Nicknames: Smokey, Rawhide, The Red Ant, Big Red, Smiley
Teams: Dallas Giants (1909), Leland Giants (1909-1910), Chicago American Giants (1911-1912, 1914-1918, 1920-1921), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1912-1914), Mohawk Giants (1913-1914), Louisville White Sox (1914), New York Lincoln Stars, Indianapolis ABCs (1916), Jewell's ABCs (1917), Chicago Giants (1917), military service (1918-1919), Detroit Stars (1919), Norfolk Stars (1920), New York Lincoln Giants (1920, 1925), Canadian League (1921), St. Louis Giants, Philadelphia Giants
Born: 1888, Coffeyville, Kansas
Died: 1967, Schenectady, New York
An angular right-hander with a blazing fastball, Frank Wickware was a formidable pitcher during the second decade of the century. Arriving on the Chicago baseball scene in 1910, after previously having played with the Dallas Giants, a team of lesser status, he took the town by storm. Posting an 18-1 record for Rube Foster's great Leland Giants' ballclub, he quickly developed into the ace of the staff, supplanting Foster and Pat Dougherty. During the season Wickware told the press that he had never had to extend himself, and experienced diamond observers called him "the most sensational pitcher seen for some time."
At age twenty-two, Wickware was already noted for his velocity, mound presence, coolness under pressure, and smooth delivery. A big winner with the Chicago American Giants, he also pitched two winter seasons in Cuba. While pitching with the Fe ballclub in 1912, he led the Cuban league with 10 victories, and registered a composite 12-8 record on the island.
He was a star gate attraction and in demand by all the leading teams of the era, and remained a formidable pitcher throughout the decade. In a game in July 1913, after jumping to the Mohawk Giants of Schenectady, New York, he excited the crowd when he called in his outfield with two outs in the ninth inning and struck out the last batter to end the game. A month later the Chicago Cubs came to town for a scheduled exhibition game with the Rutland, Vermont, team. Rutland had hired Wickware as a ringer to pitch against the Cubs, but the Cubs remembered him from Chicago and refused to play if he pitched.
Another recorded incident, while he was with the Mohawks, serves as a clear indicator of Wickware's value to a team. Foster's western champion Chicago American Giants and the eastern champion New York Lincoln Giants were in a playoff for the colored championship, and both teams signed Wickware as a "ringer" to pitch for them in the championship series. When each of the opposing managers learned of his counterpart's plans, an argument ensued over who had the legal claim to Wickware, and the game was protested.
Always in demand and without hesitation to jump for more money, during the 1914 season he pitched for four different teams and was credited with no-hitters against both the Indianapolis ABCs and the Cuban Stars. However, he gained his most notoriety when he out-dueled Walter Johnson 2 out of 3 games in 1913 and 1914, when both hurlers were in their prime. One of those victories, a 1-0 game called on account of darkness after five innings, came in October 1913, with Johnson just having completed a sensational season with a 34-7 record and a 1.09 ERA. Johnson and Wickware shared the same hometown-Coffeeville, Kansas- and Wickware was often called "the black Walter Johnson."
Statistics from his prime seasons are fragmented, partly because of his continued changing of teams, but scattered box scores show a composite 15-14 ledger against quality teams. In addition to his willingness to jump a team for more money, his personal habits, both on and off the playing field, had become too much for some managers to tolerate, and Wickware's brilliant career was cut short because of his fondness for the bottle. Although he remained active, the dissipation robbed him of his previous effectiveness, and with it the possibility of a plaque at Cooperstown.
In 1917 he was with the Chicago Giants, a team in decline, and at that time a ballclub of lesser quality. His pitching was erratic, with a glaring lack of control, and his performance indicated that he might be about "over the hill." But by late summer he had joined the Chicago American Giants and was back in form for a time. The next season his personal decline manifested itself again by another incident, where he was thrown out because he quit running on a ground ball, when he would have beaten the throw. Wickware's career, already in disrepair, was further affected by his stint in the Army during World War I.
As a new decade began, both his skills and his gate appeal faded. He drifted around during these years, with his location not completely documented for the decade. He made a pitching appearance with the Calgary Black Sox in 1921, and in 1925, at age thirty-seven, he was with the New York Lincoln Giants for his last year in black baseball.
In April he and Oliver Marcelle were with teammate Dave Brown on the night when Brown killed a man in a barroom fight. Although not involved in the incident, the next day at the ballfield, he and Marcelle were picked up but later released. In the latter years of his career, he was referred to as "Rawhide" Wickware, and served briefly as manager in New Bedford, Massachussetts, in 1930. After he left baseball, he lived in Schenectady during the 1940s, but faded into obscurity and died in 1967.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.