Category Archives: baseball

Legacy of the Birmingham Barons, 1964

From Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South’s Most Compelling Pennant Race, by Larry Colton (Hachette, 2013), Kindle Loc. 4817-4852:

[Paul] Lindblad was not a complicated man, just pure Midwestern stock. But as he thought back on the season and his teammates, he knew it had been something special: the grace and speed of Bert Campaneris, who’d risked his life to flee Fidel Castro’s Cuba… the power and determination of Tommie Reynolds, who two years earlier had filled out his last will and testament prior to hoisting his combat gear onto an army truck in Germany as the world waited on the precipice of ruin… the physical stamina of Hoss Bowlin, who grew up on an Arkansas tenant farm and spent much of the season hunched over in pain from having one of his testicles removed… the raw talent of Johnny Blue Moon Odom, who started the year washing dishes for the minimum wage at Macon’s Dempsey Hotel, where he was expected to use only the rear entrance… and the calm leadership skills of Haywood Sullivan, who grew up down the road in Dothan and knew all about the South’s history of lynchings and the hard-edged racial protocols but treated his players as equals.

Of course Lindblad hadn’t come to Birmingham to study family trees. In a sense, he and the rest of the team were poorly paid mercenaries, bringing to Birmingham their arsenal of skills and talent. They had applied those skills to winning ball games, and now it was time to move on. Other than Stanley Jones, none of them would stay around. They would all retreat, hurrying back to their hometowns, families, friends, and jobs in the warehouse for a buck twenty an hour. A few would return to Florida for Instructional League. From his time in Birmingham, Lindblad would preserve some newspaper clippings and a few Kodak moments taken by the apartment pool, but little else.

He was proud to have been part of Birmingham’s first integrated team. But sports had already provided a blueprint for breaking down barriers. For years black athletes had gotten white fans to suspend their prejudices in the name of team or national pride, as they had for Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, and Joe Louis. Although these black athletes couldn’t belong to elite country clubs or send their children to the schools of their choice, their exploits on the playing fields and arenas had pulled down a few pickets of the fence guarding the house of bigotry. The Barons had just invited all the neighbors to join them in the backyard.

“See ya next spring,” said Lindblad, shaking Hoss’s hand.

“Now, don’t you be going and drinking out of any strange toilets,” replied Hoss.

“My biggest regret this whole year,” said Lindblad, “is not getting to see you in that grass skirt.”

“You can thank Mr. Finley for that.”

For the second-sacker named Lois, it was back to Paragould, Arkansas. His wife, Madelyn, had a job teaching school, but he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. Maybe take a few college classes. Maybe drive a school bus. In a few days, the disappointment of losing out to Lynchburg would subside. He would start thinking about where he would play next year. His slump at the end of the year had dropped his final average to .242, not exactly a punched ticket to move up, but he knew Sullivan liked the way he played the game. He led the team in games, at-bats, walks, and ugly scars. Maybe, if he was lucky, he’d get invited to the big-league training camp. That was the dream anyway.

Neither Lindblad nor Hoss, nor anyone else on the team, had volunteered to come to Birmingham—they’d been assigned by the baseball gods. Before the season started, none of them had said, You know, I think it’s deplorable what has happened in Birmingham this past year and I would like to go there and make a difference.

They were not social activists. They didn’t volunteer at soup kitchens or in school programs. Basically, they lived in their apartments, drove their Malibus, Bonnevilles, and Impalas to the ballpark, played the games, and then went home and watched Johnny Carson and got ready to do it all over again the next day. They did not carry signs to end Jim Crow. They did not march on City Hall. They did not speak out on the issues. Some of them didn’t know Bull Connor from Strom Thurmond… or care about either one of them.

They just showed up and played integrated baseball, which, according to Alf Van Hoose, was the way baseball was supposed to be played, even in Birmingham.

In 1964, the culture of minor-league baseball—or for that matter, the ethos of all sports—didn’t encourage the mixing of social justice and athletic competition.

It was supposed to be about what happened on the field. And Birmingham was better for it.

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Haywood Sullivan at the Red Sox

From Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South’s Most Compelling Pennant Race, by Larry Colton (Hachette, 2013), Kindle Loc. 4869-4895:

In 1965, [Charlie] Finley fired his manager Mel McGaha and named [Haywood] Sullivan the [Kansas City] A’s newest manager. At thirty-four, he was the youngest skipper in the big leagues. His meteoric ascension had taken only a year.

He didn’t have any better luck than Finley’s previous managers, however, either in winning games with his inept team or in curtailing Finley’s constant meddling. When he got a call in the off-season from Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, offering him the position of vice president of player development, he said yes.

Over the next twenty-seven years, he would become the first person in the history of the major leagues to be a player, manager, general manager, and owner… and one of the most respected men in the game.

His time as general manager and owner, however, wasn’t without controversy. For years, the Red Sox faced repeated charges of racism, and Yawkey’s response to the team’s lack of black players didn’t help:

I have no feeling against colored people. I employ a lot of them in the South. But they are clannish, and when the story got around that we didn’t want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club.

