Negro League Baseball: Fred Gorée And The Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project

Fred Goree 1925

Fred Gorée, owner and manager of the Chicago Independents

I wanted to do something different, before I continue to further explore West Coast African American baseball for the uninitiated.

During my research of West Coast leagues and teams during the early years of the 1900’s through 1940’s, I happened to run across an article that brought to mind the question of “why some African American West Coast players and teams chose to stay in the West…as opposed to head East to play in the pros?”. This question, being continually asked about that time period, is simple enough for some, and still difficult for others to understand. Which brings to mind the question, are researchers of this type of material being brutally honest with themselves about the time period they are researching?

I’ve run across articles that explain the social dynamics of the Jim Crow period, when African American baseball collided with the forces of overt racism, and this is what has helped me stay realistic about the research I’m engaged in. I try my best to remain neutral within the scope of discovering information that might be either helpful or informative to those that need it. I came across an article about a African American baseball manager and owner named Fred Gorée. His first name depends on whose doing the research. So is the spelling of his last name. He owned and managed of the Chicago Independents, a barnstorming team out of Illinois. I’m signed up for the Research Committee for SABR, but because I write other things beyond this blog about other important historical events, it’s hard for me to dedicate a specific amount of time, or even begin to immerse myself with these very dedicated projects, like the Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s not a worthwhile project.

I truly believe it is worthwhile.

Some baseball journalists, such as Ryan Whirty, are really active participants in the Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project. It was started by Dr. Jeremy Krock of Illinois. Ryan writes a wonderful blog called, The Negro Leagues Up Close, and he is deeply involved in the grave marker project. It’s not easy locating unmarked graves of some of the nation’s greatest, forgotten, baseball players. Those who received little recognition in their life for playing the greatest game that was ever invented, and may never be remembered in their deaths, unless their grave are marked in remembrance. The fact remains, a lot of these players, and where they may have been buried, may be never found based on the America’s history of Jim Crow. Which brings me to the subject of deep exploration in African American baseball research, and how we’ll go to find out certain details about events that took place in America’s history.

When I read the story about Theodore Roosevelt “Terrible Ted” Page, whose ashes rested in an unmarked community vault in Alleghany Cemetery in Lawrenceville, I was moved. Page, who had played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays made his mark in the world of baseball, but had been forgotten in death. Which brought me to this article I found recently while research West Coast African American baseball.

CE-Baseball Manager Killed By A Sheriff-8-14-1925

California Eagle, August 14, 1925

The blogger of “oldplatesandoldpeople“, Jewell Lorenz Dunn, who specializes in genealogy and finding out information about families posted a blog about “Frank Goree”, who was actually named Fred Gorée, and how she’d found information pertaining to “census records, marriage records, city directories, and the social security death index“, which is outstanding. This happened back in 2011. My concern is this though. The circumstances under which Mr. Gorée died are evident from the article you see here. One could possibly surmise from reading it, that after he was murdered, his team–fearing for their own lives–fled the scene and the town immediately, leaving Mr. Gorée behind. Having no way to get him back home, his body may still be in an unmarked grave, somewhere in Missouri.

Luckily that wasn’t the situation.

Mr. Fred Gorée is located at Lincoln Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.

My other concern is about making sure we’re giving pause for greatness, when the story is unknown or untold.

Here’s the short version.

Fred Gorée was a bricklayer by trade. He also was the owner and manager of a minor league African American baseball team called the Chicago Independents. See, Fred Gorée’s brand new Buick had broken down. He was in East St. Louis at the time, trying to make good on a by “invitation” scheduled event in St. Louis. His car had broken down, and when he went to find help to get his car repaired, he was falsely accused of stealing a “brand new automobile”, because basically–during the period of Jim Crow in America, a black man couldn’t have possibly been able to afford a new car, based on his skin color alone. Obviously, he must have stolen it, and he was summarily executed by the side of the road, by a Sheriff and his deputies in East St. Louis, while his team mates were held at bay and made to watch him die. They decided to have a lynching party, according to his daughter, Eselean Gorée. She never forgot how her father was shot, and then beaten to death to finish him off, for being “uppity” enough to tell the truth about owning a new car.

