Ted Toles Jr.’s stay in New Castle didn’t last long.
Yet July 21, 1951, still replays in his mind like he had just lived through it, his eyes widening at the mention of it, more than 60 years later.
The New Castle Indians of the Class C Mid Atlantic League hosted Ted Toles Night. With his friends and family coming out from his hometown in Newton Falls, Ohio, Toles put on a show for the adoring crowd.
“The one that sticks out the most is the fact that they thought enough of me to give me a special ‘Ted Toles Day,’” Toles said. “All my friends and family from Newton Falls and Greyfield came over. It was a doubleheader and we felt so confident and the crowd was cheering. I liked the write up after that game. They mentioned that one fellow (Bill Green) stole the show because he hit two home runs, a triple and another hit.”
“But they said I had a terrific day anyway. I had a home run and six hits in nine trips to the plate. That wasn’t a bad day. That was one of the better days.”
Toles, 89, returned to his old stomping grounds of New Castle Saturday to promote his book, “Living on Borrowed Time: The Life and Times of Negro League Player Ted Toles Jr.” The event took place at the Lawrence County Historical Society, 408 N. Jefferson St.
The former southpaw-turned-outfielder, who batted .308 in his lone season in New Castle, greeted friends and fans alike with a story from his past.
He was a member of the Jackie Robinson All-Stars Barnstorming team and was informed he was being replaced by now-Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Monte Irvin. Upset, Toles was challenged by the team manager to show his “guts” by singing a song in front of the fans. He belted out a Billy Eckstine tune and was put back on the roster.
About that time, as he followed the Trois-Rivieres Yankees’ team bus to Washington, D.C., he was detained by Maryland police officers. They pulled him over for speeding and didn’t believe he was a part of the Yankees’ organization.
“Most people want to be a Yankee,” Toles said, “but not me. Not with the things I had to go through then.”
Toles is well-traveled with less than a decade in the Negro Leagues and the Minor League C level. Between 1946 to 1950, he played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, the Cleveland Buckeyes, the Robinson All-Stars Barnstorming team, and the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues.
His time in the Negro Leagues was followed by stints in Saskatchewan, New Castle, Idaho and minor league affiliates of the Yankees and the Philadelphia A’s in Quebec from 1951 to ‘53.
Toles decided on the title of the book based on his parents’ ages when they died and his own longevity. His second choice for a title, he said, would have reflected his path through his early years and his baseball career.
“The name of my book is called that because my father passed away at 43 and my mother at 52,” Toles said. “I am a survivor. But the other name I wanted was ‘I’m Glad I Was Born Black.’ No white kid or man had to face what the average black person went through.”
Michael Swank, who helped Toles pen his story, had worked on the book for a year and a half before its release in December. The tireless work formed a bond between the two families, so much so that Toles has become a sort of grandfather figure to Swanks’ children.
“I have three children and they all know Ted. My 2-year old (Carter) adores him. After our first book signing a couple of weeks ago, I walked in the front room and Ted’s on the phone with my 2-year old on his lap and they’re watching The Lego Movie together. They’re our family now. We go out and have picnics together and all of that stuff. He jokes that I know more about him than he knows. We found quite a few things that he didn’t remember.”
Added Toles, “I never knew a relationship could get to be so close.”
(Email: A_Koob @ncnewsonline.com)