Negro League Baseball: Bob Pease And Negro Baseball Opportunities

This story is about opportunity outside of the venue of baseball.

1933 Three Keys

Many African Americans played the game of baseball diligently, and in doing so, became famous beyond their wildest dreams. For, in a time when traveling around from town to town, unaccepted at the accommodations afforded to many others who did not bear the burden of being a person of color, these men flourished as ambassadors of good will and social harmony. in an era where “race” was a major defining factor between being looked at as good or bad, accepted or not accepted, these men represented the foundation for the majority of American people, those who were willing enough to expose themselves to a different concept of social interaction, even if it was at a distance from the field to the bleachers.  These would be the men that would eventually change the course of history in American forever, to hopefully a more civil society than had ever occurred before in American history.

Yet, there is all types of social interaction vehicles that change the course of history.

Music is one of then.

I’ve being doing a lot of thinking lately, about  how people research Negro League baseball players. I’ve been wondering if they expose themselves to the myriad of life’s experiences beyond tossing the pill. Where and how their research begins, when searching for a ball player’s career and stats are concerned, one usually starts by looking at that ball player being mentioned by some writer, in some abstract news article or book that they’ve picked up somewhere, that mentions the player in question. As the researcher’s interest grows, and they become obsessed about finding out some detailed information on their subject matter, they sometimes give up when the trail runs more cold than hot. Even though I focus on West Coast African American baseball history, I’ve often run across obscure articles here and there during my research, which explains, better than I can, the social dynamics of Depression Era baseball that I’m most interested in.

That which addresses life altering decisions, and the issues of financial stability during one of the worse financial periods in American history. How would the life of an African American baseball player might turn out, if they chose not to play in the Black Major leagues? If an opportunity like that ever presented itself to do just that? They say Bob was a star pitcher with a lot of talent. These questions are seldom asked by baseball researchers. Because, in order to do so, the player in question would have to have other options available in his life, and he would have to allow for opportunities to exercise those options for this alternative life to unfold. He would have to take charge of his life, enabling him to secure his personal future. The Great Depression held very little in the way of opportunity for anyone, especially employment opportunities for African American men.

You had to take certain risk to make money the best way you saw fit, and in most cases, your opportunities were extremely limited, regardless of your color. The Great Depression suffered no foolishness from anyone of any race, creed or color.

The story of Bob Pease, where this “financial’ issue is concerned, peaked my interest, and I’m still very interested in locating more information about his baseball career with the 1928 Philadelphia Colored Giants Of New York.

The Minor Leagues Committee of SABR provided the information found in Baseball-Reference.Com, listed the 1928 Philadelphia Colored Giants Of New York, as one of the fifteen 1928 Independent Negro Minor League teams that operated in the East.

Bob Pease is also mentioned in the Minors_@_Baseball-Reference.Com League players section of Baseball-Reference.Com, although it does not mention what team he played for, what position he played, or his any stats–which might help tell us how well he played the game. I happened to secure this article on Bob Pease, which gave enough information to find out he was a pitcher of some note, and according to Louise Landis, entertainment correspondent for the San Francisco Spokesman, Bob Pease played for the 1928 Philadelphia Colored Giants. I’m making the guess it was the 1928 Philadelphia Colored Giants, and not Sol White’s 1902-1911 Philadelphia Colored Giants, based on his age, which I’ve yet to verify.

Radio Spotlight-The Three Keys-Bob Pease-2-16-1933-i-Page 2

Radio Spotlight-The Three Keys-Bob Pease-2-16-1933-ii-Page 2

Radio Spotlight-The Three Keys-Bob Pease-2-16-1933-iii-Page 2

The San Francisco Spokesman, February 16,1933

Bob Pease was a very well known musician in Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles. He began his singing career as a tenor, while he played piano for the Three Keys, out of “black and tan” spots of Chester, Philadelphia. His piano playing skills were par excellent, and he had the ivory-tinkling style very similar to that of Earl “Fatha” Hines. Musically, his talents for singing and playing the piano blended well with the Three Keys trio without ever taking center stage. He knew his musical success would be built on team work, and the skills he acquired playing baseball for the 1928 Philadelphia Giant of New York transitioned very well into his musical career.

3 Keys 5

Bob Pease, Slim Furness, and George “Bob Bon” Tunnell of the Three Keys

In this 1932 article in the Afro American, it was reported that the Three Keys has just landed a contract to perform four time a week, live, on the National Broadcasting System, when radio is in was in its heyday. This is where Bob’s baseball career effectively ended, and his career in radio, stage and film began.

Afro American-The Three Keys Radios Lateest Sensation-8-20-1932-i

Afro American-The Three Keys Radios Lateest Sensation-8-20-1932-ii

Afro American-The Three Keys Radios Lateest Sensation-8-20-1932-iii

The Afro-American, August 20, 1932

Based on this article, Bob would have been born on 1907, which would have made it impossible for him have played with Rube Foster, Spottswood Poles, Dick Redding and Sol White, or of any of the other great original Philadelphia Giants. Also, based on this article, I found a movie short on youtube, featuring the The Keys singing “The Their Eyes” As for finding out more about ‘Bob Pease the minor league hurler’, I will have to search through some old Philadelphia Tribune articles, if I can locate some that have been micro-formed, then digitized for posterity. These two articles, one from 1932 and one from 1933 verify that Bob Pease actually did exist, and the he did play minor league baseball for the 1928 Philadelphia Colored Giants.

