Where they cut their teeth: The Oakland Giants of Grove Street Park

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1912 Oakland Giants

This amazing photograph of the Oakland Giants tells a very unique story in itself. The kids in the photograph differ in race from the men in the photograph. Upon closer scrutiny, we can see the make up of the team, and who played on it; at least on that day. Not much is known about this African American team, other than they were a sight to see when they took the field, and were crowd pleasers to one and all who enjoyed the pleasure of watching them take up the ball and bat.

Their home field was Grove Street Park, which was located on  in Oakland, California on 57th & Grove Street, which is now called Martin Luther King Jr. Way.  There, they met such teams as Berkeley Independents, Burlingame,  the Brock & Lott team, the Clarions, Hirschfields, the Monarchs, the Pennant Bars,  Mill Valley, and Watsonville. Grove Street Park was once solely leased out by Cy Moreing  of the California State League from the Stockton area, who once owned the Oakland franchise of the California based league. Moreing accessed the park from the Oakland Township for the specific reason of creating a strong outlaw baseball league in 1908. Cy was also a business man first and foremost, and knowing how to draw a crowd and make a buck, shared the space with the Oakland Giants, allowing African Americans to play on a field against the wishes of J. Cal Ewing of Pacific Coast League.

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San Francisco Call, March 12, 1912

Moreing knew best how to get under Ewing’s skin, and by letting African American baseball players on any field that was shared with a white teams was certainly the best way to get Ewing’s goat.

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Cy Moreing, Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide -1907, pg. 227

 


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Left to Right: Top Row: A. Thomas, unknown, N. “Tick” Houston, Herb Clarke, Nelson Watson (manager), Chet Bost, Richardson, unknown, B. Martin.
Bottom Row: Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows, White.

 

The Freeeman-Hilary Meaddows 5-25-1912

The Freeman, May 25, 1912

The Oakland Giants were owned and managed by Nelson Watson, born in Salina, Kansas in 1882. Growing up in the town where Lee Jeans had opened their first factory, young Nelson was probably a keen observer of industry, and eventually moved West to seek his fortune in West Oakland. He worked in a barbershop as a porter in Swan’s Market, and eventually became a Ships’ Carpenter’s helper on Mare Island, which was known as the first base of operations protecting commerce of the United States, building the earliest model submarines for the United States Navy, and also the Navy’s very first Aircraft Carrier. His leadership was instrumental in building a winning team.

Nelson Watson

 

 

The Giants, better known as the Oakland Giants are making quite a record  this season, having lost only one game out of the nine played. The club is composed of several high class ball players who rank the best on the coast.

Clarke, captain of the club, has carefully gotten together and drilled the team to play a nice article of ball, and with himself and such god[sic] men as Bost, Martin, and Houston, he has an infield which is very hard to beat.

Chet Bost, his fast shortstop, is a valuable man to the club as he has had league experience, having played short for the Occidentals of the Utah State league last season. He is one of the club’s heavy hitters and the speediest base-runners, as he is hitting 320.” -The Oakland Tribune, June 27, 1912

Some of the other team members pictured, like B. Martin played on the Elmhurst team, in the Oakland City winter league. “Tick” Houston played on a integrated team in Fruitvale called the Oakwoods the season before joining the Oakland Giants. And a very young Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows pitched as well as caught for the Oakland Giants, and this is where his three decade career in baseball really began. Most of the cities that the Oakland Giants played in would have been considered “sundown town”, and traveling these out-of-the-way distances by car, train, or ferry to and from places like Watsonville, Petaluma, Mill Valley or Burlingame would have been an added adventure along the California Coast on El Camino Real, internally along “State Route” Hwy 99, or across the San Francisco Bay by boat or ferry.

The “State Highways Act” was passed, taking effect on December 31, 1910, so most of the roads being constructed at that time were fairly new, or old very old toll roads that were made of  dirt and at best had gravel in some places — and the towns along the way were rural and small. Oakland was a major city compared to a lot of agricultural towns that the Oakland Giants played against in 1912, and seeing African Americans men play baseball was a ‘novelty’, especially when their baseball skill sets were above average. The Oakland Giants travels were reminiscent of Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, because this was California still in its youth, where the King’s Highway went from one mission town to the next.

