Porter was the eldest of eight children born to Philip John Porter Sr. and Violet (nee McKinney) Porter.3. He grew up on the Porter's family-owned cotton farm near the communities of College Station and Sweet Home in rural Pulaski County, AR. His first engagements in baseball came with local semi-pro teams, including the Missouri Pacific railroad shops Negro team of North Little Rock, AR.4 In 1932, he briefly caught on the Little Rock Black Travelers before the team dissolved very early in the season.5 According to an interview in The Negro Leagues Revisited: Conversations with 66 More Baseball Heroes by Brent Kelley, Porter then endeavored to earn a position with the upstart Little Rock Grays of the Negro Southern League, but failed to make the team.2 Instead, Porter soon afterward caught the attention of the Cleveland Cubs, a team otherwise known as the Rube Foster Memorial Giants with an associated membership in the Negro Southern League.6 When the Cubs stopped in Little Rock in early May to play the local Grays, Porter was offered a position on the team. According to Porter, he spent only a short time pitching for Cleveland before the team's vehicle suffered a breakdown in Indiana near Louisville, KY.2 Consequently, Porter and several teammates were taken to play nearby with the Negro Southern League's Louisville Black Caps. From there, Louisville sent Porter across the league to finish the 1932 season with the Nashville Elite Giants, the franchise for which Porter would play the majority of his Negro League career. He finished the year with the Elite Giants in the California Winter League, beginning Porter's long career of off-season baseball in California and abroad.7
For the next six seasons, Porter was a mainstay pitcher for the Elite Giants. The team entered the Negro National League in 1933 and became rather nomadic, moving from Nashville to Columbus, OH in 1935, to Washington D.C. in 1936, and finally to Baltimore, MA in 1938. Although Porter's appearances with the Elite Giants were few in 1933, he became a regular starter in 1934 and quickly proved himself to be one of the team's best pitchers. He showed better-than-average control and good power, two traits that would help him throughout his career. He also fared well in the voting for the East-West All-Star game that year, collecting the second-highest vote total of any Elite Giants player.8 At the season's end, he was selected to participate in the annual North-South All-Star Game, played that year in Memphis, TN.9 In the off-season, he performed particularly well in his return to the California Winter League, going 12-3 for the Elite Giants with 66 strikeouts and only 21 walks in 122 innings pitched.7 He was slowed in 1935 by an illness that prevented him from playing part of the season,10 but was impressive enough during the remainder of the year to earn a repeat selection to the North-South game.11 His regular season performance with the Elite Giants dipped during the following two years, but his reputation as an ace pitcher persisted and garnered him his greatest accolade yet. In August 1937, Porter was named to East team in the annual East-West All-Star showcase at Comiskey Park in Chicago.12 He did not appear in the game, but he did demonstrate his skills in other significant games. On October 1st, 1936, Porter pitched in Davenport, IA against an all-star team of white players including Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby and Johnny Mize. He threw four innings on one earned-run while striking out eight, including Hornsby twice.13 He was given the loss only after an unearned run was scored on two errors in the 9th inning. A week later, on October 8th, Porter returned to pitch against the same team, this time earning the win after working six innings in relief on two runs.14 In a high-profile game against Satchell Paige's Santo Domingo Stars on September 26th, 1937, Porter allowed two runs in four innings in front of more than 25,000 fans at Yankee Stadium. Porter carried that success into 1938, during which he turned in a solid regular season for the Elite Giants. Elsewhere in the off-season, Porter continued to perform well in the California League where he combined for a 9-2 record between 1936-1939 with the Elites and Philadelphia Royal Giants.