Bob Pease ‘big league’ fame would found with the Three Keys!

The Three Keys had these hit songs:

1) Someone Stole Garbriel’s Horn  Brunswick 6388 – 1932

2) Wah Dee Daw  Brunswick 6423 – 1932

3) (I Would Do) Anything For You  Brunswick 6522 – 1933

4) That Doggone Dog Of Mine  Brunswick 6522 – 1933

5) Heebie Jeebies  Vocalion 2523 – 1933

6) Song Of The Islands   Vocalion 2523 – 1933

I hope you enjoy these song.

By the way, George “Bon Bon” Tunnell was one of the first African Americans to sing in an all white Big Band, when he was a featured artist singing with Jan Savitt‘s Top Hatters

If I find out more about Bob Pease, I will write a follow up post.

Negro League Baseball: There Are Many Stories Like The Lefty Gomez Story

I understand the writing game.

I understand baseball research also.

I understand the process of making new discoveries and sharing them with my peers.

I also understand when someone lacks the insight to see my discovery as pertinent.

I also understand the status quo belief systems when it comes new discoveries about history and historical events.

I understood all these things before I wrote, “Negro League Baseball: Lefty Gomez vs. The Berkeley Pelicans : How good were they? : The Berkeley Colored League

No writer or baseball researcher need fear what I’m bringing to the table, when it comes to someone other than themselves being the resident expert on Depression era in Berkeley and Oakland. Yes, this information is new to mostly everyone out there, and of course it places them in the position of feeling on the outside. Those same people need to remember, I was related to three men that played in the Berkeley Colored League and Berkeley International League. They’ve all passed on now.

My grandfather’s home was gathering place for the men of these leagues, and even as old men, they filled his house and told their stories.

I’ve met a lot of them, and I know their children and grandchildren. I grew up with them, so they’ve heard these stories also.

Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows was Just one of many great Berkeley Colored League players.

On another note:

Stats: 1933 Season stats for the competitors that played in the game that day against Lefty Gomez.

Batting averages for the 1933 Season: (Berkeley Colored League team): Berkeley Pelicans

1) Dudley Jones             .269
2) Jimmy LaBlanc          .383
3) John Mitchell             .383
4) Alvin Stubblefield      .388
5) Jack Smith                 .276
6) Raymond Crowley      .369
7) Tom Jackson              .000
8) Wayne Gaskin            .315
9) Herman Hosley          .366
10) Lionel Wilson           .285
11) Cyril Cherry              .278
12) Harold Hills               .***
13) Johnny Lott              .212
14) Orviss Knowles        .250

Batting averages for the 1933 National League All Stars (*denotes Berkeley High trained baseball player) + (1933 NL All-Star AB vs. Hits against Lefty Gomez)

1) Frank Frisch         .303 (St. Louis Cardinals)        (2 for 4)
2) Chuck Klein          .368 (Philadelphia Phillies)       (1 for 4)
3) Chick Hafey*        .303 (Cincinnati Reds)             (1 for 4)
4) Bill Terry              .322 (New York Giants)           (2 for 4)
5) Pie Traynor          .304 (Pittsburgh Pirates)         (1 for 1)
6) Lon Werneke        .303 (Chicago Cubs)               (1 for 1)
9) Pepper Martin       .316 (St. Louis Cardinals)       (0 for 4)
10) Wally Berger       .313 (Boston Braves)             (0 for 4)
11) Dick Bartell         .271 (Philadelphia Phillies)      (0 for 2)
12) Tony Cuccinello   .252 (Brooklyn Dodgers)        (0 for 1)
13) Jimmie Wilson     .255 (St. Louis Cardinals)       (0 for 1)
14) Lefty O’Doul         .284 (Brooklyn Dodgers to New York Giants collective Batting Average for 1933)     (0 for 1)
15) Gabby Harnett     .276 (Chicago Cubs)              (0 for 1)
16) Bill Hallahan        .150 (St. Louis cardinals)       (0 for 1)
17) Woody English     .261 (Chicago Cubs)              (0 for 1)


Where do I makes the adjustments in Batting Averages to make Negro League baseball researchers feel comfortable?

And for what reason would I do that?

See, for a single game played, like the Rodeo vs. Berkeley Pelicans (comparing it to the All Star Game of 1933, based only on pitching and collective batting averages), the only thing that needs to be considered is the pitching skills of Lefty Gomez, who had an ERA of 3.18 for 1933, and a WL percentage of .615 for 1933. We can take into account his 7 All Star Games appearances ( 5 as a pitcher), two AL Triple Crowns awards, two AL Pitching Titles awards,–or we can toss it all and say he sucked as a pitcher, and was one of the worse that the Major League Baseball ever produced and that the Berkeley Colored League (predecessor to the Berkeley International League) was just lucky to get hits off Lefty Gomez that day.

Then I would have to toss Chick Hafey’s early experiences of baseball out of the window also, chalking him up as someone whose baseball skills sprung eternal from the forehead of Zeus.

Would that suit people who’ve dismissed the Berkeley Colored League and Berkeley International League as “not at the level of the black big leagues back east or the winter season black teams on the west such as the Philadelphia Royal Giants (actually based in Los Angeles), made up of Negro league stars.”?

There will always be people, who lack the total overview of how things actually worked during the Depression era, especially when it comes to East Bay and San Francisco Bay Area Negro League baseball game play, because they are stepping into a world that is unfamiliar to them.

I get that.

