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.

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