Most small towns will never produce even one famous athlete.
Humboldt, Kansas, the southeast Kansas community of about 2000 people, is the hometown of two famous baseball players: Walter “Big Train” Johnson, one of the most revered pitchers of all time, and George “Sharkey” Sweatt, a combination infielder and outfielder known for his wicked hitting who played for the renowned Kansas City Monarchs of the National Negro League.
Sweatt and Johnson share an incredible achievement. Each man won the World Series with his ball club. Sweatt and the Monarchs took the first-ever Negro League World Series, while Johnson’s Washington Senators won in his eighteenth year with team. Even more incredibly, they won their respective World Series in the same year—1924.
For Sweatt, winning wasn’t everything. More than a great ballplayers, he was a well-known league gentlemen who took sportsmanship seriously, nurturing deep roots in his Kansas community..
Sweatt was a devoted schoolteacher in Coffeyville, Kansas, south of Humboldt. If the baseball season overlapped with his teaching duties, there was no question which he would pick, according to this article by Mark Schremmer:
“Sweatt was kind of an academic and a ballplayer,” Negro League baseball historian and author Phil Dixon said. “He….would leave the team early enough so he could go teach. He was a tremendous individual.”
Nicknamed “Never,” “Sharkey” and “The Teacher,” Sweatt was a versatile player who took the field in all three outfield spots and every infield position except shortstop. From the limited statistics available,baseballreference.com lists Sweatt as a .263 career hitter. His best season came in 1923 when he hit .310.
“He didn’t have any super standout numbers,” Dixon said. “I don’t know if he was totally dedicated to baseball. But he was a good substitute, and they liked him well enough to let him play partial seasons every year. But you couldn’t really build a franchise around him.”
Still, Sweatt is one of only two players to appear in all four Negro Leagues World Series from 1924-27.
In Game 7 of the 1924 Negro Leagues World Series, Sweatt hit a two-out triple in the 12th inning. He was injured on the play, but the pinch-runner scored the winning run.
In 1926, Sweatt was traded to the Chicago American Giants for eventual National Baseball Hall of Famer Cristobal Torriente.
“The trade looked like one of baseball’s most ridiculous — a player destined for the Hall of Fame for a utility outfielder named George ‘Never’ Sweatt. In time, the deal would prove legitimate,” Dixon wrote in his book, “Wilber ‘Bullet’ Rogan and the Kansas City Monarchs.”
Sweatt helped the Giants to World Series titles in 1926 and 1927.
After the 1927 season, Sweatt retired from baseball when he wasn’t offered a raise. He stayed in Chicago and started a career with the U.S. Postal Service. From 1928-33, he spent his weekends managing the Chicago Giants.
Sweatt retired from the Postal Service in 1957 and died in 1983.
He was the first African American letterman at what is now Pittsburg State University, where he was a talented track and field star, and a plaque marking the place of his birth is planned—fitting recognition for the man whose autobiography includes a dedication to “the older citizens of Humboldt, Kansas for accepting me for what I was and have become.”
Humboldt set up a local baseball Hall of Fame with a display featuring photos, articles and memorabilia associated with the both Sweatt and Johnson. Town teams play at both Walter Johnson Field (baseball and football) and at Sweatt Field (baseball), and monuments to both men stand at various locations throughout town.