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.

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