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

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One thought on “Negro League Baseball: The Rise, Fall, And Transformation Of The Oakland Pierce Giants

  1. Pingback: Negro League Baseball: The Reid Factor; Charles Rodgers “Iron Man” Reid-Part I | The Shadow Ball Express

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