He was survived by a wife and three children.

Sara Beff May Goree

Mrs. Sara Beff May Gorée

Eselean Goree-Clarence (Bro) Goree-LoEsther Goree

Eselean, Clarence and LoEsther Gorée

Five years later in 1930, these three children lost their mother, Sara Beff May Gorée, to tuberculosis.

Eselean Gorée (Henderson) went on to graduate from George Williams College in Hyde Park, where she earned a degree in Physical Education, while she studied dance, sculpture and drawing. She taught Physical Education in the public school system in Chicago for many years. After retiring from teaching, she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. She became a very famous pottery artist known as the “Clay Lady”. Mrs Eselean Gorée Henderson artwork has been displayed at the Art Institute, the DuSable Museum, the Krannert Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the State Museum in Springfield.

The Gorée Family was originally from Ruston, Louisiana, and moved to Chicago during the Great Migration. Like many African American families from the South, they moved North to seek better opportunities for their families, especially the children. The accented (é) in Fred Gorée’s last name is connected to his Creole heritage and it’s something that will have to be considered when his graver marker is finally secured.

Negro League Baseball: Byron “Speed” O’Reilly And The 1928 Western American Baseball League

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve used Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows as a tracking system to research the inception and development of the Berkeley Colored League.

Ryan Whirty got me hooked on researching the Berkeley Colored League much more deeply than I had before when he interviewed me for his article, “World Series: During the Great Depression, a Wild Experiment in Baseball History Defied Segregation“.  Not just because my grandfather and great uncles played in the league, but because during my research, I grew quite fond of the African American journalist, first and foremost, who put the league together. Byron “Speed” O’Reilly is a truly fascinating man, with extreme journalistic talents. I was lucky enough to meet him when I was a child, and I remember him well enough, although I had no idea at the time who he actually was. All I knew of him at that time, was that he was my grandfather’s friend. What I hadn’t known, before I began this on this long quest, was how important he was to the African American community as a journalist of note.

Jimmie Smith, of the the California Eagle during the 1920’s, was an African American sports journalist of some note. I sometimes wonder if Byron took his lead from Jimmie Smith. They had similar styles and taste when it came to writing about sports. Jimmie provided an opinion editorial column for the California Eagle in 1924, with a particular focus on baseball and boxing. It was aptly called, “Hung Out” by Jimmie Smith. He dished all the dirt he could about what happens behind the sporting scene, revealing his opinion on activities concerning sports teams and sporting figures, giving his readers a blow by blow account of incidents that took places involving the insiders of professional and amateur sport in the Los Angeles area, and and across the nation as well. His weekly editorial featured a logo, which had a clothesline held up by two baseball bats on either end, with dirty laundry hanging on the line, and a pair of boxing gloves in the upper right hand corner.

CE-1924-Hung Out-Jimmie Smith-6-6-1924-i

“Hung Out, by Jimmie Smith”, California Eagle-June 6, 1924

He was a shameless promoter of the 1924 Carrol Giants, a business venture struck up by Will Carrol and Lonnie Goodwin for summer league play in Los Angeles at the newly remodeled Goodyear park, until the Carrol Giants failed to show up one Sunday for  scheduled game. He then became their worse critic.

CE-1924-Hung Out-Jimmie Smith-7-18-194

“Hung Out, by Jimmie Smith”, California Eagle-July 18, 1924

Byron “Speed” O’Reilly was much more ambitious than Jimmie Smith. He often traveled with the last remnants of the now-defunct Steve Pierce Oakland Pierce Giants, documenting their barnstorming adventure for the Western American, a small African American newspaper published in Oakland that was short lived. They now played under the name, the Royal Colored Giants Of Oakland, playing games as from Lodi, California against the Victor Tops, to games as far south as Santa Cruz against the Padres. These were more ‘exhibition games’, keeping the players skills honed and sharp, and there names alive out there in the Central Valley and Coastal areas of California. They picked up games wherever they could. In a news article in the Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, dated July 8, 1927, on page 8, the Oakland Colored Giants would play a series of games against the Santa Cruz Padres, which would end on July 19, 1927.

