Negro League Baseball: Ad Lankford vs. Jack Rogers in the Battle Royal

I post things that are not often discussed about African American baseball players, that normally deal with the social construct they chose to live in, at a given time in their life.

Gary Ashwill made a very valid comment about Bill Pettus being Sam Langford’s sparring partner on the West Coast. In fact, from what I’ve researched, many athletic clubs that boasted baseball teams also boasted ‘smokers’, as part of the overall day game event program. The fact the Ad Lankford was a part of this baseball and boxing regime just fascinates me. In my post, “Negro League Baseball: The Salt Lake Occidentals; Champions Of The West Coast“, the article had mentioned that Sam Langford and Ad Langford were “cousins”, and according to the article,  I said “Sam” Langford has replaced Jude Gans as the primary pitcher for the Salt Lake Occidentals.

I was off on that issue.

It was Ad Lankford who replaced Jude Gans,… not Sam Langford.

That is why we call it research.

Sometimes, wires get crossed, and names get mixed up–but we move forward.

In the book, “The First Black Boxing Champions: Essays on Fighters of the 1800s to the 1920s“, edited by Colleen Aycock, Mark Scott, William Pettus was noted as a sparring partner for Sam Langford, as he tried to transition in a boxing career in 1908-1909. Sam Langford, also was known as “The Boston Bone Crusher“, “The Boston Terror“, and “The Boston Tar Baby” was one of the most active and often called “The Greatest Fighter That Nobody Knows“.

Pound for pound, this Canadian born boxer was rated by Box-Rec as the 11th Greatest Fighter of All Time and 4th Greatest Heavyweight Of All Time.

Utah, being one of those great boxing venues of the early 1900’s, I’d ran across a article published in the Fall 2007 Utah Historical Quarterly  that discussed the early days of boxing, in an article called, “The Right Sort To Bring To City: Jack Johnson, Boxing, and Boosterism in Salt Lake City“, by Richard Ian Kimball. The social concept of professional sports, seldom discusses the politics upheaval that evolves from staging sporting events between opposing social classes, especially when one group of citizens are being denied rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, based on social construct. In that day and age, laws such as the Mann Act could be manipulated to corral, and even destroy the career of a person of color, should they be considered to have engaged in acts of moral turpitude.

Jack Johnson was one of those people who had his life decimated by these inherently persuasive and unbalanced arguments, based on the skin color of a person. Yet–the idea of engaging Jack Johnson for a no-holds bar boxing event, designed to feed the masses the tales of inequities and inequality on one side, and promote racial superiority on the other side, while making huge sums of money for promoting such ideologies, was not so uncommon in the early 1900’s. There is also the other side of the financial coin, when it came to job opportunities. The two professional sports that African Americans were allowed to participate in, while calling themselves “professional” were baseball and boxing, and baseball was segregated. Boxing, however, was as much a social event which connected communities across color-lines, as was baseball. On July 4th, 1910, the most important fight in American history would take place in Reno, Nevada, between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries.

It would be promoted as “THE FIGHT OF THE CENTURY”.

That is a lot to live up to.

Kimball states, “Political and cultural differences in Salt Lake City coalesced around the Johnson-Jeffries fight and prizefighting generally. In the months leading up to the title fight, boxing received unprecedented attention in the city’s daily newspapers. Editorials excoriating the sport as immoral and unjustified used boxing as a symbol of a larger rift. In short, support of boxing became associated with the American Party (a coalition of anti-Mormon ministers, businessmen, and professionals that had taken control of the Salt Lake City municipal government in 1905) and the unrestrained pursuit of economic growth.Those who denounced the sport implicitly criticized the direction of local government in favor of a more moral-based regulatory system. Moreover, two other local issues—race relations and civic boosterism— were bound up in the symbol of prizefighting.The heavyweight title fight may have been on the lips of civic reformers, but their hearts were set on controlling the future of Salt Lake City.”

Cut to Ad Lankford… AKA Ad Langford the Boxer
Salt Lake Tribune-5-14-1911
Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1911
Salt Lake Tribune, 1911-05-12, Langford-Drumgoole

Salt Lake Tribune, May 12, 1911

Ad Lankford AKA Ad Langford the boxer had made an attempt to be a boxer in the early days of his baseball career. Lankford was certain that he possessed pugilistic skills that would take him to the top of the boxing profession. According to an article run by the Salt Lake Telegram, dated May 13, 1911, Ad Lankford had been “clamoring for a match with Jack Rogers“, and looked at the scheduled bout with Jack Drumgoole as a “stepping stone to that end”. Drumgooole vowed he would have his way with Lankford, even though Lankford outweighed him, and stated after he was through with Lankford, “Ad will be content to go back to baseball”.

