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Luke Easter

Luscious Easter
Nickname: Luke

Career: 1947-1948
Positions: of, 1b
Teams: Cincinnati Crescents (1946), Homestead Grays (1947-1948), minor leagues (1949, 1954-1964), major leagues (1949-1954)
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Height: 6' 4-1/2''  Weight: 240
Born: August 4, 1915, Jonestown, Mississippi
Died: March 29, 1979, Euclid, Ohio

As a rookie with the Homestead Grays in 1947, he was touted as a new Josh Gibson and was expected to provide the same home-run power at the plate as the recently departed Gibson. With Buck Leonard entrenched at first base, Easter was forced to play in the outfield. In league play, Easter hit .311 and finished third in home runs, while against all levels of opposition he was credited with 43 homers and a .382 batting average. The next year, 1948, the big, strong slugger earned a spot on the East squad for the East-West All Star game by hitting .403 and being credited with a league-high 13 home runs for the Grays' last pennant-winning team.

Easter began playing baseball on the sandlots of St. Louis, then was discovered by the Cincinnati Crescents before signing with the Grays. He had little speed, limited range afield, only an average arm, and couldn't bunt or execute the hit-and-run play, but he was a young, natural pull-hitter with prodigious power. But he also had a reputation for fearsome skills as a gambler. A card shark, he loved playing cards and engaged in the pastime at every opportunity, often using a marked deck. Although he was fun-loving, friendly, and charismatic, his dishonest tendencies with a deck of cards often caused him trouble. Once in a card game on the Gray's team bus, he and diminutive Groundhog Thompson accused each other of cheating. Easter threatened the little man, and Thompson responded by pulling his knife and threatening to cut Easter down to his size. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

That was to be Easter's last year in the Negro Leagues, as the hulking 240-pounder was signed by the Cleveland Indians during the winter of 1948-1949. Easter, playing with Mayauez, was leading the Puerto Rican League with a .402 batting average while also leading in doubles and runs scored. The Indians paid $10,000 for his contract, with an additional $5,000 promised if he made the major leagues. Easter thought he deserved the incentive bonus for himself and worked out a deal with Rufus Jackson's widow, who was then handling the Gray's financial operations. Like many Negro Leaguers, he shaved years off his age to get into organized baseball. In 1949 he began with San Diego in the Pacific Coast League and hit .363 with 25 homers in 80 games before being called up to Cleveland, where he hit .222 without a homer in 21 games. The following season, 1950, he spent the entire year as a first baseman with the Indians and hit .280 with 28 home runs. During the next two major-league seasons, the left-handed swinger hit 27 and 31 home runs, and was on the way to another good season in 1953 before being sidelined by a broken foot. Despite the injury, he still finished with a .303 batting average.

In 1954 he was limited to only six pinch-hitting appearances, which were to be his last in the major leagues. The rest of the season was spent with Ottawa (International League) and San Diego (Pacific Coast League), where he hit for a composite batting average of .315 with 28 home runs. After a season with Charleston in the American Association, where he clubbed 30 home runs, 102 RBIs, and batted .283, he joined Buffalo in the International League, where he became a local legend with consecutive seasons of 35 home runs, 106 RBI, .306 batting average; 40 home runs, 128 RBI, .279 batting average; and 38 home runs, 109 RBI, .307 batting average. Easter remained in the International League for the remainder of his career, spending the last five seasons (1960-1964) with Rochester while his batting average dropped about 10 points each season as age began to catch up with him.

At age forty-nine, he ended his minor league career as he had his major league career, appearing only as a pinch hitter in a handful of games. His career stats show a lifetime .296 minor-league average, a .274 major-league record, and .336 for the Negro Leagues, as well as a lifetime total of 385 home runs.

He also played in the Latin American winter leagues, blasting 17 home runs in Puerto Rico in 1956-1957 and 8 in the Venezuelan winter of 1947-1948, while batting .302. Everywhere he played, he left behind stories of his gargantuan home runs. After leaving baseball, Easter worked as a security guard with Wells Fargo and, while taking a payroll to a nearby bank, was killed by a robber.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.