 

What the city of Oakland looked like…

Oakland Rug Works 1910

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….was not what the California road system looked like in 1912.

California road in May 1910

This type of road travel was ‘pre Green Book’ era by two plus decades, and the Oakland Giants stepped far away from the safety of West Oakland to play baseball is towns that were considered a great distance from their home base. The 1912 season was referred to as the “Bumper Crop of Alfalfa Baseball” for the bush league teams of the San Francisco Bay Area and outlying regions from Watsonville to Bakersfield.

In 1910, Oakland had a population of 150,174, and an African American population of just a little over 3,000, coming in only second to Los Angeles. Oakland was filled with immigrants, fleeing starvation in Europe, made up of mostly foreign born men, Alameda County and the surrounding area was virtually a paradise for anyone who had agricultural skills, or just someone seeking an opportunity in the industrial sector. Jack London’s “Valley Of The Moon” best explains the struggles between the newly arriving immigrants and native-born peoples of the Bay Area, who were constantly competing in the job market, and the everyday struggles they endured in this very diverse landscape called Oakland.

Baseball was an escape from those daily struggles. and teams like the Oakland Giants filled the absence of the defunct California State League of 1910, and kept the game of baseball afoot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Options in Elmhurst: Echoes of the Past

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Elmhurst Team of 1911 — Oakland City Winter League 

(Left to Right: back row: (?) Adams; Center Field – -Eddie Jackson; Catcher — Chet Bost; Right Field — Alexander Benjamin “Pop” Arlett; Pitcher — C.J. Toffelmier; 2nd Base — (?) Arlie; Shortstop — B. Martin 1st Base — Front row: (?) Christensen; 2nd Base — Russ “Buzz” Arlett; mascot — (?) Adaming; 3rd Base. 
NOTE: The (?) represents missing the first name of the player

Elmhurst was once an all white neighborhood.

The year is 1911, and it is the second year of the Central California League, which is now comprised of eight teams totaling sixty players, under the watchful eye of Judge Edward P. Shortfall of the San Francisco 3rd District Police Court, who is President of the burgeoning minor league, that almost no one has ever heard about.  His ever faithful Secretary of he league, J.C. Toffelmier, also plays 2nd base for the Elmhurst Tildens, who were originally called the Elmhurst Incubators from the inception of the league in 1910.

These eight teams that stretched geographically from Vallejo to Hayward and consisted of: the Alameda Alerts, the Berkeley Clarions, the Elmhurst Tildens, the Fruitvale Travelers, the Hayward Cubs, the Richmond Merchants, the San Leandro Cherry Pickers, and the Vallejo Pastimes, and this minor league was registered as one of the many leagues in the 1911 National Association of Professional Baseball Teams.

By the end of the season, only six teams were still in working order, and the Elmhurst Tildens was not one of them. Their star pitcher, Alexander Benjamin “Pop” Arlett was playing for teams outside of the league, whenever he could, and he eventually ended the season as the lead pitcher for the San Leandro Cherry Pickers. “Pop” Arlett would spend many years in PCL  minor leagues, pitching for various teams.  He was a big ticket draw for an amateur in those days, and his baby brother Russell “Buzz” Arlett would one day become known as the Babe Ruth of the Minor Leagues, before moving up to the big leagues and playing for the Philadelphia Phillies.

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1917 Zeenut — Alexander Benjamin “Pop” Arlett

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1925 Zeenut — Russ “Buzz” Arlett

That is only one half of the story being told. The other half is the Oakland City League winter baseball team that was fronted by “Pop” Arlett and J.C. Tofflemier, which was a fully integrated baseball team on the West Coast in 1911, and had made a name for itself throughout the Bay Area. Charles. R. Fulweiler, reporter for the San Francisco Bulletin, which was one of the oldest newspapers in the Bay Area originally founded as the Daily Evening Bulletin by James King of William, was President of the Oakland City League.

