Charlie “Tokohama” Grant Conspiracy

The Tokohama Conspiracy was an attempt by John McGraw to sneak African-American Charlie Grant into the major leagues by claiming he was a Native-American.

In 1901, McGraw, manager of the Baltimore Orioles, tried to sign Grant while the Orioles are training in Hot Springs, AR. Because of Grant’s heritage, McGraw knew he would not be allowed to play in the majors, so he attempted to pass Grant off as a Native American named Tokohama. However, Grant’s true identity was revealed before the start of the season and Grant was never allowed to play in the majors.

The story of the Tokohama Conspiracy was largely lost to history until 1962 when respected baseball historian Lee Allen wrote about the event in his book The American League Story. He wrote:

"In March 1901, Grant was one of a group of Cincinnati Negroes working as bellboys at the Eastland Hotel, Hot Springs, Arkansas. To fill their idle time they formed a baseball team, and McGraw, watching them play, recognized immediately that Grant had enough class to perform in the major leagues. But there was an unwritten law that barred Negroes from the professional game, and McGraw wondered how on earth he could circumvent it.

Then one day, while examining a large wall map just off the lobby at the Eastland, he was seized with an inspiration. Calling Grant over to him, he said: "Charlie, I've been trying to think of some way to sign you for the Baltimore club and I think I’ve got it. On this map, there’s a creek called Tokohama. That’s going to be your name from now on, Charlie Tokohama, and you’re a full blooded Cherokee.”"

The story was retold by Robert Peterson in his landmark book Only the Ball was White, bringing more attention to the story. Almost all recounts of the Tokohama Conspiracy trace back to Allen's work. However, in recent years, Allen's version of the story has been questioned. A 1910 article in the Indianapolis Freeman by negro league player, manager, writer and pioneer Dave Wyatt give's valuable insight into what happened:

"Grant was one of our greatest baseball players. Some years ago he accompanied the writer to Hot Springs, where we hatched a plan to better the condition of colored players. I placed the same before McGraw, whom I knew personally. After considering things, McGraw said that he could probably get Grant into the League as an Indian. I told Grant of the decision, but it did not appeal to him as right. After seeing Grant perform “Mac” became all enthused, and insisted upon us hunting up some long Indian name to be used. We manufactured one—Grant-a-muscogee [of the Tuckahoma Tribe]. This made a hit with McGraw, but in the meantime some newspaper man had got “hep” to us and sent the news broadcast that the Indian find’s name was Tokohoma. The idea that McGraw did not know Grant was a colored man is all bosh; the writer arranged the whole plan, and McGraw stuck to his word all the way through until the colored players and patrons of the game worked up so much sentiment that Ban Johnson took a hand. McGraw was one of the most loyal men I ever saw. McGraw told Johnson that it was a shame for a man to be barred from baseball on account of color, and he actually wept when he could go no further with Grant. In justice to Grant, I will say that at no time did he want to pass as anything but a colored player. There were a half dozen players on the Baltimore club then who knew Grant personally; two of them were Mike Donlin and Roger Bresnahan. George Rohe was raised up with him in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Jimmie Burke knew him well. All these agreed to play dumb, and they carried out the part. It was left to players with whom he had associated for years to have him turned down."

According to the 1910 article, as well as a later article in the 1942 Chicago Defender that repeats the story, Wyatt himself was the mastermind behind the conspiracy and was the creator of Grant's alias. This contradicts Allen's version, which claims McGraw did these things. However, Wyatt appears to be credible. He was living in Hot Spring at the time, working for the Arlington Hotel and playing for its baseball team. Also, in the article, Wyatt correctly identifies at least two other individuals who have been confirmed to be in Hot Springs at the time, Mike Donlin and Roger Bresnahan.

Several other parts of Allen's version have also been questioned. In his book, he claimed Grant was working as a ". . . bellboy at the Eastland Hotel". Allen probably meant the Eastman Hotel, which indeed operated in Hot Springs at the time. However, there is no known evidence that Grant was working there. Also, Allen claims McGraw named Grant 'Tokohama' after a creek on a wall map in the lobby of the Eastman Hotel. Again, however, there is no known evidence this happened, nor is there any geographical place in the U.S. known as 'Tokohama'.

This of course begs the question, what happened in Hot Springs that spring of 1901? Until more evidence is uncovered, we can only speculate about which version of the story is correct.

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