I’m all for tossing the out stats, for now, in order to make it possible for baseball researchers have access to new discoveries made by baseball historians and researchers. But if we’re going to dismiss the stats, then we need to dismiss them on all sides, which in this case, includes the stats for NL and AL of Major League Baseball for the year of 1933.

That is, if we’re going to keep it real, for the sake of posterity and fairness. Authority has its place in discovery. Dismissal does not, especially without the proper research on the subject matter on is commenting on. When any baseball researcher dismisses something based on a “level” that they’ve had no real access to, and then they presents themselves as an all-seeing all knowing individual, things tend to come along and burst their bubble of authoritative arrogance. They end up shaking their heads, saying to themselves, “Say it isn’t so”.

The main reason I didn’t post Harold Hils batting average stats was because he was actually under contract as a Pullman All Star and was not really Berkeley Pelican during league play, but he did go to play against Lefty that day.

In 1933, Harold Hills led the league with an overall batting average, swatting .457 for the year in the Berkeley Colored League.

I’m sure adjustments can be made for some things, but for the level of play on that day, when you factor in the amount of hits made that day by the Berkley Pelicans against Lefty Gomez vs. the amount of hits made by the Major Leagues Baseball’s National League All Star team for 1933 against Lefty Gomez, the only thing that separated the players of the Berkeley Colored League and other professional baseball players of either race in those days were– color or distance.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Their skills were never in question or even an issue.

There are many more stories–and many more stats to come.

Stay tuned.

Negro League Baseball: Lefty Gomez vs. The Berkeley Pelicans

How good were they? : The Berkeley Colored League

by Ronald Auther

It’s a question that is frequently asked, but not that often, by those who are curious about Negro Baseball on the West Coast. The inquiries are sporadic and the curiosity fades as quickly as it comes. The Berkeley Colored League was the pride of the East Bay, which had its humble beginnings at San Pablo Park in Berkeley, California. The inventor of the league was none other that Byron “Speed” O’Reilly, better known as “Speed” Reilly.

There are those that say, “They never amounted to much…they were just bush league players”. Or, “If they were ever any good at all, why didn’t they enter the National Negro League circuit”. If the truth was told, the reasons were few and simple. Segregation was a major factor in keeping America in the dark about some of the most formidable athletes that this nation ever produced. So much so, that there were people who left the East Coast by train and car, on a consistent basis, just to play with them, or against them.

The founder, concierge, and one of the many team owner’s of the Berkeley Colored League, “Speed” Reilly, who valued all sports known to mankind, treated them all equally and with reverence, started the BCL on a whim with only a hand full of hand picked African American men from the Oakland and Berkeley area, who barnstormed together and separately around Northern California. With Perkin Woodlyn as his capable personal assistant, and Sam Pierce as the Secretary and Treasurer for the BCL, Reilly’s idea of league play would set up  a ‘Berkeley Baseball Boots and Bingles’ circuit that would showcase the skills of the African American men he scouted for years. Each one of them hired by individual team owners, and sponsored by local business’s to play at San Pablo Park, that enjoined the community and players, who contributed in the growth and financial stability, and community success of the area, from South Berkeley to West Oakland.

From their humble beginnings in 1928, Byron “Speed” O’Reilly, ran his baseball ‘league’ business in from his home, located at 580 32nd Street in Oakland, California. He lived in the heart of what would become known as “Hell’s Half Acre”, or “The Harlem Of The West Coast”. Early West Oakland was the African American’s dreams come true. It was the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. Traveling a little over 3 miles, day in and day out, Byron “Speed” O’Reilly laid his plans for financial success, by forming semi-pro baseball network during the Great Depression, which has never been duplicated by anyone to this date.

Byron possessed a gift. Not just one of gab, but superior organizational skills that were incomparable. As the duly elected President of the Berkeley Colored League, it’s nearly impossible to believe that he possessed enough time to be a sports editor for the local African American newspaper, while also being the emcee for many a ‘up and coming’ musical showcase at the Lakeside Roof Garden, Persians Gardens or Sweets Ballroom, as well as judging the weekly dance contest Yosemite Club in San Francisco, for those who sought a professional dancing career in the movies or on the stage. He was responsible for so many Bay Area innovations one can only accept the nickname he took, “Speed”, as a moniker for a man who never had time to slow down. His friend’s list was beyond compare. From the great Curtis Mosby, Les Hite, Max Baer, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Jesse Owens, just to name a few–and much too large to name them all of them here.

Still, that doesn’t explain to the public whether or not the Berkeley Colored League players of yesteryear were of equal caliber as the Major League white players of that very same era. The proof is only found in the untold history, uncovered through extensive research, on both sides of the controversy. Segregation enforced by the Jim Crow era in American history, makes fact finding difficult challenge, but not altogether impossible. It is important to remember that the quality of African American players is difficult to judge, based on the social construct that separated men and women of different races along ‘cultural lines’, even though there were no real ‘cultural differences’ preventing the races from engaging in normal, day-to-day activities. The proof of the Berkeley Colored League’s talent can be accessed today, based on what we know about others who played the game of baseball against them who and had superb talent.