As general manager, Sullivan incurred the ire of Red Sox Nation for letting go of popular players such as Luis Tiant, Bernie Carbo, Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, and Bill “Spaceman” Lee. And it was under his watch that the Red Sox blew a fourteen-game lead and lost in a one-game play-off to the evil Yankees on Bucky Dent’s homer.

When Yawkey died in 1976, his widow loaned Sullivan a million dollars, and he became a third owner of the team. After he and Mrs. Yawkey survived an attempted coup by co-owner Buddy LeRoux, he took over running the team, and although the fans had grown increasingly impatient for a championship, he became one of the most respected owners in the game. He served on the Major League Executive Council, the committee that basically runs baseball. In 1981, he was named by the Sporting News as the top executive of the American League.

Around Fenway, Sullivan had a reputation for dignity and decency, treating the grounds crew and the ticket takers with the same respect he afforded his players and fellow American League owners. There was discussion among the other owners of naming him the league president.

Perhaps the criticism of Sullivan’s tenure as general manager–owner that stung the most was regarding his older son, Marc, the little boy whom Hoss and Tommie Reynolds used to push around the [Birmingham] Barons’ locker room in a laundry cart. In 1980, the Red Sox selected him in the second round of the draft. Some said his skills didn’t merit being drafted that high, and he’d been picked only because his father owned the team. Marc was good enough, however, to play parts of five years in the big leagues, mostly as a backup catcher, although his career .193 batting average did little to quiet the doubters.

In 1993, a year after the death of Mrs. Yawkey, Sullivan sold his share of the team and retired from baseball after five absorbing decades. He confessed to friends and family that as much as he loved the game, he no longer wanted to be part of the direction it was taking, with strikes, labor disputes, skyrocketing salaries, and agents and players who cared too little about the history and integrity of the game. According to the New York Times, he received $36 million for the sale.

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First National Baseball Congress in Wichita, 1935

From Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line, by Tom Dunkel (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013), Kindle Loc. 2945-86:

In the nightcap, which dragged on till nearly 1 a.m., the Texas Centennials slipped by Stockton, California, 4–2. The Wichita Eagle sports department didn’t have much experience handling ethnic news, but muddled through. “The colored boys took a lead in the fourth,” the paper’s story said, but then “the Japs tied it in the sixth” only to watch helplessly as “the Texas colored club went in the fore again in the seventh” after Stockton’s center fielder collided with the flagpole, turning a long fly ball into an even longer triple and go-ahead run. Then came the hard part. The editors had to write a headline about a black team winning a ball game in Wichita. They’d never been called on to do that before. Could readers handle it? Was there a way to break the news to them gently? Under pressure, an Eagle wordsmith engineered a solution: Japanese Lose In Pitchers’ Battle Against Texans.

Grappling with issues of race was a Jayhawk tradition. Kansans fought what amounted to a guerrilla war (with wild-eyed John Brown emerging as the most notorious provocateur) over whether to enter the Union in 1861 as a slave or free state. The Free Staters prevailed, but that didn’t end discrimination. In 1906 Wichita implemented a segregated school system, adopting a kind of reverse busing policy: black children from majority-white neighborhoods were transported to all-black schools to prevent commingling. Most aspects of civic life were similarly regimented. Dockum Drug Store served as the National Baseball Congress box office. Blacks could buy tickets there for games, but they knew better than to sit down at the lunch counter and expect service. A black team had applied to play in the city’s adult baseball league in 1933, but the request was denied. Generally, black teams were confined to their own ball field on Twelfth and Mosely streets, although some were able to arrange pickup games with whites.

The public venue where blacks and whites interacted with the fewest restrictions was Lawrence Stadium. Up in the grandstand, seating was open to everyone. Down on the field, black teams competed in Hap Dumont’s Kansas state tournament and, now, the National. This had repercussions beyond the Wichita Eagle sports department. The desk clerk at the Hotel Broadview was thrown into a tizzy when Neil Churchill checked in late Tuesday night. Churchill had reserved eight rooms for a party of sixteen people. Only when the team walked through the front door of the hotel together did it become evident that eight of those would-be guests were . . . black men. Big black men standing in the lobby waiting for room keys. The desk clerk hemmed and hawed, refusing to register them. Churchill raised hell. The hotel manager came over and apologized, but there was nothing he could do: company policy, sir. For the first time, the Bismarck baseball team had to settle for separate accommodations. The white players, plus Churchill and trainer Roy McLeod, got to sleep in style at the Broadview. The black players went off searching for rooms in a black neighborhood on the northeast side of town.

Double Duty Radcliffe didn’t say anything to Churchill, but he actually preferred staying elsewhere. It would be far easier to sneak a lady, especially a white lady, into his room if that room were someplace other than in a snooty downtown hotel. Black ballplayers knew through the grapevine where a bed could be found in most sports towns. Radcliffe and Paige recalled a Miss Jones who ran a Wichita boardinghouse where they could crash for $3 a night, two home-cooked meals included. Radcliffe claimed that the fallback plan worked to perfection. He shacked up for the next two weeks with Juanita Baldinado, a half-Mexican dream girl. Double Duty promised to marry her someday, but of course he didn’t mean it and of course she probably knew that. He was an incorrigible hoochie-coochie man. And a flimflammer. “Double Dubious” Radcliffe. It’s certainly possible his tournament nights were, indeed, spent wrapped in the warm embrace of lovely Juanita. It’s also possible that he killed time reading the Wichita Eagle, front to back, alone in his room. One never knew with him. Radcliffe could simply have eaten Tex-Mex for dinner and fed his fantasies: a steak fajita became a sultry señorita.