It was stated in the article on July 8, 1927, that “They are not only a star lot of ball players, but figure strong as comedians and the fans will surely get a real kick out of their latest sketch, “A Shadow Baseball Game.” It has created a barrel of fun wherever presented and has the endorsement of Nick Altrock, regarded as the greatest clown in baseball.“[1]. This article mentions the term “Shadow Baseball”, otherwise known as ‘Shadow Ball’, two full years before the Stock Market Crash of 1929 or the beginning of the Great Depression. The reference itself, referring to the men who played the pantomime game for the crowd of spectators, while also using it to refer to the men themselves as ‘Shadows’. In the Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, Page 8, dated, July 9th, 1927, the Jim Crow journalist referred to Royal Colored Giants of Oakland as the “Sons Of Ham“[2].

The Oakland Colored Giants of these articles, between July 8th and July 19th in the Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz that played against the Santa Cruz Padres, were actually the Royal Colored Giants of Oakland, and more often than not, Jim Crow newspaper journalist would misquote their team name and their personal monikers also. This is due to the fact that there had been many African American teams from the Bay Area who held the name “Giants”. This was not a Chet Bost team. Their line up included, Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows at second base, Bobby Briand (Brown) at third base, “Sharkey” Winston Auther at shortstop, Robert “Doak” Collins in left field, John Dean in right field, and Lonis Coins in center field. Charlie Reid and Ernest Elliot traded off as pitcher and catcher, while Smith played first base and acted as a relief pitcher when needed. It was a very tight knit crew, and it was Byron “Speed” O’Reilly’s core in building the the Berkeley Colored League.

By September 12 1927, the Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, in an article called, “And They Call Him Speed O’Reilly” states that Byron “Speed” O’Reilly, sporting editor of the Western American was named manager of the Royal Colored Giants of Oakland [3]. This seemed to be the turning point in Byron “Speed” O’Reilly sports promotion career. By maintaining his position as a sports editor for the Western American, while being named manager for the Royal Colored Giants of Oakland, these two positions would place Byron in a position to promote Negro Baseball in the East Bay area on his terms, while building a league of his own. A year later, in 1928, the Berkeley Daily Gazette mentions a league called the Western American Baseball League. Could the small African American news publication be the formal sponsor of this newly formed Negro Baseball League in the Oakland and Berkeley East Bay Area?

BG-WABL-Close Games Mark Negro League Play-6-27-1928

Berkeley Daily Gazette, June 27, 1928

The Royal Colored Giants of Oakland still barnstormed here and there on occasion as a pick-up squad, receiving part of the gate for putting on a show for the spectators that gathered from near and far to see them play. But by 1931, most of them were deeply entrenched in East Bay Baseball league play, leaving their barnstorming days behind them, by finding a permanent home at San Pablo Park in Berkeley, California.

1) Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, dated, July 8, 1927, Page 8

2) Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, dated, July 9, 1927, Page 8

3) Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, dated, September 12, 1927, Page 8

Negro League Baseball: The Rise, Fall, And Transformation Of The Oakland Pierce Giants

As was stated in my last post, concerning  “The Oakland Pierce Giants“, Bill Staple’s made certain references to the Oakland Pierce Giants taking the field under many different monikers, in his book, “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer“. Bill contacted me about after reading my post. My comment was not an attack on his book. After many years of researching the information for myself, I’ve come to the conclusion and realization about researching African American baseball on the West coast based on Jim Crow era news articles, or hearing stories told by an aging elder, whose memory isn’t a sharp as it used to be. The task that lays ahead of us, is even more daunting than one could imagine. Those of us who consider ourselves historians of African American baseball have many tough obstacles laid out before us, and sometimes a comment can be misconstrued or taken as a slight of someones hard work and efforts in uncovering detailed events never before seen by the public. I’ll make my assertions based on these facts alone with the data that has been presented to me through my own research; unless the reporter slash journalist states the names of the player(s),  or gives a line-up in the article in the teams you’re researching, I cannot assume any of the teams with like-sounding names sported the same players.