To do this, we need to gauge the competition of that day, and how much they were valued as much as any other players of that day could be, when playing baseball against one another. I chose Vernon ‘Lefty’ Gomez as the formal competitor, to make a valid point of how well the Berkeley Colored League players played the game of baseball on any given day. “Goofy” Gomez, as he was known in the circles of professional baseball, was voted four-times MVP and played seven times in All-Star Games for the American League, earned two Triple Crowns, and held two pitching titles. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. There was no doubt he should have been. The New York Yankees loved Lefty, and this ‘southpaw chucker’ was very well respected, as much in the San Francisco Bay area as he was in New York. Lefty was an East Bay boy, born in Rodeo Township, California, who grew up on his parents ranch, and never had any intention of playing baseball professionally.

His parents wanted him to be an electrical engineer, and he wanted to be an aviator. He threw everyone off by becoming a baseball pitcher, stating that he became one merely because ot the concept that he was left-handed. He had a fastball and his pitching mechanic spelled pure class, coming off the mound and releasing the heat. Tall and lanky, he was the youngest of five sons and two daughters, born to Frank and Elisabeth Gomez according to the United States Census for 1920. Lefty was charming and funny, all rolled into one humorous package. There’s a seldom discussed fact about Lefty Gomez, which he had issues with maintaining his weight every time he pitched a game.

According to Nick Williams, Manager of the San Francisco Seals, stated the Lefty would actually lose between ten and fifteen pounds after each session on the mound, by expending a tremendous amount of energy. It would take food and forty-eight hours rest to regain his playing weight back. Lefty had a stellar fastball according to Williams. His wife, former Broadway Musical Star, June ‘O’Day’ Gomez, placed him on a ‘steak and eggs’, regimented breakfast diet so he could maintain his playing weight. This would change the course of how Lefty played the game. It increased his endurance, so his pitching wouldn’t fade near the last innings of the game. The sports writers of that day made a big deal about Lefty’s ethnic heritage, making sure it was well established that he was of ‘Castilian’ descent, verifying it at every step of his early career, making sure his European roots remained at the forefront of racial acceptance in the American culture. With a Hispanic last name like Gomez, it was necessary to keep up appearances and make clear he was of Spanish descent.

Now that we possess a yard stick to measure the BCL players by, we can assume the reason Vernon ‘Lefty’ Gomez was chosen, is for the simple fact that he was one of the East Bay’s original sons, learning his skill sets in the East Bay by playing in the East Bay with those from the East Bay. We can also assume that, given the early part of his baseball career, which began in his hometown of Rodeo Township, or his high school in Richmond, California, that he crossed paths with many decent baseball players, growing up with them and playing against them, until to going pro with the New York Yankees. In his senior year of high school, Lefty Gomez was offered a scholarship to St. Mary’s College High School, located in Berkeley, California. The distance from St. Mary’s College High to San Pablo Park is 2.2 miles walk down Sacramento Street. Every kid who grew up in Berkeley that went to St. Mary’s has made this walk, when it came to scoping out the local area competition.

But it’s Lefty’s professional pitching is what we’re more interested in as a unit of measurement. Like the fact in 1932, he pitched in the World Series, Game Two against the Chicago Cubs. It was the last World Series that Babe Ruth ever played in New York. The New York Yankees swept the World Series that year with a 4-0 record, which included the pitching of Vernon ‘Lefty” Gomez. Of course, Guy Bush of the Chicago Cubs trashed talked Babe Ruth during the Game One, of the 1932 World Series calling him a “n*gger”. Ty Cobb frequently called Babe Ruth the N-Word. This was the basic undertone of American society during this period in American history, which speaks for itself, with these unprovoked comment about the Babe, who wasn’t African American at all, but of German descent. One could only imagine what a skilled African American had to tolerate, when playing the game of baseball against those who looked different than he did, during this period in American history.

There are baseball players that most people have never heard of, such as, Dudley Jones, Jack Smith, Ray Crowley, Tom Jackson, Alvin Stubblefield, Wayne Gaskin, Herman Hosley, Cyril Cherry, Jess Hills, Johnny Lott, Jimmy La Blanc, Johnny Mitchell, Orviss Knowles and Lionel Wilson. In October of 1933, they were the 1933 Berkeley Pelicans, and the Berkeley Colored League Champions. By 1946, left-handed pitcher, Lionel Wilson would be still throwing left handed heat for the WCBA’s Oakland Larks, and eventually he served three consecutive terms as Mayor of Oakland, California. In 1933, Lionel Wilson was only eighteen old, and a burgeoning pitcher for a semi-pro, African American loop club. By 1933, Lefty Gomez had already pitched against the likes of the 1932 Chicago Cubs World Series line-up in Game Two, scored a victory, giving up nine hits and two runs.

By this July of 1933, Lefty Gomez had also pitched, in the coveted 1933 All-Star Game for the American League. His AL team consisted of Rick Ferrell, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmy Dykes, Joe Cronin, Ben Chapman, Al Simons, and Babe Ruth. He was the winning pitcher on July 6, 1933, defeating the National League All-Stars team by a score of 4-2. Vernon Lefty Gomez was no slouch when it came to playing the game of baseball. I often wonder, if people realize, what Vernon felt like on that day he pitched against the Berkeley Pelicans in mid-October of 1933. He had to be relieved by his older brother, for he had no younger brother, and the sports writer was taking a dig at the young Yankee pitcher for getting pounded pretty hard by the Berkeley Pelicans. He went a total of seven innings that day, before he had to be relieved by his older brother, Lloyd.