Salt Lake Tribune, 1911-05-14

Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1911

The long and short of is, Lankford lost the fight by a decision on points. He didn’t get knocked out, but he learned his lesson well enough and never returned to the ring. Louis “Ad” Lankford went on to play baseball leaving his mark on the world, and I often wonder if that single match against Jack Drumgoole didn’t have something to do with Lankford making the decision to remain in baseball, and leave off boxing forever. Still, times were hard and money was even harder to come by. I’ll speak more on this type of cross event baseball and boxing employment option later on.

Negro League Baseball: African American Baseball, History And Archaeology

On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 PM,  just as game number 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s was about to get underway, an earthquake rated between 6.4 and 7.1 magnitude hit the Bay Area with a jolt that would not soon be forgotten. The Loma Prieta Earthquake, which took down the Nimitz 880 Freeway Cypress Street Viaduct upper level, would change the way this writer would look at history and baseball forever. 42 people in West Oakland lost their lives, 41 of them on that day. It’s been stated that there would have been many more deaths that day if it wasn’t for the World Series taking place between these cross bay rivals. Most people would be at home, either waiting to watch the game or listen to it on the radio. Game number 3 was postponed till Oct. 27, 1989. The A’s would sweep the series with in 4 straight games.

1989-Cypress_collapsed

Cypress Street Viaduct, Nimitz Freeway, West Oakland, 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

It would be 25 years later when I was called upon to identify some information concerning the West Coast Baseball Association artifacts, and tell whatever history I could about them, and explain their existence as a league. The information on them has always been sparse at best, but even more so, because the history of West’s Oakland’s 7th Street had been ‘tanked’ long before Loma Prieta had occurred. The history that proceeded the WCBA and how they evolved was based on land that was taken through eminent domain, which reached back beyond the year of 1954, when the Oakland City Council decided that it would tank-doze a neighborhood of West Oakland’s Black Bottom, as part of its proposed urban community redevelopment and revitalization program. This urban renewal project would leave a long stretch of barren land, until the completion of the double decker Cypress Freeway opened in 1957. Worse of all, is would leave a gap in Bay Area baseball history.

Tank Demolition

Demolition of West Oakland neighborhood by the lowest bidder, using modified Sherman Tanks

Construction Of The Cypress Freeway

Future building site of the Nimitz Freeway Cypress Street Viaduct  exchange in West Oakland.

Cypress Freway Excahnge-1

The Double Decked Cypress Interstate 880 Freeway

I relish the experience of searching through old records, uncovering West Coast baseball action as it happened in the Bay Area from the late 1800’s through World War II. I’m often reminded, from time to time of how fast this community grew, into something that was phenomenal, and still to this day is very much misunderstood. The stories of 7th Street, the “Black Broadway” of the West, and its surrounding neighborhoods, formed a legacy most recently forgotten by the people who dwell there now. It is a vast journey that has taken a hold on my senses. I’m determined to share as much of this rich history as I can, for much of it is buried and slowly being uncovered. One of the many stories of West Oakland involves two very well known baseball players: Jimmy Claxton and Harold “Rowdy” Elliot.

Jimmy Claxton Story-I Wonder If He Remembered-2-22-1943

The San Francisco Spokesman, Sporting Spice column by Byron “Speed” O’Reilly,  February 22, 1934

When the Cypress Street Viaduct fell, the City of Oakland in its rush to rebuild the freeway after the tragedy that would known as Loma Prieta, had to take a step back in time when demolition crews found items from the Oakland’s historical past. Sonoma State University assisted Cal-Trans in what would come to be known as the Cypress Archaeological Project, as part of the plan to rebuild the 880 freeway exchange, and in doing so helped reroute a communal pathway which was much less obstructive. Together these two entities decided to jointly research and document over 500,000 artifacts that covered a 48 block area of new freeway construction. Over 2,500 archeological features were also uncovered from Oakland past history, of which 121 were determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

But sometime a plaque is not enough to tell one hundred plus years of history. It seems 7th Street was always a throughway for train traffic and a route for transportation.