Hotel snubs aside, it didn’t take long for race to become the talk of Dumont’s delicately balanced tournament. All of one day. The Eagle’s Pete Lightner rode that horse right out of the gate. He covered the National from start to finish and his columns became a running conversation with himself as much as with his readers. Lightner named four teams in attendance from the South—“the old South, Dixie”—as if he were listing bomb-making materials: Gadsden, Alabama; Rossville, Georgia; Shelby, North Carolina; and New Orleans, Louisiana. It looked to him as though Hap Dumont had a big problem in the offing: “To wit: How to run a tournament without having the southern boys clash with the colored teams.” Could they be kept at arm’s length? If not, could a truce be negotiated? Lightner had his doubts. Blacks and whites competed for the same trophy and the same prize money; there were no parallel separate-but-equal brackets. There could be only one winner.

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Being Black in North Dakota, 1930s

From Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line, by Tom Dunkel (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013), Kindle Loc. 1692-1722:

Out-of-state semipros like Ringhofer revolutionized North Dakota baseball. Blacks, however, had a disproportionate impact. They were game changers. Negro League refugees brought with them speed, big-time experience, and often charisma: a combination of qualities seldom found in farmboy ballplayers. Quincy Troupe pegged out runners from his knees during games and at practices amazed wide-eyed kids by chucking baseballs over the left field fence while standing at home plate. Double Duty Radcliffe, who was catching (as well as pitching and playing outfield) for Jamestown, would bet batters $1 they couldn’t steal a base off him. After leaving Bismarck to pitch for the town of New Rockford, Roosevelt Davis paid homage to Paige when he faced his former team. He deliberately walked the bases loaded twice just to see if he could squirm his way out of those innings without giving up any runs. Side bets on his chances of succeeding were probably being taken in the grandstand. Davis escaped both jams unscathed, but Bismarck got the last laugh by cuffing him 13–3.

Many spectators at a Jamestown, Valley City, New Rockford, or Bismarck ball game had never before seen anyone who looked like Roosevelt Davis or Quincy Troupe. They were as rare a sight as winter rainbows. The population of North Dakota in 1930 was 680,845. The census listed 377 “Negro.” Jamestown had two blacks adrift in a sea of 8,187 inhabitants. The towns of Beulah, Valley City, Washburn, and Turtle Lake were 100 percent white. Bismarck seemed wildly multicultural with 11,000 people, of whom 46 were black. Era Bell Thompson graduated from Bismarck High School in 1924, then went to college and became an editor at Ebony magazine in Chicago. Growing up, she felt like an exotic species. White classmates marveled at her pale palms, asked to touch her hair. Whenever the topic of slavery was slated for discussion in history class, Thompson cut school.

Bismarck in the 1930s was not much different from the Bismarck of the 1920s—Era Bell Thompson’s time. Black ballplayers moved freely about town, but they were advised to confine their socializing to the lower-class South Side. You couldn’t safely assume that every proprietor on the North Side would be as ecumenical as Jack Lyons, who even allowed Indians to patronize his hamburger stand. If Troupe, Haley, Paige, and Davis wanted to eat at a restaurant, they knew how the game was played: find one that didn’t mind selling black customers takeout meals at the back door. Beyond the orbit of the state capital, the racial climate tended to be more unstable. During the Depression, Moose Kay, a black drifter, wandered through McLeod, an unincorporated village in the sparsely settled southeast corner of North Dakota. He liked baseball and stopped to watch a game between McLeod and the town of Milnor. Afterward, he offered his services on a barter basis: in exchange for meals and a place to stay, he’d be willing to coach McLeod’s team for the rest of the summer. Moose knew his baseball. Things went swimmingly until the Fourth of July, when a white man, who’d likely done too much celebrating, verbally attacked Kay, who’d also been celebrating. Kay floored him. That punch instantly ended his coaching gig and put his life at risk, as was duly recorded years later in McLeod’s official centennial history: “Moose got scared and crawled on a night freight train. The ball team felt pretty bad over this.”

The veneer of civility could crack under even the slightest stress. Third baseman Joe Desiderato cringed at the way hecklers hounded his black teammates during road games. “I saw the kind of abuse that those guys took,” he told relatives back in Chicago. “Way beyond what people should tolerate.” When the team crossed the border into Canada, the hostility didn’t necessarily diminish. At times, it got worse. Whatever city they were in, Churchill had an all-or-nothing policy. If a hotel or restaurant turned away or disrespected a single Bismarck player, everybody turned on their heels and left together. Said Desiderato, “We always stayed as a family.”