The Rodeo ball club won the game, with a final score of 7-5, but it was a tight game, and the local fans enjoyed seeing all their hometown boys play it out to the final innings. The Berkeley Pelicans made some “boots” that day that cost them the game, but they hit the ball consistently off of one of America’s all-time great pitchers. One of the best that ever set foot on the mound. There is no mistaking how good Vernon ‘Lefty’ Gomez was when it came to hurling the ball. He out hurled Lonnie Warneke in Game Two of the 1932 World Series, and demanded a steep raise in salary in 1933 from Yankees owner, Col. Jake Ruppert. ‘Lefty’ was insulted by the salary increased offered to him in a new contract for 1933, and became the first holdout more  ‘ducats’ that season. ‘Lefty’ thundered into Ed Barrow office, the business managers for the New York Yankees front office, and told him that $2000 was an “insult” and said, “I want more money”. The 1932 season pay for Lefty Gomez included regular season play plus $2,500 for the 1932 World Series, which amounted to a total of $10,000.

BG-Gomez First Holdout-Scorns 2000 Increase-1-19-1933-i

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Berkeley Daily Gazette, January 19, 1933

Barrow explained, that Babe Ruth had taken a $25,000 salary cut, and it was Lefty who had received a ‘raise”. ‘Lefty’ told Barrow, “You call that a raise, after the way I pitched last season? Take another look at the records, and don’t forget the World Series Statistics, then maybe we can talk business.” Lefty and Johnny Allen were the only two ‘salary increase holdouts’ for the 1933 Yankee contracted season. Lefty Gomez grumbled, He took the $12,000 salary that year, because it looked better than the $7,500 he’d made in 1932, or no salary at all. In 1934, he kept his mouth shut, and didn’t receive a dime more than $12,000. Col. Jake Ruppert had taught Lefty Gomez a valuable lesson about being gracious when accepting a salary increase.

Oh, and by the way, the answer is ‘yes’… They were that good.

The Berkeley Colored League Players were as good as any of their Depression Era contemporaries. Segregation was the imposing societal factor that kept African American players of the great game of baseball from being as well know by one and all. Playing the game against the best was sometimes payment enough. It gave the players bragging rights, but does little for the hidden history that we researchers must dig deep to access. A week later, the Berkeley Gray All-Stars would take a ride out to Rodeo, California, seeking revenge for the loss that the Berkeley Pelicans received the week before. They were also a part of the Berkeley Colored League aggregate loop, the game ended up rained out after four scoreless innings, and Vernon ‘Lefty’ Gomez was nowhere to be found. He had a reputation to uphold. He never returned to pitch against the men of the Berkeley Colored League that next weekend. I don’t blame him for not taking the mound against them ever again.

It was segregation as a rule that kept the men of the Berkeley Colored League names out of the annals of history. It was never their skills. They always made time to play against those who were called the “best” that baseball ever produced.

But on that day of revenge, Lefty chose to keep his hurling reputation intact.

Grays Rained Out In Rodeo Game-11-2-1933

The San Francisco Spokesman November 2, 1933

Negro League Baseball: Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows And The Alexander Giants

The thing about West Coast Negro League baseball is that the question that is most often asked is, “Were the players of the North California teams as good as those of the California Winter League, or their Eastern counterparts?” or “If they were that good, why didn’t more of them turn professional and play in the NNL or ECL?”. These are valid questions. It is undeniable, that a lot of players passed up the opportunity to play in the Major Negro Leagues, only to fall through the cracks of Negro League baseball history, or to only be maligned as unworthy men of any Negro League baseball recognition. I suspect that if the truth be told, why some goods players chose to stay in a place where they could play good baseball, while enjoying the creature comforts of life while ‘community building’, an answer like that would never suffice to some baseball historians who’d never concern themselves with the social dynamics of how life was during Jim Crow.

Yet, some can spin a tale or two about their favorite Negro League players, when they find decent ones, and expound on their favorite player’s virtues or lack there of, detailing their personal lives as best as they can, while presenting these concepts as undiscovered or undisclosed mysteries. I find, more often than not, that its been much easier for baseball historians to dismiss the Northern California Negro League players as an anomaly for further research ‘at some point’ down the road, or totally devalue their playing skills as a fluke among the annal of baseball history. If there was one good player among them, then the rest of them were obviously below average or mediocre, or basically not good at all. If that was the truth, then one must ask themselves, “If they could have gone pro–why didn’t they?”

Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows is a prime example of of someone who could have gone into the National Negro League, the Eastern Colored League, but he chose to stay and play in the East Bay after he left Tennessee as a child.

Hilary Bullet Meaddows 2

Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows

I’m going to make the assumption that after leaving his birth place of Tennessee, and living in Northern California for some time, Hilary had absolutely no desire to return East or South, based on his new found reality in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even living in Southern California was a extreme challenge for African Americans during the turn of the 20th Century. Contrasting that to the peonage population of Tennessee, and the forced ‘convict labor’ coal mining taking place in Tennessee, its not really a hard decision to never return to the South or head East ever again–if you were African America, and especially if you possessed outstanding baseball skills. Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows was one of those type of baseball players.

Hilary Bullet Meaddows-1940 Census

Hillary Meaddows U.S. 1940 Census Record

According to the U.S. Census Record for 1940, Hilary worked as a laborer for the City Of Oakland. In 1940, this was a good gig with benefits, especially for someone who had only a 7th Grade education. I’m not sure how long he had the job for, but more than likely, he had some serious time invested in it, because at the time of this Census taking in 1940, he was 48 years old.