It really isn’t anything personal, and Bill reached out to me and offered to show me his research findings on the Oakland Pierce Giants, over a period of time, when the opportunity presents itself. I’m sure he’s a very busy man. I appreciate his offer, because the task of documenting African American baseball, or any early ethnic baseball team or league on the West Coast can be a bear for those of us who go at it full bore. With that in mind, I’d like to extend the offer of my research findings out to Bill and other SABR members, who are interested in setting the records straight for posterity. Because exploring the social dynamic differences and interactions between Eastern, North Eastern, Midwestern, Southern, and Western African American baseball teams, and other ethnic baseball teams, is truly imperative to those of us who want to set the records straight in the 21st Century.

Having said that…

There were many teams that called themselves one or another version of “Giants” that hailed from California, and Chet Bost may or may not have been involved with some of them. One of those teams that called themselves the “Giants”, was the Shasta Limiteds, which featured Jimmy Claxton, former hurler for the PCL’s Oakland Oaks. That was– until he was outed by Rowdy Elliot for being less than forthcoming about his African American heritage. Byron “Speed” O’Reilly tells a very interesting story about that memorable West Oakland incident that cost Jimmy Claxton his position with the Oakland Oaks.

C.G. Bradford was manager for the Shasta Limiteds, who were also known as the Negro Giants Of California. Bost is mentioned in one article I found, and it connects him to the Shasta Limiteds. It is my belief, that because Jimmy Claxton played for a team that referred to themselves “the Giants” when deemed appropriate, and the average individual assumes that it was the Oakland Pierce Giants. I haven’t been able to verify any information that ties Claxton to the Oakland Pierce Giants or Chet Bost. There is a blog out there that says Claxton played for Bost, but it offers no access to verify their findings or the teams they played on together. It only mentions Bost in passing, more as a footnote to Claxton performance as an individual. The article below explains how this was probably a singular exception. Information on Claxton’s life and baseball career between 1916 and 1919 is sparse. The “Oakland aggregation” mentioned in the article below was more than likely the Oakland Pierce Giants that had served the Shasta Limiteds their only defeat for that season in 1919.

Bears To Meet Negro Nine Here-6-2-1919-i

Bears To Meet Negro Nine Here-6-2-1919-ii

The Evening News, San Jose June 3, 1919

The Shasta Limiteds, as a team name carried a moniker that represented  a strong social connection within the African American community. This is something I’ll be discussing in future blogs. This connection between the early African American baseball players and the transcontinental railroad system, as it was the preferred form of travel is seldom discussed among the SABR community. The Shasta Limiteds, as they were ‘officially’ called, used this personal name, referring to themselves after a ‘express train’ that traveled, daily, between Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California. The Southern Pacific line used Pullman Porters, and the Shasta Limited De Luxe, was an “exclusive extra-fare train catering to the most elite of passengers” [1]. It required the best of the best to work the Pullman Sleeping Car that travled the Portland to San Francisco express route on a twenty-seven hour turn around.  Most of the West Coast African American baseball players of the early days, were tied intrinsically to the Pullman Porters, the Red Caps, and the Oakland Mole in one way or another. This helped foster the growth of West Oakland, which was also known as the Harlem Of The West, during the 1920’s to 1940’s.

Southern Pacific Co's Broad Gauge Mole Oakland CA 1687

The Oakland Mole-Transcontinental Railroad Terminus

One of the things I’ve noticed in my research, that during the era of Jim Crow journalism, the writers used repetitious referencing to African American baseball teams as either ‘fast’ or ‘comedic’. This was commonplace and seemed to be the required social perception of that period in American history. It seemed to be part of an overall marketing strategy used by promoters and journalist in those days to fill the ball parks. Specific terminology like ‘fast or ‘comedic’ made the Caucasian viewing public feel safe. Enough so, that engaging with African Americans to play within the confines of their cloistered and protected neighborhood, white patrons needed to hype the style of African American ball play as a selling point to fill the seats.

