Black Baseball Pioneers: Frank Grant
Those who saw Frank Grant play knew he was one of the finest ballplayers of baseball’s formative years during the nineteenth century. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 2006, Grant was a “quick, agile, skilled second baseman” who was nicknamed “The Black Dunlap”,
Those who saw Frank Grant play knew he was one of the finest ballplayers of baseball’s formative years during the nineteenth century. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 2006, Grant was a “quick, agile, skilled second baseman” who was nicknamed “The Black Dunlap”, a reference to Fred Dunlap, one of the best-fielding white second basemen of the 1880s.
Ulysses Franklin “Frank” Grant was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on August 1, 1865 – less than four months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. As best as Brian McKenna from the Society for American Baseball Research can determine, he was the ninth child of Franklin and Frances Grant, although his father passed away when baby frank was only four months old.
Frances worked for a local white family, the Perrys, and Frank’s older sisters were waitresses in a restaurant to help support the family. He grew up playing baseball with his older brother Clarence and with some of the Perry children.
Grant played baseball in high school and like many players of the day, got his professional start playing for a local semi-pro team in western Massachusetts in 1884. The next year, Grant played for a team in Plattsburgh, New York, who played contests against other teams in the Upper Hudson Valley and Capital Region.
Despite a stocky, 5-foot-7 frame, observers and contemporary news accounts noted how aggressive he was defensively and how well he moved after balls. This was an era where errors were extremely high because, among many factors, fields were not meticulously manicured and players did not wear gloves. The value of a strong fielder like Grant was extremely high.
This was also the time where baseball’s color line was being established, but not fully entrenched as it would become in the coming decades. In 1884 two black players, Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Weldy Walker, played for Toledo in the American Association (a Major League at the time), but a group led by Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) star Cap Anson agreed to no longer sign black players to Major League clubs. It wasn’t until Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 that another Black player would play in a white Major League.
But while Major League teams did not sign black players, Minor League clubs did so as far as the early 1890s. Grant was one of five black players known to have played for otherwise white Minor League teams at the time. Occasionally teams tried to pass him off as Spanish, Italian, or Native American, but he was largely acknowledged as a black player.
Grant played for a Meriden, Connecticut team in the Eastern League in 1886 before moving over to the Buffalo Bisons of the International League for three seasons. He dealt with racial taunts from fans, and attempts by the IL to formally ban black players by being one of the top players in the league. In 1887, he hit .353 and led the IL with 11 home runs and 49 extra-base hits. He also hit for the cycle in one game, and stole home twice in another.
Buffalo would also occasionally play exhibition games against National League and American Association teams, and Grant held his own in those contests, drawing praise from press accounts.
However, in 1889 racism and Grant’s request for his salary to be $250 per month (the same as 1888) led to Buffalo allowing him to leave, and he latched on with the Cuban Giants, the best all-black team of the era.
From there he played baseball for different black teams for another 16 years, suiting up for the Cuban Giants, Page Fence Giants, New York Gorhams, Cuban X-Giants, Philadelphia Giants and Brooklyn Royal Giants. The last known games he played were in 1907 for Brooklyn, when he would have been 42, although the 1910 census lists his occupation as “baseball player”.
After his baseball career was over, Grant lived out the rest of his life as a waiter for a catering company in New York City. He died on May 27, 1937 at age 71. He was buried in East Ridgelawn Cemetary in Clifton, New Jersey, and his grave was unmarked until 2011.
Baseball Reference has data for 224 games played by Grant for white Minor League clubs, and the incomplete data shows a lifetime batting average of .337 and a .487 slugging percentage. His statistics with black barnstorming clubs are unknown, though without a doubt he wowed crowds wherever he went across the northeast, and especially throughout New York.
A contemporary press account on record at the Baseball Hall of Fame says it best: “Were it not for the fact that he is a colored man, he would without a doubt be at the top notch of the records among the finest teams in the country.”
- SABR Bio Project: Frank Grant by Brian McKenna. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/frank-grant/.
- Baseball Hall of Fame. https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/grant-frank