From his early days with the Oakland (Colored) Giants to the Lynne-Stanley Giants, Hilary bounced from one team to another. There was a definitive split in the Lynne-Stanley Giants camp down the road a piece, which I believe was caused by the distance Chet Bost required his players to travel over the years, exacerbated by his tough management style. As a team Captain on the field, Bost was one of the finest leaders around. As a team player/manager, he may have been a bit of a tyrant, requiring his East Bay team mates to play more games in the Central Valley than they actually wanted to. Chet was from the Central Valley. His best players were not, and they probably wanted to play closer to home. California was filled with Sundown towns during this era of league play, and it was imperative that African Americans respect the hidden lines of Jim Crow in California. For every area of California was not South Berkeley or West Oakland. Hilary lived just a little over 2 miles from San Pablo Park, on 36th Street, in West Oakland, and he played in most of the surrounding parks there for most of his life.

Meaddows played for any number of teams in the San Francisco Bay Area. the Oakland Cubs, the Oakland (Colored) Giants, the Lynne-Stanley Giants, the Royal Colored Giants Of Oakland, the Oak Leafs, Maxwell’s Hardware, and a much longer list of other teams. The connection between Maxwell’s Hardware team and the Berkeley Colored League, reaches all the way through two decades, all the up to the West Coast Baseball Association, the West Coast league professional league started by Jesse Owens and Abe Saperstein, which is another story in itself.

I ran across this article which was very enlightening about Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows and his skill set as a Northern California Negro League baseball player.

CE-Giants improve Batting Records-Beat Sherrett Stars-6-21-1921-i

The California Eagle, June 21, 1921 Part 1

CE-Giants improve Batting Records-Beat Sherrett Stars-6-21-1921-ii

The California Eagle,  June 21, 1921 Part 2

Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows was the “star” attraction on that day, and at request of Neal Pullen, he came South to play the a game of baseball for the Alexander Giants. Pullen had his choice of replacements for John Riddle. Hillary played that day, like he always played. Hard and fast. Now, I know that this doesn’t mean much to the average person who still thinks that the Negro League player of Northern California was not as good as say, one of the Brooklyn Royal Giants, or someone from the Baltimore Black Sox, or even a player from New York Lincoln Giants. I’ve even heard that players from Northern California, weren’t even the same caliber of players as say the Philadelphia Royal Giants of the L.A. White Sox.

Yet, they’ve never asked the most pertinent question of all, which is– “why,… if they were that good, why would they choose to stay in Northern California?

That is the question that needs to be pondered by those who think the Bay Area Negro League players were less gifted than their California Winter League, NNL and ECL counterparts. There are many good stories about players from the Northern California, who played primarily in about the East Bay. This is is just one of them.

There is a lot more stories to tell.

Negro League Baseball: San Pablo Park And The Berkeley Colored League

San Pablo Park

San Pablo Park

This is the story of San Pablo Park.

When we think of the Negro Leagues, we rarely consider how difficult it was to secure a park for league play. My friend, Bill Staples, sent me a zip file on the Oakland Pierce Giants, which was a tremendous gift of generosity. It actually placed some things in perspective for me. In it, there was a “Community” article, in the Oakland Tribune, dated December 26, 1975. It was called “Still Throwin’ ’em Out“, by Richard Spencer, of the Oakland Tribune’s Richmond Bureau. It was a grand article about the East Bay Area pitcher extraordinaire, Charles Rodgers Reid Sr. also know as Charlie Reid.

This story is not about Charlie Reid though. I promise I’ll get to him in another blog soon enough. I mentioned him in “Negro League Baseball: The Oakland Pierce Giants“, as one of the founding participants in the Berkeley Colored League. In the a article, “Sitll Throwin’ ’em Out”, Mr. Spencer happens to mention that Charlie “was an original member of the San Pablo Park Boys team in Berkeley, in 1914″.

BG-San Pablo Boys Win Over The Emeralds-3-15-1915

Berkeley Daily Gazette, March 15, 1915

The importance of this statement for me, validated a few articles I found concerning the development of San Pablo Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, which nurtured a community of baseball fanatics, through good times and bad times.

San Pablo Park Ad-San Fransico Call-11-28-1906-Page 5

Mason-McDuffie advertisement San Francisco Call, November 28, 1906

When I was a kid, there were two teams that everyone want to play for, based on their sponsorship.

One was Mason-McDuffie and the other was Golden State Mutual. It wasn’t until I became older that I understood the power that these two well established companies had when it came to financial support of teams they sponsored. Mason-McDuffie of course is a real estate company that has been around since 1887. The Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company was started by William Nickerson Jr. and was a black-owned and operated. If you want to understand how powerful the Mason-McDuffie ties are to the baseball community in the East Bay, Debbie DiMaggio, a distant cousin of Joe DiMaggio works for them selling luxury properties in the San Francisco Bay Area.

From the onset, in 1906, shortly after the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco, there was a mass exodus from San Francisco to the East Bay. Oakland and Berkeley, which happened to be farm land for the most part, would soon be placed up for sale as residential areas, safe enough to raise large families and conduct day-to-day business. The East Bay became a safe haven for those who feared another major earthquake and subsequent firestorm in San Francisco. The farm land that stretched from the Carquinez Straits down to San Jose became prime property. 200,000 people made an exodus from San Francisco and only 50,000 ever returned.

San Francisco Earthquake 1906-Cropped

San Francisco 1906 Earthquake Damage

Perhaps you didn’t buy a San Pablo Park Lot because you had to have a house NOW. DON’T WAIT. WE’LL BUILD FOR YOU…”, said the advertisements, for the early tract homes of South Berkeley.