Eddie Jackson was one of “Pop” Arlett’s favorite battery mates. They played  together on the Elmhurst Tildens in the Central California League on many occasions, which by all accounts is one of earliest record of a integrated pitcher-catcher duo on the West Coast, during  an era known as the Second Coming of the Klan.  A new wave of white supremacy was destined to take hold between 1910 on through 1920 all over America, creating sundown towns where their previous existence was unheard of, and that would divide many burgeoning communities into fully segregated cities where definitive color lines would be drawn.

Jackson was a very fair skinned African American, and was considered a ‘mulatto”, according to 1910 U.S. Census Records. Born in New York City in 1887, As a young man, he had moved West to find his fortune, and was gainfully employed and a telegraph operator for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co. He lived in the all white neighborhood between the Bushrod and Longfellow areas on Market Street.  Eddie was a single father, raising a one-year old son in 1911, which was not an uncommon occurrence in America during this period, but more than likely, a very difficult task to accomplish. Eddie Jackson also played ball with “Pop” Arlett, J.C. Tofflemier, Christensen, Adaming and Buzz Arlett on the 1916 San Leandro Western Jewelers semi-pro club, where he was also the only African American on this East Bay area team.

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1916 San Leandro Western Jewelers

Left to Right  Top Row: J.C. Toffelmier, Christensen, unknown, “Pop” Arlett, “Buzz”Arlett, Eddie Jackson, unknown mascot
Bottom Row: Unknown, unknown, Adaming

Jackson is probably best known to historians as the battery mate for Jimmy Claxton, when he played for the all-star Shasta Limiteds in 1919.

Shasta Giants 1919-20

1919 Shasta Limiteds

TEAM MEMBERS (as per the June 26, 1919 Oakland Tribune) ARE AS FOLLOWS:
Left to Right Top Row: Owner Tod Graham, Jimmy Claxton, “Tick” Houston, Goldie Davis, Carlisle Perry, Gene Cooper, Chet Bost, and the Trainer Green
Left to Right Bottom Row: (?) Fisher, Eddie Jackson, “Bullet” Hilary Meadows, Billy Woods, (?) Brown, and (?) and Vaughns  NOTE: The (?) represents missing the first name of the player

Not much is known about B. Martin, except that he was one of the most outstanding First Basemen that the Bay Area had to offer. Finding him playing on a integrated team speaks highly of his skills, because he was better known for playing on the 1912 Oakland Giants, an all African American team that was known for its speed, ball handling, and showmanship, under the management of Neslon Watson. The Oakland Giants hosted such players as Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows, Chet Bost, “Tick” Houston. Also, all of these men played on the 1919 Shasta Limiteds and the 1923 Pierce Giants of Oakland. Meaddows did a short stint with the Alexander Giants of Los Angeles, and  Bost was a former shortstop for the Salt Lake Occidentals of Utah, a team fronted by Frank Black, that fielded many great players in its heyday.

Chet Bost was the West Coast Linchpin slash player, slash manager, slash coach, slash baseball confidante, when it came to the six degrees of separation connecting any number of African American baseball players, semi pro to professional, on the West Coast and beyond. From Dead Ball Era to the creation of the Negro Leagues, Bost more than likely played a significant role in breaking new boundaries while keeping many doors open for greatness to blossom in areas yet to be explored.

By the 1920’s, race and separation of the races were deeply embedded in the West Coast as well as the rest of the nation, and it dominated all aspects and walks of life on a daily basis, unlike the early burgeoning era when life was simple in the California bushes. African American baseball during the dead ball era holds a host of twist and turns and unexplored concepts and ideas about how we got to where we are today, and how far we’ve come as a nation when if comes to the National Pastime. “Buzz” Arlett and his older brother “Pop”, grew up playing baseball, and they played the game with great African American baseball players.

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Elmhurst was once an all white neighborhood.

Today Elmhurst is East Oakland.