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Gopher Days, 1935

From Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line, by Tom Dunkel (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013), Kindle Loc. 2253-2265:

Gopher Days were popular events on the northern plains calendar, even though they amounted to glorified community pest control. No one dressed in furry costumes. Children didn’t amuse their parents by impersonating bucktoothed rodents. People simply had great fun cutting the tails off all the gophers they could catch and kill—live gophers being the bane of every farmer’s and rancher’s existence—and competing for medals and cash prizes. Towns planned street festivals to coincide with the purges, amassing piles of as many as 100,000 gopher tails. On June 14, 1935, the ball teams from Bismarck and Devils Lake played a doubleheader in Brinsmade, North Dakota, as part of its Gopher Day celebration. (Back in Bismarck, state and federal agents were busy chasing bootleggers. They seized 3,397 bottles of moonshine in two raids.) Paige rested in Brinsmade. Bismarck still won both games. Desiderato and Troupe handled the pitching. Neil Churchill had his own cause for celebration, which had nothing to do with gophers or beating Devils Lake. Determined to ease the strain on Paige, he’d put out feelers for additional pitchers. Double Duty Radcliffe—who had landed with the Brooklyn Eagles after Jamestown jettisoned its black players—was willing to return to North Dakota, but couldn’t get released from his Brooklyn contract. On Gopher Day Churchill succeeded in coming to terms with Barney Morris, who’d gone back to Louisiana after the 1934 season. When Bismarck hosted the Kansas City Monarchs the following weekend, Morris was on the mound for the first game of a Sunday doubleheader. He got saddled with a hard-luck 2–1 defeat, but his fastball, curve, and changeup were in fine form. Churchill saw enough to be convinced he had a solid backup to Paige.

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25th Infantry Regiment Black Baseball Champs

From Black Baseball Out of Season: Pay for Play Outside of the Negro Leagues, by William McNeil (McFarland, 2007), pp. 52-55:

The famous 25th Infantry Regiment was the all-black company popularly known as the Buffalo Soldiers. The regiment was formed in 1869 and saw service in the United States, Hawaii, the Philippine Islands, and Mexico. Its baseball tradition had its beginnings in Missoula, Montana, where the first team was formed in 1894 by Master Sergeant Dalbert P. Green, who was instructed to form a regimental team after an informal baseball game between an interracial infantry team and an all-black cavalry team created such interest and enthusiasm that Col. Andrew S. Burt believed that organized teams would be good for morale and would relieve the boredom that existed during periods of peace and quiet on the frontier. Green, who was named team captain, noted that “Players generally furnished their own uniforms and shoes: these consisted of canton flannel drawers (altered by company tailors), a dark blue flannel shirt, and a pair of barrack shoes (heels cut off), stockings, and caps furnished by the players. Practice was held in the evening after retreat, games being played on Sundays and Holidays. The ‘Old Timers’ didn’t take to the game as they do at the present time. An athlete, to be considered, had also to show soldierly qualities of the very highest type.” He considered the 25th Infantry Regiment teams that were stationed in Hawaii between 1914 and 1918 to be among the greatest teams he was ever associated with. As he said, “During my connection with the team it has played against players in different parts of the United States and foreign possessions and who have become famous in both the National and American Leagues, not mentioning the minor leagues at all….

The 25th Infantry baseball team rose to prominence after it was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. They established themselves as the best team on the island of Oahu, and began to compete against college teams and teams of the high classification Pacific Coast League….

The leader of the team was Wilbur Rogan, better known as “Cap,” short for Captain, to his fellow soldiers because of his leadership qualities, not only on the baseball field, but also in army matters….

Rogan seemed to carry the 25th on his back for much of the decade, but he did have help. His teammates included four players who would later follow him to the Kansas City MonarchsDobie Moore, Lem Hawkins, Bob Fagan, and Oscar “Heavy” Johnson—plus Fred Goliath, who would play with the Chicago Giants in 1920, and William “Big C” Johnson, who would join the Dayton Marcos in 1920.

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When Baseball Was Everywhere

From Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line, by Tom Dunkel (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013), Kindle Loc. 357-410:

There is no big bang theory of baseball. It evolved, like the blues and the miniskirt. Bat-and-ball games were being played in Massachusetts in 1735 and in Pennsylvania in 1831. The New York Knickerbockers put baseball rules down on paper in 1845, but nine innings weren’t the norm until 1857 and overhand pitches wouldn’t gain acceptance until 1884.

Through every modification, baseball’s popularity swelled. By the end of the Civil War, America finally had a pastime with mass appeal; somehow square dancing and rail splitting had never quite captured the public imagination. A pair of milestones marked the transition to commercialism. In 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings put ten players on salary, a luxury the team seemingly couldn’t afford, since the Stockings unraveled within two years. In 1876 the eight-team National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs began play; this was the first entity with the resources and the leadership to survive over time. (That’s the same National League still going strong today.) The 52–14 Chicago White Stockings won the 1876 championship, finishing six games ahead of the spunky Hartford Dark Blues and St. Louis Brown Stockings.

Poet Carl Sandburg grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, in the 1880s on a steady diet of Chicago sports pages, which fed his fantasy that he would someday wake up a big-league outfielder. “What is this fascination about making a hickory stick connect with a thrown ball . . . or running for a fly and leaping in the air for a one-handed catch?” he mused in his memoir Always the Young Strangers. “These questions have gone round and round in the heads of millions of American boys for generations.” Adulthood didn’t necessarily bring definitive answers to such questions.