While in California in November 1936, Porter appeared with the Royal Giants in an exhibition series at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles against an all-star team from the Mexican League.15 It was likely through this connection that Porter earned an offer to play with in Mexico the following spring. Porter accepted, and jumped his contract with the Elite Giants to join the 1939 Tampico Alijadores.16 As consequence, he and numerous other players who jumped were banned from the Negro National League.17 Nevertheless, Porter became a standout pitcher in Mexico and was named to the inaugural Mexican League All-Star game played August 29th, 1939 in Mexico City.18 Porter turned in a scoreless start to help Manuel Oliveros secure an 11-inning victory.19 In all, Porter finished his first season in Mexico with a 10-7 record and a 2.28 ERA for Tampico. That following winter, he made his first appearance in the Cuban Winter League, going 3-4 with Santa Clara.20 Meanwhile, Porter remained banned from the Negro National League, and thus returned for a sophomore season in the Mexican League in 1940.21 He shifted to Nuevo Laredo where he showed remarkable longevity, appearing in nearly half of his team's games and winning 21 of the team's 39 victories. In addition, he lead the league with 27 complete games, 296 innings pitched, 232 strikeouts and 125 walks, each of which were at the time league records.22 Back in Cuba during the 1940-41 winter season, Porter went 6-5 in 14 games with Almendares.23 His performance dropped a bit the following year with the 1941 Mexico City Rojos, posting a 11-16 record and a 4.47 ERA. Notwithstanding, he led the league with 133 strikeouts.22 Seemingly prompted by this lack of success and the Negro National League's now-rescinded ban on players in Mexico, Porter returned to the Elite Giants in the spring of 1942.24 After a first-half of the season that failed to impress Elite Giants management, Porter accepted an offer in July to pitch for Vera Cruz in the Mexican League.25 He spent the remainder of the 1942 season in Mexico, but struggled greatly with control, going 5-8 with a 5.66 ERA and only 47 strikeouts to 81 walks.22 Porter came back to open the 1943 season with Vera Cruz, but his struggles continued. He allowed ten earned runs and walked seven batters in only 3.1 innings before opting to return to the states. He rejoined the Elite Giants in June, but proved largely ineffective on the mound through the remainder of the 1943 and the 1944 season.26 However, Porter returned to form in 1945 and led the Negro National League in winning percentage.2728 He also posted a solid ERA and showed good control. This renewed success drew the attention of Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican League.
Negro League statistics at Baseball-Reference.com.
Minor League Statistics at Baseball-Reference.com.
Negro League Statistics at Seamheads.com.
1. Social Security Death Index and Porter's grave marker both give Porter's birth year as 1910. Porter's birth year is elsewhere listed as 1911, including in The Negro Leagues Revisited: Conversations with 66 More Baseball Heroes by Brent Kelley. In the 1920 U.S. Census, Porter is listed as age 10 when enumerated on January 12th, 1920. This more closely aligns with the 1910 birth year.
4. Arkansas Gazette, 3/24/1934, p.11 suggests Porter was former player with the Missouri Pacific Negro team. A "Porter" is mentioned as pitching for the Missouri Pacific team in the Arkansas Gazette, 6/17/1929, p.10 and 7/28/1929, p.15.
5. Arkansas Gazette, 3/2/1932, p.12; 3/27/1932, p.11
6. Porter identifies this team as the "Chicago Memorial Giants" in The Negro Leagues Revisited. However, it's clear that the two teams were synonymous and a distinct, unaffiliated franchise from the 1931 Cleveland Cubs in the Negro National League. According to Integrating Cleveland Baseball: Media Activism, the Integration of the Indians and the Demise of the Negro League Buckeyes by Stephanie M. Liscio, p.25, The Fading of the Greys: Black Baseball and Historical Memory in Little Rock by Thomas Aiello and The Kings of Casino Park: Black Baseball in the Lost Season of 1932 by Thomas Aiello, p.66, the Memorial Giants were recruited to play as the Cleveland Cubs in 1932 to fill the void of the previous Cleveland Cubs franchise. In the Chicago Defender, 3/19/1932, p.9, the Cleveland Cubs were listed as an associate member of the 1932 Negro Southern League. The Arkansas Gazette, 4.30.1932, p.16, mentions that the Little Rock Grays were schedule Chicago Memorial Giants the following week, and the subsequent games were reported between the Grays and Cleveland Cubs. The details of Porter's time with the Cubs, including pitching in Monroe, LA immediately afterward and the scores of these games, coincide with newspaper accounts of Porter pitching with the Cleveland Cubs in early May, 1932. Monroe News-Star, 5/7/1932, p.6; 5/9/1932, p.6
7. The California Winter League: America's First Integrated Professional Baseball League, by William McNeil.
18. "Buenos Dias!!! Hablemos De Historia", La Prensa De Monclova, by Juan Luis Morales V., 6/29/2018
19. El Informador, 8/30/1939
21. The Negro National League's ban on players who jumped to Mexico was clarified before the 1940 season as a three-year ban. Pittsburgh Courier, 3/2/1940.
22. The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics, 1937-2001, by Pedro Treto Cisneros.
24. Faced with player shortages due to WWII, the Negro National League rescinded the three-year ban on players in Mexico in early 1941 and replaced it with a $100 fine. The Afro-American, 3/1/1941, p.19.
25. El Informado, 7/16/1942. Baltimore Afro-American, 7/11/1942
26. Baltimore Afro-American, 6/12/1943
27. Baltimore Afro-American, 9/22/1945