San Pablo Park Ad-San Fransico Call-12-2-1906-Page 44

Mason-McDuffie advertisement San Francisco Call, December 2, 1906

5 Bedroom Home- The “Swiss Chalet”-San Pablo Park Tract-1215 Ward Street

1907 “Swiss Chalet” type home built by Mason-McDuffie near San Pablo Park, located on Dohr Street

The real estate development of the San Pablo Park tract, initially ran all the way from Park Street to San Pablo Avenue, and beyond. It was a huge tract of land, that had to be advertised and sold in more than one phase.

San Pablo Park Ad-San Fransico Call-12-16-1906-Page 40

Mason-McDuffie advertisement San Francisco Call, December 16, 1906

Even though the San Pablo Park development offered a “park”, centrally located between phase one and phase two, the actual 15 acre ‘San Pablo Park’ that was advertised, was still only a dirt lot and and it would remain a dirt lot for years to come, until the land itself was donated to the City Of Berkeley by Mason-McDuffie in 1910. Many bond measures for the development of the park failed consistently between 1906 and 1912, and it would take a couple of more years before build-out action was taken, making land improvements for the park that was initially promised to the people of the San Pablo Park tracts.

Oakland Magante Hold Busines Meeting-San Pablo Park-12-28-1912-Page 8

San Francisco Call, December 28, 1912

In 1912, The Oakland Baseball Association leased the land at San Pablo Park for its own use, but no new developments ever came of it. It would be another year before the final decision was made to make the park a place beyond its ‘sandlot’ diamond status by the Berkeley Playground Commission. By 1913, park development got underway. A rough cut baseball diamond and a field house was built. The Berkeley Playground Commission of 1913, in its June minutes, included recommendations that “San Pablo Park be put in first class condition that it may be used at its earliest possible moment as a recreation center”. [1]

In an article from the Berkeley Daily Gazette, dated February 13, 1914, called, “San Pablo Park To Be Approved At Once“, the Berkeley City Council adopted and approved a plan to make San Pablo Park one of the most “approved” parks in the state of California. A.G Freeman, Chairman of the Berkeley Playground Commission, along with his Secretary, Mrs. W.H. Marston, presented detailed blueprints accompanied by colored maps of the future look of San Pablo Park, and the City Council voted unanimously, expenditures in excess of $20,000 extra to compliment the already existing $6,000 playground fund, with an extra $1,000 for planting of trees and shrubbery. [2]

Plans for the improvements of San Pablo Park were designed by Professor J.W.Gregg, of the landscaping and gardening department, of the College of Agriculture at the University of California at Berkeley. He had recently become an associate professor, and Cal Berkeley was one of the five colleges in the nation, at that time, that offered courses and a degree in Landscape Architecture and Floriculture design. San Pablo Park was in the hands of one of the best park designers in the nation.

By the 1930’s the neighborhoods surrounding San Pablo Park would become predominately African American, and would become the home field for all Negro League games played in the Berkeley and Oakland area. With two diamonds, league play was continuous years around, and both summer league and winter league flourished for many years in the East Bay. It was also the home field for the Berkeley High Yellow Jackets baseball team since its inception. Just recently, the Tim Moellering Field on Derby Street was constructed at a cost of $4.5 million dollars for the Berkeley High Yellow Jackets baseball team to play on, and the days of the BHS Yellow Jackets taking home field at San Pablo Park are no longer seen there. Yes, people in Berkeley take their baseball seriously. Yes, almost 100 years to the day, San Pablo Park has been replaced as the home field for the Berkeley High Yellow Jackets, which is hard to believe, based on the social dynamics that it created in the East Bay.

I stress this point because you’d have to know who some of the Berkeley High Yellow Jackets who played baseball at San Pablo Park.

1) Red Kress

2) James “Chick” Hafey

3) Augie Galan

4) Merv Connors

5) Billy Martin

6) Ruppert Jones

All of these men began their baseball careers at San Pablo Park. 98 years of collective baseball history has passed through San Pablo Park. Of course, there were many more baseball stars that found their way to San Pablo Park’s baseball diamonds; some of them during the era of Jim Crow, like Jim Tobin, and some of them well after. The development of the Berkeley Colored League brought the park recognition and prominence that extended beyond the East Bay area. As a matter of note, Chick Hafey, Charlie Reid and Jack LaLanne all grew up together on on Spauding Avenue in Berkeley, a few blocks from San Pablo Park, and they were all a part of each others lives during the early days of San Pablo Park’s notoriety.

The current home price for a home that is located near San Pablo Park, according to the most recent Zillow comparables, is $841,000 to $950,000, and they have not changed all that much since I was a kid playing baseball at San Pablo Park. San Pablo Park has a noble history, and it is one I hope to share with others while I blog about the Berkeley Colored League and their baseball exploits. To understand the history of West Coast Negro League baseball, especially that of Northern California. it’s important to understand the social dynamics of the people that lived there and built the history from the sandlot up.

San Pablo Park  plaque READ

San Pablo Park Historic Plaque

1) Five Views : An Ethnic Historic Site Survey of California.; The History Of Black America: Historic Sites: San Pablo Park, Berkeley, Alameda County

2) San Pablo Park To Be Approved At Once, Berkeley Daily Gazette, February 13, 1914, Page 1 cont. page 6

Negro League Baseball: Arthur Arbow Laying The Groundwork For West Coast Negro League Baseball

I’ve been researching the subject on the origins of African American baseball on the West Coast where league play is concerned, and I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter where the information is found, the players themselves were men, who for the most part barnstormed heavily in the very early years. They played games wherever they could. Access to parks was hard to obtain, which is what was needed for league play to occur. I ran across an article mentioning a very early Negro League in California, comprised of only four teams in the San Diego area.

