Mariners' Brian Giles Is Following A Trail Blazed By His Grandfather In Baseball's Negro Leagues -- Proud Path

Today: Mariners at Texas Rangers, KSTW TV (channel 11) and KIRO radio (710 AM), 5:35 p.m. Starting pitchers: M's Matt Young (2-7, 4.09 ERA) vs. Nolan Ryan (5-4, 4.41).

Growing up in San Diego, Brian Giles didn't think much about the tattered copy of a Life magazine from the 1950s that held a special place in his parents' home.

In it was a story about the Negro baseball leagues of the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Illustrating the piece was a group shot of star players. One of the men in the photo was circled.

It was Giles' grandfather, George Giles, who played for 12 different teams in the Negro Leagues between 1927 and 1937.

``I didn't realize what it meant as I grew up,'' said the Seattle Mariner shortstop. ``To me, he was not some baseball player or star, he was my grandpa.''

It was not until after the younger Giles attracted the attention of major-league scouts as a prep infielder, en route to being the third draft choice of the New York Mets in 1978, that a baseball connection began.

``Grandpa stayed back in Manhattan, Kansas, while most of the family moved around,'' Giles said. ``I became more aware and proud of his past through my school years, but we never really even talked about baseball with him until he came out for my high school graduation.''

Giles' grandfather did not tell much of what it was like in those shadow leagues where some of the best baseball was played and ignored by most of the country. In those games, although some crowds were racially mixed, on the field only the ball was white.

``Grandpa never talked much about himself at all,'' Giles said. ``He was never one for bragging or such. We just talked a lot of baseball.

``I do remember both my grandfather and my father laughing about the way I ran. My father was a good player, too. He was a shortstop in the Cincinnati organization and played with Frank Robinson there, until he was hit in the head by a pitch.''

While Giles' grandfather would talk baseball, he said only a little about the hardships and discrimination, Brian said.

``But he said it without anger,'' said Giles. ``He just told us, `That's the way it was back then.' ''

``And that is the way it was,'' the elder Giles said this week by phone from George's Motel, the inn-restaurant-bar in Manhattan, Kan., he has owned for 40 years. ``We slept in cars, ate out of potato sacks when we had to. It was pretty tough, but it was better than working the fields.''

According to the Baseball Encyclopedia, George Giles, born May 2, 1909, in Junction City, Kan., hit a career .312.

In what sounds like a tour of the great teams of the Negro Leagues, his career included stints with the Philadelphia Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, St. Louis Stars, Detroit Stars, Homestead Grays, Baltimore Elite Giants, Brooklyn Eagles, New York Black Yankees, Kansas City Royal Giants, Gilkerson Union Giants, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Satchel Paige All-Stars.

``Those books aren't always right about our numbers,'' said Buck O'Neill, a scout for the Kansas City Royals who followed the elder Giles to the Kansas City Monarchs. ``And they surely don't tell the whole story.

``George Giles, for instance, could hit the ball to all fields and run like the wind. No lie. He was as good a first baseman as you'd ever want to see.''

The elder Giles laughed after hearing O'Neill's words. ``They did say that it was illegal to go to first base as fast as me and Cool Papa,'' he said.

Cool Papa Bell, in the leagues from 1922-50, is in the Hall of Fame.

``No Hall for me,'' the elder Giles said, laughing again. ``I was just happy to be making a living. That's why I moved around so much, why we went to Cuba or Mexico or Puerto Rico winters to play. Crammed a bunch of us into one room and sent as much money home as we could.''

His top salary was $450 a month as player-manager in Brooklyn. ``By that time I was older and it wasn't as much fun,'' he said.

The most fun, he said, was traveling with the Monarchs as a rookie.

``They used them big Buick Specials, the kind they don't make no more,'' he said. ``Three in the front seat, three on the jump seat and three in the back.

``Sleep sitting and take turns driving. How else you going to make a doubleheader in Pittsburgh one day and a doubleheader in Toronto the next - and that's some traveling - and a doubleheader in Detroit the day after that?''

Segregation was a way of life - no more, no less. There were separate buses and facilities. Separate hotels, too.

``We stayed in a lot of rooming houses,'' he said. ``You had to leave the light on while you slept . . . bedbugs wouldn't move in light. I didn't always sleep on a waterbed, you know.''

Again, the elder Giles was laughing. ``Put paper out on the bed around you, too. Them bugs didn't like to hear the sound of their own feet. Made them stay put and you could get some sleep.''


Nothing worse than having to leave the shades down on train windows going through some towns or being refused service in restaurants.

``We did have to run for our lives once,'' he said. ``When I was with St. Louis, we won the championship in Indianapolis and had to lie down in our bus to get out of town without a riot. But that weren't nothing racial. They were just mad at getting beat.''

The players were respected in black communities. ``Unless you acted a fool out on the street,'' the elder Giles said. ``And we had them kind. You still do, in the big leagues.

``But you don't have to worry about Brian that way. If I told him anything, and I've told him a lot, it was to keep his mind on the game and play hard.

``I saw him play live in St. Louis a few years back. And I've seen him play a lot on TV. He don't need any more help from me. He looks good now, so I told him he's on his own.''

When Brian Giles thinks of the baseball talent passed down through his family, he said he feels something special.

``It's a sort of kinship with my grandfather and the men he played with,'' he said. ``They broke the ground for others to come after them, the Jackie Robinsons and all that followed him.

``At times, as a black man, I get frustrated at how life could have been like that just because of color. But I see grandpa out fishing or sitting on his porch, a happy man. Learn to deal with it all, he used to tell me, and let it go.''






- SERIES - Seattle at Texas, three games.

- TV/RADIO - KSTW TV (channel 11), 5:35 tonight, 6:05 tomorrow; KIRO radio (710 AM), tonight, tomorrow and 5:05 Sunday.

- PITCHING MATCHUPS - Tonight, Seattle's Matt Young (2-7, 4.09) vs. Nolan Ryan (5-4, 4.41); tomorrow, Randy Johnson (7-3, 3.53) vs. Bobby Witt (3-8, 4.74); Sunday, Erik Hanson (6-6, 4.27) vs. Charlie Hough (7-4, 3.60).

- WHO'S HOT - Texas 2B Julio Franco has hit in 22 of his past 26 games (.347); 3B Scott Coolbaugh is 6-10 in three games since replacing injured Steve Buechele; reliever Kenny Rogers has allowed just four runs in 21 1/3 innings.

- WHO'S NOT - Ranger CF Cecil Espy is hitting .097, lowest average in league for players with 30-plus at-bats; C Geno Petralli has started just two of past 12 games with back spasms; C John Russell is 2-15 in his past five games; 1B Rafael Palmeiro is 6-27 in his past seven games.

- NOTES - Nolan Ryan starts tonight for Texas despite a sore right forefinger, jammed on cab door in Seattle last weekend. Texas pitchers have 2.79 ERA over the last 11 games.