Deceased: May 24, 2002
Jim played 1946 to 1949 - Known as "Big Jim" or “Big Stick” McCurine played his entire career with the Chicago American Giants. A powerfully built outfielder, Big Jim had one of the strongest throwing arms in the Negro Leagues. McCurine was renowned as a very intense competitor.
James "Big Stick" McCurine had been languishing in semiprofessional obscurity for nearly a decade when he catapulted a baseball into the stands at an exhibition game in 1945 in Racine, Wisconsin, a hit that ignited one of the Negro Leagues' most storied careers. In the opposing dugout Chicago American Giants manager Candy Jim Taylor watched in stunned admiration as the wiry 6-foot-2 batter for the Lincoln Giants sent pitch after pitch sailing into the distance.
As Mr. McCurine later recalled, "He left no stone unturned till he got me on that team." Mr. McCurine, 81, died May 24, 2002, in St. Bernard Hospital and Health Care Center in Chicago, Illinois, of congestive heart and kidney failure.
With fellow American Giant John "Mule" Miles, Mr. McCurine formed one of the Negro Leagues' top batting duos. Along the way he endured racial prejudice on the road as the team traveled to stadiums crowded by white fans in towns where the red carpet was rolled out for him and his teammates. "When we played in the North and in the big cities, it wasn't bad,"
Mr. McCurine recalled in Brent Kelley's 2000 book "The Negro Leagues Revisited." "It was just when we got away from the big cities and ventured into the Middle West and South. If we were playing in that town, we were treated royally, but it was when you were traveling through the cities that you weren't playing in ... when you stopped to eat or something like that. All the prejudice and everything rose, and we had to be segregated and pushed around." Still, he remembered games where the stands were so full that whites had no choice but to sit next to blacks--and nobody minded. "That'll show you how foolish it is," he told Kelley. "All they wanted to do was see a ballgame." He enjoyed the experience so much that he rejected a 1949 offer to play on a farm team of the major-league Boston Braves because he was so popular in the Negro Leagues.
Born into a religious family in Clinton, Ky., Mr. McCurine moved to Chicago as a boy and grew up playing baseball. By the time he was 15, he was traveling with semiprofessional teams such as the Hartford [Connecticut] Giants, Brown Bombers and Lincoln Giants, joking that his father would not let him play Sunday games--unless the team first paid his father $25. Although he was a standout player, Mr. McCurine remained on semipro teams from the mid-1930s until 1945, when his turns at bat for the Lincoln Giants humiliated Candy Jim Taylor's American Giants in Racine.
Taylor quickly hired Mr. McCurine to bat third for the American Giants, a spot in the lineup he held for two years until being shifted to bat cleanup. He swatted 20 to 25 home runs each year. But he was plagued by a shoulder injury, and when he tried out for the Boston Braves in 1949, the injury was so bad he could barely throw the ball in from the outfield. They would offer him a position only on their Class C team. Mr. McCurine returned to the American Giants for one last season, after which he retired from baseball and spent three years driving streetcars for the Chicago Transit Authority before beginning a 32-year career selling insurance. After retiring in 1985, he and his wife spent winters in Pembroke Pines, Florida. As religious as his father had been, Mr. McCurine taught a Bible class on the South Side for many years.