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.
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.
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.
The California Eagle, June 21, 1921 Part 1
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.