The professional ranks expanded in 1901 with the spawning of an American League to compete with the National League, but their combined sixteen teams occupied only the top floor of what historian Harold Seymour referred to as the sprawling “House of Baseball.” There was plenty of action below and it wasn’t confined to schoolyards or playgrounds. Industrial and recreation leagues flourished. Grown men by the tens of thousands laced on spikes and lost themselves in takeout slides and doubles that split the gap. Indian reservations had hardball teams. Employees of coal companies, trolley car manufacturers, police departments, funeral homes, and local Communist parties took to the field together in off-hours. As baseball became the language of leisure, it collided with another cherished American tradition: the will to win. The result was predictable. Dollar bills got stuffed into uniform pockets, usually because a company or a town or some civic-minded pooh-bah had lost patience with losing. This semipro ethos infused the farthest fringes of the sport. Dwight Eisenhower earned spending money patrolling center field for a team in the Kansas State League in 1910, registering under the phony surname “Wilson” in order to protect his amateur status. Young Mr. Eisenhower had his eyes on an appointment to West Point and—who knows?—maybe a career in the military. On a summer day in 1915 an estimated 100,000 fans flooded Cleveland’s Brookside Park to watch a game between the White Autos and Omaha Luxers, two regional semipro superpowers.

The WPA Guide for Alabama made mention of “a semi pro team in nearly every town.” Some of the teams courted a broad audience. When Nashville, [Alabama Arkansas], hosted Dierks, [Alabama Arkansas], for a game in 1924, the Nashville News reported, “Ladies will be admitted free, as will one-armed and one-legged men and children under 6 years old.” Up north in New York, the Brooklyn Bushwicks installed lights on their field in 1930, five years before the Major Leagues took the plunge into night baseball.

Family-owned Bona Allen, Incorporated, of Buford, Georgia, had several thousand employees. It primarily produced shoes but also supplied the raw leather used to make baseball gloves. The semipro Bona Allen Shoemakers crisscrossed the Southeast with players earning a princely $300 to $400 a month. The company mounted a giant shoe on a Chevrolet chassis and an advance man would drive from town to town, handing out leather key chains to drum up interest before ball games. There was a standing offer: every member of an opposing team that beat Bona Allen received a free pair of dress shoes. The company didn’t give many away. In 1936, for example, the Shoemakers stomped to a 73–6 record, peeling off a 35–game winning streak. Their ballpark in Buford was a gem. Crowds turned out even when the Shoemakers weren’t there. In-progress summaries from important road games were relayed by Teletype to the Bona Allen plant. Somebody would read the updates over a loudspeaker while hundreds of fans sat in the stands outside cheering a deserted field.

Major League baseball held the line at just sixteen teams until 1961, but a crazy quilt of minor leagues got stitched together by independent hands. As far back as 1909 there were 246 minor league teams loosely tied to 35 leagues. These were rogue operators that sold their best players to the highest-bidding big-league club. In 1921 the Major Leagues chose to take more direct control of their destiny and adopted the farm system. American and National league teams were free to own and operate multiple minor-league affiliates that would feed talent up the organizational chain. Branch Rickey, then running the St. Louis Cardinals, was the visionary godfather of this new business model. The New York Yankees followed a few steps behind him. Those two teams set about assembling well-funded farm systems that would give them a competitive advantage for decades to come. Other teams dragged their feet and paid the price as the Yanks and Cards made regular trips to the World Series.

By 1932 the minor leagues had contracted to 102 teams and 14 leagues, but they were still a vibrant enterprise and still predominantly independent. However, the country remained largely rural and provincial. The automobile was duke, not yet king, of the culture. Fans wanted to cheer for a home team that was only a few blocks from home; all the better if they could walk to the ballpark. Since most major and minor league teams were many miles away, local semipro teams bridged that sports gap, although the definition of “semipro” was elastic. At the “light” end of the semipro spectrum, players received a token salary or passed the hat for donations during games. They’d often put in a full day’s work before slipping on their uniforms. At the opposite, “heavy,” extreme were generously subsidized clubs like the Bona Allen Shoemakers. They charged admission to games, the quality of play was high, the pay was excellent, and work obligations generally minimal. A player’s “job” might be to read the newspaper or to hopscotch bars at night chatting up fans. In 1930 the average minor leaguer earned about $65 a month. It was not unheard of for prospects to turn down a pro contract in favor of sticking with their company or town team. The money was likely to be better and there was the added security of year-round employment, no trifling consideration with the economy a shambles.

This book is far, far better by every measure than the very poorly written Barnstorming Hawaiian Travelers book I’ve just finished. I had to force myself to finish the last one. But once I began reading Color Blind, I couldn’t put it down. It reads well, but unfortunately appears to be very poorly fact-checked in places.