CE-San Diego News-Home Run Features Game-Feb 1914

California Eagle, February 1914

The four teams that were involved were, the “Bumble Bees“, “Gechie’s Euchres” or “Gechie Easbis“, the “All-Stars” and the “Outlaws“. They played at a park called Logan Park, which I believe is now called “Chicano Park“, in Barrio Logan, bordered by Logan Heights and East Village to the North, Shelltown and Southcrest to the East, and San Diego Bay to the West, and I-5 to the Northeast. The neighborhood was established by Congressman John A. Logan, who in 1871, tried to create a transcontinental railroad terminus in San Diego, possibly vying for a Southern railroad route, similar to the path of the once followed by the Butterfield Stage Company. The transcontinental railroad terminus would of course end at The Mole in West Oakland, because of its secured Northern route through Promontory Pass, Utah. John A. Logan’s long war record afforded him a great personal following, and it would seem he influenced major developments in the Southwest during the Reconstruction period in American history. In its early beginnings, Logan Heights was known as the East End. It was a multicultural community, which flourished during its early days, and soon became home to thousands of refugees from the Mexican Revolution.

The thing that caught my eye from this little article, was the the name of the team called the Gechie Euchres.

Even though “Gechie” is misspelled, it is not a term often used outside of the South, and particularly the South Eastern seaboard.

The Geechee language is derived from the descendant of slaves, who came to American from West and Central Africa, and the people who resided in this small area located on the South Eastern seaboard of America are referred to as Gullahs. They created a language, an African and America patois combination, that is limited to their specifically their culture. Sometimes, among themselves, they refer to each other as Geechees. There are major differences between the two concepts, and exactly where their language originated from during the slave trade, having once landed in America is a mystery. Yet their culture, and language origins are often lumped together for the purposes of simplifying their American heritage and birth origins. I can’t begin to explain how complicated the language sounds to those who did not grow up speaking it or hearing it. The Smithsonian Institute has documented for posterity, through the works of linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner, that the Gullah/Geechee language s  a complex dialect comprised of 3800 words, developed from 31 different African languages.

I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to located more information about the “Gechies” league play, as well as the other teams, but to no avail. A lot of this has to do with the fact that even though there’s a mention of a game between the Bumble Bees and the Gechie Euchres “next Sunday”, the  Associated Negro Press didn’t come into effect until 1919, and tracking down most league play across the nation from African American newspapers is difficult, because the information given seems to be by word of mouth at best, or not at all.

Willie Simpson was a pitcher, who obvious possessed a mean “spit ball”, and who seemed to have played the game bare handed. Carlile Perry played short stop. Cash Burns, Arthur Arbow, and Claude Johnson were all heavy hitters for the day.

I could only track down some history on Arthur Arbow. His WWI Draft registration has his race listed as “Ethiopian“, which was quite unusual to see. During this time, there were African American pride movements, where those involved were putting forth an effort to reconnect with their African roots. The Gullah/Geechee people prided themselves by holding on to their African heritage and traditions, so the name of this team was a significant find. Arthur Arbow was born in Baton Rogue, Louisiana in 1893, which would make him twenty years old at the time the article above was written by George Ramsey, a correspondent reporter for the California Eagle.

Arthur Arbow WWI Draft Registration Card

Arthur Arbow’s WWI Draft Registration Card

Arthur was married, and he supported his three brothers along with his wife. At the time of his Draft Registration, he resided in the Imperial Valley near San Diego. Although the Imperial Valley was a large farming community that recruited African Americans after the Civil War as cheap farm labor, Arthur was a employed as a waiter at Barbara Worth Hotel in El Centro, California. It was a world class hotel for its time.

The Barbara Worth Hotel-Exterior IV-El Centro-CA

Barbara Worth Hotel, Exterior, El Centro CA 1920’s

The Barbara Worth Hotel-Interior-El Centro-CA-1915

Barbara Worth Hotel, Interior, El Centro CA 1920’s

It seems that Arthur Arbow would eventually move to Phoenix, Arizona for a short stay, and then end up in Los Angles, only to open his own night club on Central Avenue, called The Sawdust Trail. He’s mentioned in an California Eagle advertisement in 1934 below.

CE-Arthur Arbow-The Sawdust Trail-3-30-1934

California Eagle, March 30, 1934

About four years later, he would give up on his own business venture and manage the Yacht Moderne during the day shift, not very far from where he had previously owned his own establishment on Central Avenue in Los Angeles, California.

CE-Arthur Arbow-Yatch Moderné Club-9-23-1937

After that, at age 44, the Arthur Arbow’s trail runs cold. They say he lived out the rest of his years in Phoenix, Arizona, until the age of 66. There are two marriage records for him, but he left no children that I know of. He was a twenty-something-year-old “fence buster“, who traveled as a barnstormer down near Calexico way on Highway 8, between El Centro, California and San Diego. He played in a small league that had no name, that was at the very beginnings of African American baseball on the West Coast. He ended his days as a manager of a restaurant slash night club, and soon fell into obscurity.

He left the South at a young age and decided to remain West of the Mississippi forever, because the opportunity to do so presented itself.