“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.”
So begins a contemporary press account on Ulysses “Frank” Grant, perhaps the best of the African-American players who played in organized baseball in the 1880s, before the color line was drawn. Grant was a quick, agile, skilled second baseman, and also a pitcher at the very beginning of his career. He was known as “The Black Dunlap,” a reference to Fred Dunlap, one of the best fielding white second basemen of the decade.
After playing with local semi-pro teams in his native Pittsfield, Mass., and in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Grant joined the Meriden, Conn., team in the Eastern League in 1886. Grant led the team with a batting average of .316.
When the team folded in July, he and two teammates reported to Buffalo of the International League, one step below the majors. Grant led the team with a .344 batting average and drew strong press throughout the league for his play in the field.
In 1887, Grant again led the Bisons with a .353 batting average, hit for the cycle in one game, and stole home twice in another.
The 1887 season was pivotal for African-American players in organized baseball, and at mid-season, the International League banned teams from signing new contracts with black players. Grant, like other African-American players including George Stovey and Fleetwood Walker, faced discrimination on and off the field, from teammates and opponents. He would wear improvised wooden shin guards at second base to protect himself from opponents' spikes. He was thrown at by pitchers repeatedly, and on several occasions, his own teammates threatened to strike if he continued to play – and refused to pose for team portraits if he was included.
However, Grant continued to lead his team in hitting, batting .346 in 1888. The following season, he relented to the changing environment and the pressure coming from his team, his teammates, fans and the media and switched to the Cuban Giants, one of the leading African-American clubs at the time. He played through the 1903 season with several of the leading black clubs, including the Page Fence Giants and the Philadelphia Giants.
Hall of Famer Sol White, a player, manager, and writer during the early years of black baseball, said: “In those days, Frank Grant was the baseball marvel. His playing was a revelation to his fellow teammates, as well as the spectators. In hitting he ranked with the best and his fielding bordered on the impossible. Grant was a born ballplayer.”
Grant passed away on May 27, 1937. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006.