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Hawai‘i Chinese Baseball Team at the Far Eastern Games, 1915

From The Barnstorming Hawaiian Travelers: A Multiethnic Baseball Team Tours the Mainland, 1912-1916, by Joel S. Franks (McFarland, 2012), Kindle Loc. 2220-2242:

Luck Yee told readers that China needed a baseball team to represent it adequately at the Far Eastern games. Thus, sports-minded Chinese authorities went to Hawai’i for help because they knew that “a Chinese baseball team” had made several successful journeys to the American mainland. Furthermore, “Manila people” were anxious to see a Chinese Hawaiian team in action.

The son of a Chinese immigrant father and a native-born Hawaiian mother, Luck Yee described the trip westward as pleasant. He said that he and his teammates would climb on deck to do some warming up. However, “It was a queer experience to get out there the first time, throwing the ball while the ship was dipping and rolling. All the boys, except one or two, held conferences with the sharks and other fishes for a day or more, and then were well, ate heartily and slept nicely.”

Luck Yee had generally kind things to say about Japan. After 11 days at sea, the Chinese Hawaiian ballplayers reached Yokohama. Upon arrival, the team roamed by foot the city’s streets because they could not communicate with the “jinrikisha men.” Eventually, they ate at a Chinese restaurant and spent the night at the Hotel De France. The team seemed to like “Tokio” more. There, they took an “enjoyable” ricksha trek around the city. “Wherever we stopped the people would gather around us wonderingly. We had a hard time trying to obtain information from the policemen. All we could get out of them was a shake of the head.”

Luck Yee expressed less warmth for China. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, the Hawaiians noted the Sampras harboring “poor women, carrying children on their backs and rowing the boats too. Some of them had clothes that were tattered and worn out – poor miserable things. They were hungry creatures.” Before actually setting foot on Hong Kong the Hawaiians were accosted by a disagreeable Chinese customs official, according to Luck Yee. The pitcher claimed this bureaucrat “had the hauteur of an absolute ruler of the place.” He searched the players’ trunks for opium, firearms, and cartridges, and his arrogance, Luck Yee stressed, almost led “to blows.”

Still, Hong Kong merchants entertained the visitors. Luck Yee recalled that during one feast put on by local merchants, “beautifully dressed girls” sang for the players. However, the Hawaiians could not understand the lyrics of what the entertainers were singing until the young women sang Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” and the “famous Tipperary.”

A motorcade greeted the Chinese Hawaiian ballplayers upon their arrival in Manila. They were then driven to the local YMCA where they stayed. Unable to practice for the 26 days they were ship-bound, Luck Yee and his teammates tried to work out in Manila their first day. The Chinese Hawaiians drew a large crowd to their practice – a crowd that included several opposing players. However, the weather was so hot they decided to do something else with their time after 15 minutes of exercise.

The Manila sporting press, Luck Yee complained, generally “knock[ed] us” before the Chinese Hawaiians took the field. Luck Yee conceded that there was one “contrarian” among the local sportswriters who praised the visitors. Luck Yee wrote, “It was fun to see them jeer at each other through the columns of their respective papers. The more they knocked the harder we played.”

Even though the team played effectively, the Manila sportswriters continued to scoff, maintaining that the Hawaiians were more lucky than good. Still, the visitors drew well – hefty crowds of as many as 10,000. Luck Yee reported proudly that the team tied the “much touted” Manila nine and then savaged another nine of hometown heroes, 10-0. The Manila press started to change its tune, while the city’s Chinese community invited the Hawaiians to a dinner.

Returning to China, the Hawaiians were feted by Chinese President Yuan Shi Kai. The ballplayers received “little mementoes.” However, political trouble was brewing for the President and the Hawaiians were feeling sorry for Yuan Shi Kai. Luck Yee asserted, “Wonderful indeed must be that man who will eventually lead 500,000,000 countrymen.”

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Japanese vs. Chinese Baseball in Hawai‘i, 1911

From The Barnstorming Hawaiian Travelers: A Multiethnic Baseball Team Tours the Mainland, 1912-1916, by Joel S. Franks (McFarland, 2012), Kindle Loc. 456-490:

The visits of Japanese baseball teams to the American mainland in 1905 and 1911 helped set the stage for the Hawaiian Travelers baseball team’s initial journey in 1912. In 1905, a contingent from Waseda University traveled eastward to the United States. Under the headline of “Japs as Ballplayers,” the Washington Post told readers that Waseda’s trip to America had enhanced baseball’s popularity in Japan as well as “future international contests between the universities of the Pacific Coast and the Orient.” The Japanese nine, moreover, had improved its play during its stay on the mainland. Waseda offered relatively little competition to Stanford, Cal, and St. Mary’s nines. But in Southern California, the Japanese contingent played better.”

Indeed, in Southern California, the Waseda nine managed to take part in the first baseball game played on the American mainland between two teams representing different non-white racial groups. At a Los Angeles ballpark, Waseda encountered a team from Sherman’s Institute, a Riverside County boarding school for Native Americans. Waseda beat the Sherman Institute nine, which included John Tortez, a talented Cahuilla Indian athlete who became better known as “Chief” Meyers, a solid catcher for the New York Giants. Waseda also defeated a Los Angeles High School nine and, more impressively, a team representing the University of Southern California. In all, according to the Seymours, Waseda won seven of 26 games in the U.S.

