He was referred to as the “Greatest Pitcher Never Known” and his name was Will “Cannonball” Jackman. Jackman joined the Boston Colored Giants in the 1924-1925 season and played ball until he was well into his sixties. He won more than half of the 1,200 games he pitched over 20 years, with nearly 800 strikeouts and more than 40 shutouts. His record was 52 in 2.
Sometimes nicknamed the “Satchel Paige of New England,” it was reported that Jackman earned $175 a game and $10 per strikeout. But later in his career, he reportedly received $500-$800 for playing against white semi-pro teams in the exhibition games. This was only a portion of what the white players received but on the high end for most black players. Jackman’s worth, however, was said to be more than the combination of several white players; New York Giants coach John McGraw was recorded saying he would “pay $50,000 to the man who could make Jackman white.”
The actual date of his birth was stated between 1897 and 1899 in Carta, Texas. He may have found his love of baseball while watching the nearby spring training camp of the New York Giants in San Antonio. Jackman started playing with the Houston Black Buffalos, drifting to Maryland and New York, before actually joining the Boston Colored Giants in 1925.
Although he was payed for his crowd-appealing pitches, Jackman took a side job as a chaffuer to send money to his family, keeping his job during the off seasons and well into retirement.
The Negro League pitcher left a trail of strikeouts while playing with teams in Texas, Oklahoma, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. Throughout his career, Jackman went on to play for the Philadelphia Giants, the Philadelphia Tigers, the Brooklyn Eagles, the Newark Eagles, and the Boston Royal Giants. In the 1952 Pittsburgh Courier’s player-voted poll of the “all-time great Negro League players,” Jackman was voted number one.
When the Boston Red Sox were scouting for African American players to finally join their roster in the 1950’s, they looked to Will “Cannonball” Jackman for guidance and recruiting.
Will “Cannonball” Jackman died on September 8, 1972 surrounded by friends and family. In his honor, the Cannonball Foundation, an organization that promotes baseball play among youth in low-income urban communities, was formed.
In 2012, his uniform was restored by Museum Textile Services for the Boston Museum of African-American History exhibit entitled “The Color of Baseball in Boston.”