This is partly do to the fact that some African American teams represented themselves that way, in order to procure gainful employment during the Great Depression, while presenting themselves as entertainers as well as sportsmen, in a world which limited them only by the color of their skin. Jim Crow journalist often gave their readership the impression that coming to see African Americans baseball players engage Caucasians players on their home fields was a dangerous and heady proposition. It was a major selling point for those who felt the need to live dangerously within the confines of their community, even though no real danger actually existed. Sometimes, a Jim Crow journalist would mention the fact that a lot of  African American teams bringing a large constituency of fans with them. Sundown towns in California, seldom saw so many African Americans is one locale, especially their own county or township. This often left the reader of this type of news with an sense of danger or excitement, depending on their visceral response to African Americans venturing to their town for a game. The fact that the Shasta Limited also chose to call themselves “Giants”, was because their mere size was a crowd drawing feature that reached beyond their color. Jimmy Claxton is a prime example of someone who was often described by his 6 foot 4 stature as a “Giant”, while at the same time conversely referred to as a “little Jimmy Claxton” [2], or “Jimmy is a little fellow, only six feet four inches tall” [3] .

Try, as I may, I cannot substantiate everything that has been said about the concepts surrounding the “The Colored Giants“, “Shadow Giants“, “Lynne-Stanley Giants“, “Weilheimer Giants“, “Pierce Giants“, “Oaks“, and “Oak Leafs“, or that they were all teams nurtured by C.A. “Chet” Bost. What I can do is confirm the existence of the the Negro Giants Of California (also known as the Shasta Limiteds), the Colored Giants of Oakland, the Lynne-Stanley Giants, the Nehi Giants (of the Berkeley Winter League), the Royal Colored Giants of Oakland, the San Francisco Giants (sometimes called the San Francisco Colored Giants), the Oakland Giants, and the Oakland Pierce Giants. After reading so many articles, where the team name differs, but the line-up remains the same a week later, even though there has been no change in sponsorship, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Jim Crow journalist at that time were not interested enough in the players to get the team’s name correct. Because even though the sportsmanship may have excelled by those participating in the scheduled events, it was still only for the purpose of exhibition and not–social recognition.

I am almost certain that Chet Bost had very little to do with the most of these teams other than the Shasta Limiteds and the Oakland Giants. The Oakland Pierce Giants left a distinct paper trail of familiar names of players, using them over and over again on reconstituted teams, until they would eventually become the core group of individuals that initiated the Western American Baseball League, and eventually morph into the Berkeley Colored League.

When Steve Pierce’s Oakland Pierce Giants won the Northern California Semi-Pro Championship, in league play against the San Francisco Eagles, a cycle of events would take place, where the certain names appear for the discerning eye.

CE-1924-Pierce Giants Cinch North California Championship

The California Eagle, August 1, 1924

I haven’t had a chance to research the San Francisco Eagles as deeply as I would have liked to do before writing this post, but the name that stuck out most in my eye was their pitcher, “Elliot”. I’m certain that this was Ernest Elliot of the Berkeley Colored League, and he was one of the starting pitchers for the Royal Colored Giants Of Oakland [4], during the the creation phase of the Western American Baseball League in 1927.

The remaining facts of this story are this: The Oakland Pierce Giants would remain the Northern California Semi-Pro Champions of 1924. The Jasper All Stars, which had replaced the Carrol Giants earlier that year, defeated the Glendale White Sox, and would be considered the Southern California Semi-Pro Champions [5] by default— because no actual series ever took place. Lonnie Goodwin never accepted Steve Pierce’s challenge for a State Champion series and could not find a park to play in at the time of the offer. Manager John Jasper never negotiated a series between the Jasper All Stars and the Oakland Pierce Giants with Steve Pierce. By February 1925, the Oakland Pierce Giants were left to the own design, when Steve Pierce bought the Detroit Stars, eventually heading East and leaving the 1924 Northern California Champions to fend for themselves, by barnstorming here and there in California, which became a way of life for those who continued to play as a ‘team’, until they could find new leadership that would nurture their talents to build a league.