In 1911, the Waseda nine returned to the American mainland, as did a team from Keio. These Japanese ballplayers from Waseda had a hard time with Stanford but impressed observers. The Daily Palo Alto saw them as both skilled athletes and racialized exotics: “The Japanese proved their reputation for sportsmanlike playing…. They are a nine of small men and they have to work for everything they get. Their native smallness handicaps them in their playing, but what they lose in size is made up in quickness, and in their taking advantage of every opening offered by the opposing nine.”

The next year the “Chinese Traveling Team” left the islands for the U.S. mainland with the blessings of Honolulu’s Chinese community and haole business interests. The team, affiliated with Honolulu’s Chinese Athletic Club, had raised, according to the Hawaiian Star, $6,000 for the trip. Fortuitously, the notion of sending a team of Chinese Hawaiians to the American mainland brought together Honolulu’s Chinese and non-Chinese commercial
interests. The former wanted to divert white mainlanders from their frequently zealous support of anti-Chinese legislation. The latter wanted to entice mainland tourists and investment. The fact that Japanese teams had toured the American mainland in 1905 and again in 1911 with some success and apparently without any major incidents suggested that the logistics of sending a Chinese Hawaiian nine westward were secure and manageable.

Of course, no one wanted to ship off a contingent of incompetents to mainland baseball diamonds. But Honolulu’s small baseball world knew of a number of very good Chinese Hawaiian ballplayers – ballplayers that would be seen as surprisingly skilled curiosities by many mainlanders. Scattered on various Honolulu teams, players such as En Sue Pung, Lai Tin, and infielder Alex Asam were assembled into an All-Chinese nine just in time to greet the Keio University team when it came to the islands in 1911.

Before taking on the Keio nine, the All-Chinese team easily defeated the best team in the Oahu League, the Hawaiis, 8-2. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser bemoaned the inability of the “Celestials” to enter a team in the Oahu League. As it was, fans were surprised that the league champion could fall so readily to the Chinese Hawaiians.

Meanwhile, many Japanese and Chinese Hawaiians were excited about the Keio-All-Chinese game scheduled for July 12, 1911. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser lamented that the game between Keio and the All-Chinese was scheduled for mid-week. Accordingly, Japanese and Chinese Hawaiian working people, as well as other Hawaiian baseball fans, would be prevented from attending. Nevertheless, the game was slated for late in the afternoon and most Honolulu baseball fans, except for Honolulu’s Nikkei population, seemed to back the local team.

A relatively huge crowd arrived for the Keio-All-Chinese match-up. Apparently, feelings ran high. According to the Advertiser, spectators were warned in English, Japanese, and Chinese to refrain from fighting, a warning which was supposedly heeded. The Japanese team won, 6-3. However, a rematch was arranged and the Advertiser speculated on a possible victory this time for the Chinese Hawaiians. “It will be a great feather in the caps of the Chinese team if they can pull a victory from the Japanese players, and the rejoicing in the Chinese community will beat any Fourth of July and Chinese New Year rolled into one that Honolulu has ever seen.” Meanwhile, Chinese Hawaiian baseball fans persisted in attending and rooting against the Keio nine as the Japanese ballplayers opposed Honolulu’s various multi-ethnic teams.

In the rematch, the Chinese Hawaiians proved too much for the visitors. According to the Advertiser, Apau Kau, “the burly, good natured Chinese … pitched the game of his life.” The score was 5-2 to the advantage of the locals when the Keio players left the field to protest an umpire’s decision. The Advertiser surmised as well that violence was simmering between the Japanese and Chinese spectators. However, “the mounted and foot police came in on the lope and stopped the little `tea party’.”

Things had gotten too exciting for all concerned. A rubber match between the All-Chinese and Keio was, indeed, cancelled. Moreover, at least the Advertiser seemed concerned about Asian Pacific athletes assuming a prominent place in Hawaiian baseball. “Aliens” were hurting the sport on the islands, according to the daily, “and the sooner the Europeans and their descendants get busy, and start the best game on earth going like it used to be, years ago, the better for the peace of mind of the Honolulu people.” In truth, the Advertiser appeared most distressed over the behavior of those Nikkei baseball fans determined to boycott all games between Keio and Hawaiian nines because they believed the Japanese ballplayers got a raw deal in the second game against the All-Chinese.

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Punahou and Baseball in the Hawaiian Kingdom

From: Missionaries, Cartwright, and Spalding: The Development of Baseball in Nineteenth-Century Hawaii, by Frank Ardolino, in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 10(2002):27-45 (Project MUSE subscription required).

The person usually credited with the introduction of the Massachusetts form of early baseball is Captain James H. Black, a Boston printer…. The game flourished at Punahou School…. Daniel Dole, the school’s first principal (1841-54), was a noted baseball enthusiast and player…. The school promoted baseball on campus and in the community, arranging match games with other schools and supporting town leagues. Punahou’s encouragement of the game as a major recreational pastime resulted in the flowering of baseball in Hawaii from 1866 to 1890, a period that will be discussed in greater detail after Cartwright’s influence in analyzed.

