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

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