DETROIT – Cecil Kaiser, a diminutive left-hander who made $700 a month at the height of his Negro Leagues pitching career in the 1940s, died Monday at the age of 94.
His son, Tyrone, said Kaiser died following a fall at his home in Southfield, Mich.
"He fell, was rushed to the hospital and his heart stopped," said Tyrone Kaiser, who remembered his father as a lifelong baseball fan who talked about the game "all the time."
Cecil Kaiser grew up a Yankees fan in New York. With his path to the majors blocked by segregation, the 5-foot-6, 165-pounder played outfield with some traveling sandlot teams, eventually rising to prominent roles with the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays.
According to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kaiser first appeared with the Crawfords as an outfielder, but when the team's pitching staff suffered a series of injuries, manager "Candy Jim" Taylor sent Kaiser to the mound.
A reluctant Kaiser responded by hurling a complete-game victory over the Cincinnati Clowns.
Despite his size, Kaiser was known as a strikeout pitcher who effectively mixed in a good fastball with an assortment of off-speed pitches. He was nicknamed "Minute Man," because it took him but a minute to strike out batters.
Last month, Kaiser attended the opening of a Negro Leagues-themed exhibition at an art museum in Muskegon, Mich. There, he described having played with the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige and how the great Josh Gibson was his catcher at one time.
"They're pretty much all gone now. Not too many are left," Kaiser told The Muskegon Chronicle.
In 1947, Kaiser made $700 a month with the Grays, with whom he played through 1949. He also had success during a number of stops in various Latin American and Canadian leagues.
Perhaps his best year of winter ball came in 1949-1950, when, pitching with Caguas of the Puerto Rican League, he posted a league-leading 1.68 ERA.
The Negro Leagues museum said that upon the demise of the Negro National League, a drawing was held to determine the dispersal of players among the remaining teams. When Kaiser was assigned to the Clowns, he refused to report and returned to Puerto Rico.
After he lost power in his pitching arm and left pro baseball, Kaiser spent five years with the Ford Motor Co. team in the Detroit Industrial League.
"Certainly we will remember him fondly, remember the contributions he made, not only in baseball," said Raymond Doswell, interim president of the Negro Leagues museum.
Doswell said only about 125 to 150 former Negro League players are still alive and Kaiser was known to be among those who made a point of attending reunions and other events tied to their time in baseball.
The Detroit Tigers in recent years were among those to celebrate the contributions of Kaiser and others.
"Cecil was a great friend to the Detroit Tigers and was truly a pioneer to the game of baseball," the club said in a statement. "The Tigers are grateful of Cecil's participation in our annual Negro Leagues tribute games. . Cecil's warm smile and presence will be missed."
Tyrone Kaiser said his father worked for more than 40 years as a deliveryman and maintenance worker for a printing company in suburban Detroit and was "a hardworking man who took care of his family — a very good provider."
"He was a great father, and I'm definitely going to miss him," he said.