Fourth & Sixth Ward-West Oakalnd Map-1878

I took the time to input just 9 members that lived in the Black Bottom and I mapped their addresses from their 1940 U.S. Census records. These men who had played in the Berkeley Colored League, had a huge connection to West Oakland based on two simple things; San Pablo Park and the Key System. The outcome of the results was fascinating. It created a small, tight cluster that explained a lot about social boundaries and how communities grow.

1) San Pablo Park

2) The Key System

The Key System Electric Train Transit

With the coming “revitalization” of West Oakland after World War II, and the decline of employment in the war industries located in the East Bay Area, a financial shift took place that would disconnect Berkeley from West Oakland. The history of East Bay baseball and the baseball stars that it had created, those who traveled between these two cities, would fight to keep that history alive, as best they could. One of the leading families in West Oakland, that very few people remember or talk about, was the Bercovich family, who owned E. Bercovich & Sons furniture store, on the corner of 7th and Franklin in the heart of the Black Bottom. Bercovich & Sons furniture teams sponsored many great baseball players, during their time on the West Oakland, and here is the short list:

1) Curt Flood

2) Vada Pinson

3) Frank Robinson

4) Willie Stargell

5) Kevin Maas

6) Rickey Henderson

7) Dave Stewart

8) Randy Johnson

9) Joe Morgan

10) Don Wakamatsu

11) Charlie Beamon

13) Bill Rigney

14) Jackie Jensen

15) Ed Fernandes

Sam Bercovich and Curt Flood-1955

Sam Bercovich and Curt Flood

Curt Flood’s Civil Rights activism was a big part of creating Baseball’s Free Agency advocacy that still stands today. His lawsuit would soon bring the “reserve clause” in Major League Baseball contracts to a slow, but eventual grinding halt. Sam Bercovich stood by Flood, when others would not. Even when he began to receive death threats. Bill Staples had mentioned to me in passing, after reading “Negro League Baseball: Lefty Gomez vs. The Berkeley Pelicans“, how he would like to know more about Dudlely Jones of the Berkeley Pelicans. I can tell him that Dudley graduated from the same high school as Curt Flood, Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson, and Bill Russell.

Dudley Jones-McClymonds High School-Mar. 30-1933

The San Francisco Spokesman, Sporting Spice column by Byron “Speed” O’Reilly,  March 30, 1933

Sometimes through eminent domain- land is lost, and within that loss, so is history. Eventually, after years of contract negotiations and barren soil, BART would replace the ‘A line that ran down 12th Street from East Oakland through West Oakland and on to Emeryville connecting Berkeley and Oakland. In order to do away with so much of the 7th Street and West Oakland’s history, a huge swath of homes were demolished for the purpose bettering the community. What this actually did for many years, in retrospect, is conquer and divide the Oakland and Berkeley African American communities, upending their history which had been created since the late 1800’s and went well into the early 1960’s. In doing so, this new construction destroyed the a huge legacy belonging to a multitude of cultures with connected experiences yet to be explored. Yes, this modern mode of transportation which exist today, buried almost a century of African American history that intermingled with Chinese, German, Swedish, Portuguese, Japanese, Irish, Greeks, Slavs, French and Mexican, laid under asphalt and concrete, until that fateful day on October 17, 1989.

BART And 7th Street-construction-1968-bottom-photo_5a

7th Street West Oakland BART raliway construction in the 1960’s

Esther’s Orbit Room is the last remaining jazz and blues club holdout in the Black Bottom. Back in the day though, the spot to be was Harold “Louisiana Slim” Jenkins Place. Slims Place began with a liquor store in 1934, one  month to the the day prohibition ended. Rumor had it, that between him and Charles E. “Raincoat” Jones, the bootleg whiskey they’d sold during the tough times of the Depression would no longer be required to make a living wage, which made the boys in Road to Perdition Boys in Emeryville quite upset. Slim and Raincoat were a big part of their distribution chain. 7th Street was a place where anyone who was anyone hung out, and that included President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose yacht the USS Potomac still sits in the Oakland Estuary, and has become a major tourist attraction in Jack London Square. Slim Jenkins had operated his liquor business’s on 7th Street long before he built his World Famous Slim Jenkins Night Club.

