#Shortstops: Words on pictures tell fascinating Negro Leagues story
Many photographs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s collection have writing on the reverse. This writing can be player identification, a caption describing a captured moment of play, or even an inscription written out from the player or photographer to a friend or fan.
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This Negro Leagues team photograph of the 1916 St. Louis Giants, like many other team photographs in the Photo Archives collection, has player names listed on the reverse. However, in addition to these identifications, it also has a few anecdotes included which, while not unheard of, is unusual. Both the identifications and the anecdotal information was written by one of the other players on the team, Bill Drake, who is second from the left in the back row. Two of these anecdotes related by Bill are rather ordinary, referencing achievements in baseball. The other two anecdotes are more surprising and involve McKinley “Bunny” Downs (far left, seated) and Bill Gatewood (far left, standing). They read, “Downs later killed a woman, I don't know all the details. Gatewood, an emery ball pitcher, killed a man in batting practice.”
Research brought up nothing on Gatewood’s incident but it did unearth at least one other time that a player was killed during batting practice in the Negro Leagues when Jose Méndez accidentally hit Jose Figarola in the chest with a pitch.
Slightly more information was found about Downs' shooting. Research revealed that he shot the unknown woman in self-defense in Philadelphia before the 1923 season. However, the reason for the altercation and the legal ramifications remain a mystery and Downs would end up leaving the Hilldale Club shortly thereafter. To paraphrase Drake, we don't know all the details.
Kelli Bogan is the manager of the photo archives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum