Traveling on a bus in the 1930s, loaded with his teammates from the football and baseball teams at Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University), usually was a lonely affair for Junius “Rainey” Bibbs. The sole African American on the teams usually had to eat his meals alone on the bus, and he was separated from his teammates overnight to sleep in the homes of local African American families.
“He wasn’t allowed to eat in most restaurants,” said his son Jeffrey L. Bibbs.
But his family sat front and center on Jan. 21 when the late Negro American League infielder was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Indianapolis. The Hall of Fame on the campus of Vincennes University is sponsored by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.
Bibbs was one of five players and coaches who received 65 percent or more of the votes necessary for inclusion in the Hall of Fame from the IHSBCA’s 800 members. They join only 149 people, about three of whom were in the Negro Leagues, who have been similarly honored by the IHSBCA since 1979.
Born in 1910 in Henderson, Ky., Bibbs, his parents Lloyd and Catherine, and his sister Eloise moved to Terre Haute, Ind., where he became a two-sport star at the former Wiley High School and later at what is now Indiana State University.
During the decade it took him to complete his college studies in science in preparation for a teaching career, Bibbs played on several Negro League teams, including the Indianapolis Crawfords and the Detroit Stars. Playing with the Cincinnati Tigers in 1937, the switch-hitting second baseman earned a .404 batting average, leading to his selection to the West squad of the All-Star game.
But Bibbs’ claim to fame came a year later when he signed as the regular second baseman and batter in the leadoff spot with the Chicago American Giants. Midway through the season, he was recruited by the Kansas City Monarchs, where he helped the team win three of four consecutive Negro League pennants in 1939, 1940 and 1941.
Ending his 12-year career in 1944 with the Cleveland Buckeyes, Bibbs went on to teach biology and coach baseball and wrestling for nearly 25 years at Indianapolis’ Crispus Attucks High School. He retired in 1972 after two years at Thomas Carr Howe High School.
Bibbs died in 1980, and he is buried at Indianapolis’ Crown Hill Cemetery, where his grave sometimes is included on historical tours. He was inducted in 1998 into the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame.
Jeff Bibbs, whose efforts led to his father’s inclusion in the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame, said much of what he knows about his father’s Negro League career he learned from others. What he does know is his father loved baseball and was bitter at not having been able to play in the majors.
“People approached me when I was a kid and said he was ahead of his time. It took me a long time to understand what that meant,” he said.
The only reason his father was allowed to play professional baseball while attending college, Jeff Bibbs said, was that society refused to recognize the Negro Leagues as professional.
“To have stopped him would have recognized them as a professional league,” he said. “That really gave him an advantage at Indiana State because he could play professional ball with the best then go back to college and play with lesser ballplayers.”
Though he played like a pro, Bibbs’ Negro League experience didn’t lead to respect from his college teammates. As a fullback, for instance, Bibbs complained his teammates would not block for him and actually relished watching him get hit.
Former Harlem Globetrotters Hallie Bryant and Willie Gardner and basketball legend Oscar Robertson were coached by Bibbs in baseball while they attended the former IPS School 17.
“He was a real, honest, decent human being, and he wanted the best for his students,” Bryant recalled. “He was my friend and a good teacher.”
Among the opportunities Bibbs provided for his students, Bryant said, was bringing other Negro League players to the school.
“I remember vividly sitting on the steps while Roy Campanella was at the bottom speaking to us,” he said.
Bibbs is included in many books about baseball, including three by Kansas City-based Negro Leagues historian Phil S. Dixon, whose work initially returned Bibbs’ career on the diamond to the spotlight.
Editor’s Note: Other Bibbs family members also attended Indiana State and excelled in their fields, especially two of Bibbs’ brothers-in-law. Belford Hendricks, a 1935 graduate in science and music, was a World War II veteran, participated in one of the first integrated radio programs in the nation, and went on to compose, arrange, conduct and produce for musical greats like Nat King Cole, Brook Benton, Johnny Mathis, Dinah Washington and Aretha Franklin. Paul Hendricks, also a 1935 graduate in science and music, was the second Black metallurgist in the United States, working at Wright Patterson AFB.