Slim Jenkins Liqour Store Ad-1-18-1934-ii

The San Francisco Spokesman, Jan 4, 1934

Slim Jenkins Place 2-7th Street

Slim Jenkins Place circa 1950’s

Map Legend Of West Oakland

Map of West Oakland circa 1940’s

I do realize that I talk about teams, leagues, and early African American baseball players that most people have never heard about, and that is because they all dwelled in locations far West of Kansas City and St. Louis. These untold tales about men most have never heard of are the ones that piqued my interest most of all, and by their shear design, they are stories that must be told for future reference and further research into their lives, and their particular narratives. That’s why I joined SABR. Because without a Jimmy La Blanc or Dudley Jones, there would have never been a Curt Flood of Ricky Henderson. When the African American baseball stories are crushed by newly laid concrete or paved over with hot asphalt, the story of Ed and Sam Bercovich, one a founding father of West Oakland baseball and one of baseball’s greatest philanthropist, who then passed on his legacy to his son–we also find that their stories will be buried in the vault of time.

Jack London lived in West Oakland in the late 1800’s, and his novel “Valley Of The Moon” was set in West Oakland. The California League began in West Oakland in 1879, and played at the park called the Oakland Baseball Grounds, located between 13th and 14th Streets, with cross streets of Kirkham and Center. The music created on 7th Street is being heavily documented as we speak, but the baseball of West Oakland is being forgotten. I sometimes wonder how Robert Louis Stevenson felt when he wrote Silverado Squatters, because there was a town in California called ‘Silverado’, even though it was an abandoned mining town that lived through the ravages of the quicksilver rush of 1873.

The Harlem of The West Coast was found on West Oakland’s 7th Street, and so was a whole lot more history. I’m not sure if 7th Street was where “Rowdy” Elliot outed Jimmy Claxton for being ‘black’ and not ‘white’, while having him removed from the Oakland Oaks pitching staff, but from the story related by Speed in his column, I’d have to say it was more than likely the truth, than just some far-fetched story for the sake of printing gossip. J. Cal Ewing was a staunch defender of all-white baseball for the American public, and was known to have stated his feelings in the newspapers about African Americans sportsmen, playing the sport we all love so much. I hope to write many more stories about baseball in the West–very soon. Baseball has many layers and stories. I just hope it doesn’t take another major earthquake to unearth more items that substantiate facts pertaining to this lost history, or another 25 year break in the lull to create a real interest in them.

Negro League Baseball: Judge John Bussey, Sunny Jim Bonner and Joe DiMaggio

A long, long time ago in a city called San Francisco, there was this team called the San Francisco Giants. This is what they were  called. The year was 1934….

S.F. Giants Cop Another Triple Decides Contest-9-20-1934-i

The San Francisco Spokesman, September 20, 1934

Wait,..1934?

In 1934, John W. Bussey and Henry Williams would sponsor a African American baseball team called the San Francisco Giants. I find this interesting because these San Francisco Giants were not a part of the Berkeley Colored League. They played predominantly in San Francisco as an Independent semi-professional team, that scheduled games with teams all over San Francisco and East Bay Area, most of them being Caucasian. It is said that Byron “Speed” O’Reilly and James W. Bussey had a standing rivalry, who’s Acorn and Alpha Phi Alpha club teams faced off many, many times–in the name of fun, and the loser would be responsible for supplying the winning team with a sumptuous feast with all the trimmings.

John W. Bussey-Ebony Magazine-July 1962

Judge Hon. John W. Bussey, Ebony Magazine July 1962 Issue

John “Buzz” Bussey was a Harvard Law graduate, who was also a extremely athletic competitor, in both boxing and baseball. This seemed to be the one-two punch, sports combination during the Great Depression, that most team owners, managers, and promoters worked on, trying to make an extra buck while pursuing their steadfast careers. Byron promoted every sport he could, while pursuing a career in the arts and entertainment. John’s focus while playing the game was much different. He was a community builder. A man of integrity, an Alpha Phi Alpha, John Bussey began his career in law while being a formidable Bay Area sports figure.

Amateur Boxing Instructor John Bussey-May 11, 1933

The San Francisco Spokesman, May 11, 1933

The 1940 U.S. Census states that John W. Bussey was born in 1905, in Georgia. I’ve found no information how he arrived in California. He lived in Oakland, even though he operated his law office on Sutter Street in the city of San Francisco. Beyond being a boxing instructor, he also taught law and prepared those who wanted to pass the bar exam with flying colors. He was one of California’s earliest Civil Right attorney’s and often represented the N.A.A.C.P. on discrimination cases long before the Civil Rights movement gathered national steam in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In many respects, he was ahead of his time. in 1949, the law offices of Bussey, Montgomery & Smith could be found in San Diego on Imperial Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. He was one of the founding members of the Charles Houston Bar Association in 1955. Like Mayor Lionel Wilson of Oakland who became the first African American to sit on the bench in Alameda county, John Bussey who was his friend and his counterpart, became the first African American judge to sit on the bench in the county across the bay in San Francisco.