CE-Steve Pierce Of Oakland Buys Detroit National Team-2-13-1925-i

CE-Steve Pierce Of Oakland Buys Detroit National Team-2-13-1925-ii

The California Eagle, February 13, 1925

1) “Southern Pacific Passenger Trains”, by Brian Solomon, Voyageur Press, Page 88

2) Shasta Limited Nine To Meet Bears”, San Jose Evening News, June 6. 1919

3) “Bears To Meet Negro Nine Here”, Evening News, San Jose California, June 3, 1919, page 5

4] “Gene Valla To Lead Padres In Game Against Colored Giants”, The Santa Cruz Everning News from Santa Cruz, July 9, 1927

5) Headline-“ALL STARS SEMI-PRO CHAMPS”, The California Eagle, August 27, 1924, Page 9

Negro League Baseball: The Oakland Pierce Giants

 

The Oakland Pierce Giants

I had heard that Charlie Reid pitched for the Oakland Pierce Giants, but I’d never seen him in uniform until a picture of them. .

The Oakland Pierce Giants, according to Bill Staples book, “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer“, were called “The Colored Giants“, “Shadow Giants“, “Lynne-Stanley Giants“, “Weilheimer Giants“, “Pierce Giants“, “Oaks“, and “Oak Leafs“. I’m not really sure how he accessed this information is, because my research shows different completely different data. At some point, I hope we can exchange our findings.

I used what know as the bullet proof method of tracking down information when it came to the Oakland Pierce Giants. Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows proved to be an invaluable source when it came to tracking down the players of the Oakland Pierce Giants, and how the evolved into what would become the genesis team/group for the Berkeley Colored League, which was started by Byron “Speed” O’Reilly.

I’ve only been able to locate one small article on the Lynne-Stanley Giants, where they defeated the Wixsons, by a score of 5 to 3, at Grove Street Park, in Berkeley on August 18th, 1913. And, I was only able to locate that by chance, finding Meaddows mentioned in the article. Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows, sometime called “Rapid Fire” Meaddows was a phenomenal player, according to many news articles and my Grandfather, “Big Sharkey” Winston Auther. According to my calculations, and the articles I was able to obtain, Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows played the game of baseball for well over twenty-two years. He played with everyone from Chet Bost to Jimmy Claxton, Yellowhorse Morris, all the way to Sunny Jim Bonner. He played his early years as a hard-hitting second baseman, sometimes switching to shortstop and even hurling on the mound when needed. His base stealing skills are legendary. In his own words, “I’m and old man, but I’m a good one“.

Charlie Reid was also a phenomenal pitcher that most Negro baseball historians have never heard of, but is a well known figure in the East Bay Area.  Charlie is known to have pitched against the like of Chick Hafey, Buzz Arlett, Ernie Lombardi, and Lefty Gomez. This might seem unusual to some, because even though it is well known among the African American community of the San Francisco Bay Area, not many people outside of “Shadow Ball” arena know about the skill level of those African Americans that played the game of baseball against their Caucasian contemporaries, at a time when being semi-pro was the only option you had on the West Coast, based on the era of Jim Crow in America. The Charles Reid Foundation is still very active today and has brought happiness, annually, to hundreds of at-risk youths living in Richmond, CA. by helping them develop life skills that will help excel in their future.

Charles Reid ball player

Charlie Reid

I’ve been recently researching the Carrol Giants of Los Angeles, which was a team owned by Will Carrol and managed by Lonnie Goodwin, when I came across this article.

CE-1924-Oakland Pierce Giants May Play Here Labor Day

The California Eagle, July 26, 1924

The Carrol Giants were a short lived team, who I believe the owner, Will Carrol, absconded with the teams funds and didn’t pay his field fees, and thus was locked out of Goodyear Park. Will Carrol was responsible for the money and business side of the Carrol Giant’s team, and after a series of early losses, I believe he couldn’t handle the pressure of team building. Soon after, the Japser All-Stars. lead by mananger/owner John Jasper would fill the void left by the Carrol Giants. Jasper’s crew had players like Slowtime Evans and Bob Fagen. Fagen was was eventually chosen to lead the Jasper All-Stars as their manager and wrote a series of articles called, “My Experience As A Manager” for the 1924 California Eagle newspaper. He based his experience at at managing and leadership qualities on his ideal manager of managers, Lonnie Goodwin.