Alexander Joy Cartwright is considered an important baseball pioneer because he helped to create the New York Knickerbocker ball club in the 1840s and formulated rules for the version of the game that evolved into the national pastime. In March 1849, he left New York for the gold fields of California and on his cross-country journey became a kind of Johnny Appleseed for baseball by introducing the game to American Indians and settlers, as he recorded in his diary. When he quickly grew disenchanted with California, he decided to sail home via China, but he disembarked in Honolulu at the end of August 1849 and soon determined to settle there permanently, bringing his family from New York in 1852.

In the next two decades, Cartwright not only prospered in shipping, whaling, insurance, and real estate but also became a community builder who helped to construct a new Hawaii. He was the organizer and first chief of the Honolulu Fire Department, one of the founders of the Queen’s Hospital, organizer and president of the Honolulu Library and numismatics society, and founder of Masonic Lodge 21, among numerous other achievements. As a result of his business and legal acumen, he also served as financial advisor to five monarchs.

Despite Cartwright’s considerable presence in the political, economic, and legal sectors of Hawaii, there exists little evidence for his similar role in the development of baseball….

Cartwright’s last two children, his sons Bruce and Allie, were born in Hawaii and attended Punahou from 1864 to 1869. There are contemporary references to their participation in the game. The Punahou Reporter recounts the minutes for the meeting of the Whangdoodle Base Ball Club–composed of Punahou students and graduates–on May 14, 1872, in which the club announces that it expects the Cartwright brothers to resume their ball playing when they return from school in the United States. In the following year, Allie is listed in the Punahou tally book as the captain of the club. Further, the box score from the Hawaiian Gazette of August 18, 1875, records Allie as the Whangdoodle second baseman who scored 2 runs in a 11-10 loss to the Pacifics. Bruce is mentioned as a member of the Married Men’s Baseball Club in 1884, and, finally, at the annual meeting of the Hawaiian Base Ball League on March 10, 1886, Bruce was chosen as one of the official scorers for the upcoming season….

The influence of Punahou and Alexander Cartwright as promoters of baseball resulted in its flourishing between 1866 and 1890. The game’s growing popularity resulted in the creation of league play and match games, an increase in the number of ball fields, and innovations in the rules, equipment, tally book, and box scores, which appeared in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, the Hawaiian Gazette, and the Punahou Mirror, Reporter.

During this period, the foreign population of Hawaii increased from 4,000 to 49,000, and the native population decreased from 58,000 to 40,000. Although Punahou’s enrollment grew slowly, only tripling its initial enrollment of thirty-four pupils by 1880, its influence on the changing community went far beyond its numbers. Richard Henry Dana, the author of Two Years Before the Mast and a visitor to Hawaii in 1860, described how Punahou extended its system of excellence by sending its graduates to mainland colleges, where they not only were trained to be future teachers at Punahou but also attracted prestigious recruits to teach there. 24 One illustrious mainland recruit was William H. Chickering, who came to Hawaii in 1871 to teach the classics. He had played shortstop for Amherst College, and at Punahou he served as umpire and catcher for both teams, as well as joining the Whangdoodles, “a downtown club composed of Punahou boys, old and new …

In his Reminiscences, W.R. Castle attests to the central role Punahou played in the development of baseball. Castle was the son of pioneer lay missionary Samuel N. Castle, who also founded the firm of Castle and Cooke, which became one of the Big Five corporations that controlled the sugar industry in Hawaii. W.R. Castle attended Punahou from 1860 to 1864 and then went to Oberlin College for two years. When he returned to Hawaii in 1866, he introduced the New York version to the Punahou Baseball club … When he traveled to the other Hawaiian Islands in 1869, Castle attended games played with enthusiasm and skill by residents who called baseball “the gift of Punahou.”… They used a lively rubber ball but had no mitts, masks, or body protectors….

In 1866, an official league was created composed of the Pacifics and the Pioneers, who were joined in a few years by the Whangdoodles, Pensacolas, and Athletics. At the first organizational meeting on June 1, 1866, the original teams adopted the regulations of the California National Baseball Convention. Future meetings were held at various firehouses, perhaps reflecting Cartwright’s influence on the organization of the league. Rules were enforced, fines levied, and sometimes teams disbanded, with their members joining other teams or forming new ones….

The popularity of baseball was also demonstrated by the scheduling of match games between the Whangdoodles and sailors, the infantry and cavalry on King Kamehameha Day, and interisland teams. The Whangdoodles won 2 games, one at the end of 1871 by the whopping score of 88-43 against the Mariners, a team composed of the officers and sailors from the whaling fleet that had been shipwrecked in the Arctic Ocean….

As the popularity of baseball spread throughout the community, both attendance and the number of fields available for play increased. Women would attend games on horseback, and some fans arrived in carriages. So many new spectators came to see the games at Makiki Reserve that in June 1884 a new and larger attendance stand was erected to accommodate them. At this time, nine fields, representing a geographical spectrum of playing areas within and without the boundaries of what then constituted the city of Honolulu, were used: Punahou Field, the Esplanade behind the Custom House, the field on the grounds where Central Union Church now stands in central Honolulu, Makiki Reserve, the area behind historic Kawaihao Church, and the fields on the prison and parade grounds.

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