.
The best source on Grant is “Frank Grant,” by James E. Overmyer, Baseball History 4 (1991). See also Robert Peterson, Only the Ball Was White (1970), and Jerry Malloy’s article in Nineteenth Century Stars (1989).
- Anson, Cap (1852-1922), professional baseball player and manager
- Walker, Moses Fleetwood (1857-1924), baseball player and writer
- Dunlap, Fred (1861-1902), major league baseball player
- White, Solomon (12 June 1868– August 1955), Negro League baseball player and manager and chronicler of early "blackball" years,