What he had to say about ball players of any professional magnitude, and why they might consider playing in the West as opposed to the East, would be their ability to play baseball year around as opposed to five months a year, in he article called “West vs. East“. He stated that the players from the West are in better condition and seldom left there small towns where they were comfortable. But, his emphatic statement about the main reason being that “managers don’t want to pay sufficient salaries to beginners from the bushes.“, speaks volume to what I’ve been saying to members of the SABR community for months now. The social dynamics and opportunity for African American men during the days of Jim Crow kept some of the best players close to that opportunity.

I’m not sure that Gary Ashwill or Bill Staples will agree with me on the issue of why some of the best African American baseball players remained in the West, or those that played in the Negro League Majors, left the league and headed West to make a life for themselves. Some will continue to state that they were in their declining years as sportsmen. The social dynamic of securing a park to hold seasonal play was also a major limiting factor, and there’s was a lot of mileage and land between Kansas City and California. The African American population in both the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County was sparse in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Great Migration was a move from the South to the North, and to the North East and Midwest in most cases. The West was an oasis for the African American who stayed and built a life, but it still wasn’t free of Jim Crow. One added advantage of living in the West was one wasn’t limited to playing baseball for a living, and if the truth be told, a lot of players from the East were limited by their options in the days of Jim Crow to only playing baseball for a living.

As Charlie Reid stated, “I played for several other semi-pro teams in Vallejo, Martinez and just about every city in Northern California. Some times I made as much as $100 for pitching one ball game.

$100 was a lot of money between 1912 and 1934. It was especially a lot of money for playing “semi-pro” ball in a single game, when it was a known fact that Eastern League teams had difficulties paying their players on time, or never paid enough to keep them from jumping teams to make a decent, livable wage. These long standing semi-pro teams of the West could match the skills of any Eastern teams they came across, but it was really a money ball type of existence for Western African American baseball players. Exhibition games paid better than the standard league play, but if there was some accolades for winning against one of the best teams or players, or just playing them for bragging rights, the players from the West would pick up their gloves, travel to areas unwelcomed, and play for the sake of a story to tell later on.

I will explain in a future post how the Oakland Pierce Giants morphed into the Royal Colored Giants of Oakland, and they would become the flagship of the Berkeley Colored League, lead by the indefatigable Byron “Speed” O’Reilly.

Time to go make some Christmas Gumbo for the family.

Save

Negro League Baseball : Focusing On The West

There have been a lot of recent discoveries about Negro League baseball on the West Coast. I’d like to add to those discoveries, if at all possible, keeping in mind, that I’m more of a historian who studies social dynamics, while still loving baseball. I am more accustomed to writing literary prose that has nothing to do with baseball. I don’t stake any claim on knowing more than others about the subject, but I do dig very deep into certain aspect of society, when there was a time where African Americans were separated from playing professional baseball with their Caucasian counterparts. That period was known as Jim Crow. I going to try and give this adventure into writing about baseball my best possible shot, because I know everyone has a different viewpoint on baseball in general. There are those are probably better equipped to explain the statistician aspects of the game. I’ve never thought too deeply about what that means in the long run when uncovering the lost history of Negro League baseball on the West Coast.

To some, it mean a lot more than it does to others. I’m hoping that my research and findings can help those who really understand these statistic and there bearing on the human existence, in a time when America was at its best and its worse. I come from a baseball family dynasty. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. And, until recently, I hadn’t chose to dig too deep into what that actually meant or my family’s past. I’m not one to publish my findings, until I have my ducks in row and my facts can be supported. People in the San Francisco Bay Area used to talk about “the Sharkeys”, the famed baseball family of the San Francisco Bay Area and East Bay. That would be the Auther family, often misspelled ‘Arthur’. As a child, during the 1960’s and 1970’s, it had little or no real bearing on my life, and as far as information was concerned, there was never any material provided for me to look through to make an assessment of how important this legacy really was. In my family, we just played the game of baseball. We talked a lot about baseball. People talked to us about baseball. At some point in the juncture, it becomes commonplace to oversimplify the aspect of the history that was made, and the social impact it had on the area you grew up in. The picture you see here is the Athens Elks

