Weather Updates

Outfielder, passed up by Sox, made his mark in the old Negro Leagues

Robert “Bob” Wiggins 78 was an all-star outfielder who starred for Raleigh Tigers baseball’s Negro Leagues both 1959 1960. |

Robert “Bob” Wiggins 78, was an all-star outfielder who starred for the Raleigh Tigers of baseball’s Negro Leagues, in both 1959 and 1960. | Photo courtesy of

storyidforme: 40724446
tmspicid: 15074077
fileheaderid: 6842842
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: December 30, 2012 3:14PM

Robert “Bob” Wiggins barnstormed his way around the country as a hard-hitting outfielder with the Raleigh Tigers and the Kansas City Monarchs, sleeping and eating on the team bus for hundreds of miles because players in the old Negro Leagues weren’t welcome at many restaurants and hotels.

The Tigers had to be ambassadors and diplomats, according to Mr. Wiggins. Sometimes, they played Caucasian teams. They wanted to beat them — but not by too much.

“You couldn’t run the score up against the white team because you wanted to get invited back the next year to play them,” said Gary Crawford, founder of the website .

The African-American players didn’t make much money. For them, it was all about getting the chance to play.

Mr. Wiggins played for the Negro American League in 1959 and 1960 — more than 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke big-league baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Still, the welcome mat wasn’t spread all that wide. The Boston Red Sox didn’t field a black player until 1959. Talented young black ballplayers still found themselves starting careers on Negro League teams.

Even after Jackie Robinson, “Willie Mays was playing in the Negro Leagues; Ernie Banks was playing in the Negro Leagues; Hank Aaron; Willie McCovey; Elston Howard; Billy Williams,” said Layton Revel, founder of the Texas-based Center for Negro League Baseball Research. “Countless numbers of not just regular ballplayers but superstars started in the Negro Leagues after Jackie broke in. They were still a viable option and a way for talented players to get attention.”

Mr. Wiggins died Nov. 16 at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. He was 79.

“He was an outstanding high school athlete growing up, an all-state football player; also baseball,” Revel said. “He played military baseball and football.”

Mr. Wiggins was born in Greensboro, Ala., where he went to church and picked cotton and dug potatoes, said his daughter, Monica Wiggins. He was co-captain of the football team at Hale Country Training [High] School, along with Eugene Sawyer, who became mayor of Chicago after the death of Harold Washington.

In 1953, he was drafted into the Army, where he played baseball and football. Eventually, he came north to Chicago, where he had a cousin.

From the mid- to late 1950s, Mr. Wiggins played for semi-pro teams including the Chicago Brown Bombers, the Chicago Giants and the Mobile Black Barons.

In 1955, he landed a job at the company that marketed Mazola corn oil, Argo cornstarch, Karo syrup and Bosco chocolate flavoring. It became Diversified CPC International, of Channahon. He remained there 40 years, rising to the rank of supervisor. It was also where he met his wife, Frances.

His colleagues liked him so much that they helped him get a leave of absence in 1958 when he was invited to try out with the White Sox. The Sox took a pass, but he wound up playing for the Tigers and Monarchs — both pro Negro American League teams — in 1959 and 1960.

Mr. Wiggins “was fun to watch,” said former Negro Leaguer Ray “Boo Boy” Knox, who played for the Chicago American Giants. “He was a good player.”

“When he played for the Raleigh Tigers, Arthur Dove was the owner,” Revel said. “He didn’t pay his ballplayers a lot. Bob played for the love of the game. You would get finished playing a ballgame and get on the bus, and maybe spend 500 or 600 miles driving to the next town where they were going to play ball. You would sleep on the bus, eat on the bus.”

After his sports career, Mr. Wiggins’ idea of a good road trip was to visit baseball diamonds all over the city.

“He knew everybody, everywhere,” his daughter said. “So to pull up and start talking to people and get into a game was absolutely nothing.’’

Later in life, he helped coach the SouthShore Railcats in Gary.

Mr. Wiggins loved Cadillacs. He owned at least six of them at one time or another. He also liked talking politics and listening to Cliff Kelley’s WVON radio show.

He enjoyed appearing at sports conventions and autograph signings.

“He didn’t care about the money he would make,” Crawford said. “His whole goal was to be with the fellas” — other Negro League veterans.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Wiggins is also survived by three other daughters, Claudine Rochelle, Jeraldine Martin and LaShan Waller; sons Bernard Sanders, Derrick Reed, Alfred Williams and Joe Sturges; brothers Eddie and Arthur; 23 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. Services were held Friday.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.