John W. Bussey-1940 U.S. Census

1940. U.S. Census Record for John W. Bussey

When “Buzz” Bussey decided he wanted something out of life, there was very little that could stop him from doing just that. When Bussey decided that he would manage and play on the 1934 San Francisco Giants, and that he would stock his team full of as much talent as he could possibly find, he pulled them from the East Bay and San Francisco. Sunny Jim Bonner, as he was called in 1934, had a ‘million dollar arm’, and by all accounts Bonner was a well known pitcher in the East Bay Area, long before he played for the Berkeley Colored League or the Dai Tokyo in Japan.  It’s true what they say about Sunny Jim, the submariner, for he had pitched no-hitters before he played for the Berkeley International League. Most of them were with the 1934 San Francisco Giants.

Jim Bonner Pitches No-Hit Game For S. F. Giants Team-7-26-1934-i

The San Francisco Spokesman, July 26, 1934

He lost games also.

Ernie Elliot lost this one against the Salesian Jolly Knights. Back then they just called them the San Francisco Boys Club.

S.F. Giants Lose-Go To Market For New Players-8-9-1934-i

S.F. Giants Lose-Go To Market For New Players-8-9-1934-ii

S.F. Giants Lose-Go To Market For New Players-8-9-1934-iii

The San Francisco Spokesman, August 9, 1934

Now, here’s where it gets confusing.

Both Joe DiMaggio and his younger brother, Dom DiMaggio, played shortstop before they went to the majors. Joe was supposedly out of action with a career threatening knee injury early in 1934, missing more than 70 games for the San Francisco Seals, but it is a known fact that he had played for the San Francisco Boy Club for many years prior to this injury. Joe fell off the baseball grid in 1934, and his career ending knee injury has possessed that quality of mystery. The question is, would he have picked up games with the S.F.B.C. whenever he could to make a few bucks? Graham’s $75,000 firm asking price as a New York Yankee was out of focus for Depression era baseball. $25,000 was the final agreed upon price tag for the future Yankee Clipper. In 2006, there was an auction of his 1932 S.F.B.C. ring, which had an estimated value between $5,000 and $7,500. For you collectors of finer DiMaggio artifacts, Item 1013 Did Not Sell. The ring itself proves there was a Joe DiMaggio stint with the S.F.B.C. no matter what name they played under.

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Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 9.49.56 PM

Joe’s connection to this game between the 1934 San Francisco Giants goes a little deeper. There are two players on the S.F.B.C. team with the last name “Baumgartner” in the line up. In the book, “Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life“, by Richard Ben Cramer“, a “Bummy” Baumgartner” is mentioned, to the effect of in 1932, he paid Joe to play a pick up game with his team called Sunset Produce. Joe was a ball hawk, and he liked money. Joe bailed on his team, Rossi Olive Oil, and Dom was left playing with the guys that they started the team with. Sandlot ball was a rough game back in the day. Especially during the Depression. The things that Joe DiMaggio had in common with Lefty Gomez was 1) money demands, 2) Bill Essick, and 3) those wonderful San Pablo Park baseball players.

Now, also in 1934, Dom was senior at Galileo High School. The story goes… in 1934, Dom played ball for the North Beach Merchants, another semi-pro San Francisco Sandlot team in, while working at Simmons Mattress Factory. If that isn’t confusing enough, in the 1940 San Francisco Industrial League, Marino “Red” Petri pitched for the Simmons Co. Baseball Team, while Frank Sancimino played Left Field, and Sam Tringoli played 2nd Base.

1941_Simmons_Mattress Cutaway

If I had to guess, when posed with the question, “Was the San Francisco Bay Area instrumental in helping expedite the concept of playing desegregated baseball?“, my answer would be a resounding “Yes“. I would give the same answer if asked, “Was John W. Bussey a integral part of integrated baseball in America?”. If some one asked me, “How old was Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows, when he hit that long ball triple that drove in Bussey and Bonner against Golden State Meat in 1934?“, the answer would be 42, hence the comment “despite his tender years”.

But…if someone asked me, “Was it Joe or Dom that played Shortstop against the San Francisco Giants of 1934?”, my answer would be…

“Your guess is as good as mine!”