The Legend-Sharky Auther

This was one of the many teams that my Grandfather played on, during his years of barnstorming, playing the game of baseball. I began by digging deep into news articles that reached back into the early 20th Century,  and I was able to discover much more about him and the men that he played the game of baseball with, than was ever related to me growing up as a young man. Mind you, my Grandfather was very modest about his exploits, from the aspect of not making a big deal about his time playing the game of baseball. I’ve had a few minor discussions with those who hold an interest in the Berkeley Colored League and the Berkeley International League. From these early discussions, I’ve been able to flesh out the development and history of some of America’s greatest baseball players that ever played the game, whether most baseball historians know about them or not. Whether it be Sunny Jim Bonner, Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows, Yellowhorse Morris, Stack Martin–these are just a few of the people I will discuss in upcoming post.

But–my main objective here is to answer the question, “If they were so good, then why didn’t they join the National Negro League teams or the E.C.L.?” This question is asked over and over again, and there seems to be some confusion about the social dynamics that played a very important role in where a player played the game of baseball, where they lived or stayed, and where they chose to put down roots as a man to live out the rest of there lives. I sometimes get confused by some baseball historians, because–as some noted baseball historians venture into the world of finding lost teams, player information, and historical timelines, they seem to answer this “why didn’t they…” question themselves, but haven’t quite grasped the concept that they’ve already answered it. Family is the answer. Inevitably, when trying a baseball historian is trying to locate a relative of a former Negro League player, they usually wind up empty handed, because–barnstorming didn’t leave one much time to have family interaction. Simply put–the West Coast Negro League player was profoundly cut from a different cloth than his Eastern counterpart. It wasn’t that he wasn’t as good as Eastern counterpart, as Gary Ashwill stated in post about Jimmy Bonner.

The dynamics of find a home base to play was also part of the overall aspect. Money was the largest factor during the era of Jim Crow that relegated the movement of African Americans during Jim Crow and Negro League baseball. I really prefer not to argue with people who don’t understand what options African Americans had during the period of Jim Crow in American history. What i prefer to do is expand the knowledge of those who lack the knowledge of West Coast Negro League baseball and how it came into being and what purpose it served. This will be a task in itself, because the social dynamic of the East, West, North and South were all different during the period of Reconstruction into the era of Jim Crow and afterwards. My opinions on the subject will be based on my research deeply into the subject. Even though Ryan Whirty wrote this article called “A Few West Coast Thoughts” and this great spread in S.F Weekly trying to explain, the common denominator is that most baseball historians think that West Coast baseball for the African American was a flailing fledgling proposition, never ever really taking true shape or form. If the truth be told–the form was there and it had more of an impact on the African American community at large than even most quote-unquote real or amateur historians could ever realize.

Regardless of the issue of ‘Professional vs. Semi-Professional’, or whether or not that those connected to the historical repositories that (those of the House of David or Mary City of David, or otherwise), the main reason is that African American history cannot be accessed in white Jim Crow newspapers, because white people had zero interest in telling the story of African Americans during the era. We have to call it as we see it, and as it was, if we are to access the information about American history that was hidden from most American. I cannot personally change what happened in Jim Crow America. I can objectively search for the truth of African American history on the West Coast, looking at the overall value of a period in history and long term goals of a people denied basic human rights in the greatest nation in the world. There are no personal axes to grind, for facts will always bear the truth of what West Coast African American baseball was, long before 1947 and Jackie Robinson. You just have to be smart enough to know where to look to find these facts.

The fact remains, I write about history and historical events. Not just baseball history either; and although my degrees are not history based degrees, I give my education full credit for my ability to research the subject of Negro Baseball on the West Coast, and place my findings up against any of my contemporaries at SABR. Although, they may not acknowledge my findings, comments, or articles, the findings are incomparable and exhilarating. The story of West Coast Negro baseball is much larger than my family’s history and involvement, as you will soon find out. I’ll try my best to facilitate access to information, for those of you who would like to explore it deeper. Joining SABR has not made me any closer to my contemporaries, but it has enhanced my ability to research history of an ignored people.