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.

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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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 9.49.45 PM

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!”

Negro League Baseball: The Salt Lake Occidentals; Champions Of The West Coast

These articles comes from interesting conversations I’ve been having with Bill Staples, who picks my brain every now and then by e-mail, whenever he can pull himself away from his work. We often discuss African American baseball West of the line that divides this nation almost in half, and both of us ponder the untapped territory of stories that remain untold. New stories that are also intrinsically connected past stories that have been repeated told the masses. The Salt Lake Occidentals is one of those stories.

L.A.Herald-Nov.28-1909-i-Occidental Line Up

Salt Lake Occidental Baseball Team, Los Angeles Herald, November 28, 1909

You might have heard of them before. Often referred to as the Occidentals of Los Angeles, is the name most people know it as. They began their life in Salt Lake City, Utah–which helped produce such players as Bill Pettus (1909-1910) and Jude “Judy” Gans (1906-1907). The Los Angeles ‘name’ transition all began, when after winning 94 out of 104 games in Utah, the Salt Lake Occidentals decided to move to Los Angeles and challenge all teams on the Western frontier. All comers were accepted, along with the side bets that followed to make the games interesting.

***The Herald-Republican-10-13-1909-Pg. 6

The Herald-Republican, October 13, 1909

***L.A. Herald-10-13-1909-Pg. 13

L.A. Herald, October 13, 1909

***L.A. Herald-10-16-1909-Pg. 12

L.A. Herald October 16, 1909

I believe the Salt Lake Occidentals is where Jude Gans cut his pitching teeth as in 1906.

Jude Gans-Occidentals vs. Bells-7-13-1906

Occidentals vs. Bells, Salt Lake Tribune, July 13, 1906

By early 1908, after being a leading hurler for the Salt Lake Occidentals for the 1906 and 1907 seasons, Jude Gans was replaced by “Sam” Langford, who was a cousin of the young, Bill Pettus.

Bill Pettus-Sam Langford-10-22-1910

L.A. Herald, October 22, 1910

I’m just tossing these articles out here to stir up conversation, get the blood flowing,… see if anyone is interested. Anyone out there from Wyoming, or near Diamondville,  ever heard of the “Africans”?

Negro League Baseball: What Would Johnny Do? The Story Of Johnny Allen Of The Oakland Larks.

Johnny Allen (SS)-Oakland Larks

Johnny Allen, Shortstop for the Oakland Larks (WCBA)

Using a wonderful quote made by Sammie Haynes, catcher for the Kansas City Monarchs, from the book “Black Baseball In Kansas City” written by Larry Lester and Sammy J. Miller, “Sammie, would you rather go to Heaven or Kansas City?” he would have said, “Lord I’ll see you later, but right now I want to go to Kansas City”. The quote itself has been retold any number of ways. The idea behind the story was true of many baseball players who were given the opportunity to play for the Kansas City Monarchs. Johnny Allen was one of those players, but he chose to stay and play for the Oakland Larks of the West Coast Baseball Association instead of going to Kansas City.

Sammie Haynes played three years for the Kansas City Monarch, and in his early days, he played for the Atlanta Black Crackers. Sammie Haynes also managed the Atlanta Black Crackers from 1945 to 1947. He founded the International Society Of Athletes in Los Angeles. At the best of times, in his own words, Sammie Haynes made $200 a month, netting $140 or less after meal expenses. Not much is known about Johnny Allen, except he was an exceptional athlete, who played baseball, basketball, and football, and played all three at ‘professional’ level. Johnny’s talents in sports was recognized at an early age as a Berkeley High Yellow Jacket. He was the other half of the Mel ReidJohnny Allen Yellow Jacket Duo. Mel Reid, nephew of Charlie Reid, is a baseball story in itself.

Johnny Allen’s talent as a heavy hitting shortstop could be seen in his early years when he was batting .475 for the Junior American Legion, Berkeley Post No. 7, for Coach Elgin Erickson. Johnny went on to play baseball, football, and basketball for the San Jose State Spartans. As a basketball player for the San Jose Spartan team, he earned the nickname, “The Ebony Express”. based on his level of playing endurance, by playing a total of 555 minutes out of a possible 660 total minutes playing time for the 1940 Spartan Basketball season. Producing an 84% ‘off the bench and on the court’ time was a new San Jose State record, for this hard playing, Spartan defensive point guard.

In 1946 (according to Baseball-Reference.com), the replacement shortstop for Jackie Robinson, Jim Hamiton, played one part of the 1946 season with the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Baseball Association, and spent his remaining time with the 1946 season with the Kansas City Monarchs, until a 1946 Negro League World Series game injury knocked him out of baseball for good. Israel Harvey suffered a dislocated knee, and Hamilton received a broken leg on a attempted double play. I’m not sure if it was HaroldYellowhorse” Morris‘ idea to send Jim to Kansas City, but I’m sure he was happy for him. Hamilton was them replaced by Othello “Chico” Renfroe, the star of the 1946 Negro League World Series. Recently, a book was written about William “Youngblood” McCrary, called “A Legend Among Us” by Linda Pennington Black. where a claim is made that he was the Jackie Robinson replacement shortstop between 1946 to 1948.

T.Y. Baird, who in 1946, was the main Kansas City Monarch scout, recruiter, and game scheduler when professional baseball was in its greatest transition.  The fact the Branch Rickey never contacted T.Y. Baird when it came to Jackie Robinson’s transitioning to AAA ball without Baird’s permission, and then on to the Majors, remained a sore spot with Baird for years to come.  T.Y Baird was a wheeler dealer when it came to contracts and signing talent for the Kansas City Monarchs. I think the only time he ever kicked himself was for not have a long-term contact with rookie shortstop, Jack Robinson. He vilified Branch Rickey for “stealing” what he considered his “property”. I’ve never quite understood Baird’s disdain for Rickey on the issue of not including in the Robinson crossover. It been said by those who knew of him, that Baird ransacked leagues all over the nation for African American talent, wherever he could find it, without any concern for the team or leagues he pillaged from. Never the less, he raked Rickey over the media coal, because he felt slighted.

Between 1946 and 1956, Baird sold 38 of these African American players, 29 of them to Major League teams, making an exorbitant amount of return on his initial investment. Near his retirement date, he had the nerve to complain that all that was left was 4 ballplayers and a bus driver. Tim Rives essay on T.Y. Baird called, “Tom Baird: A Challenge To Modern Memory Of The Kansas City Monarchs“, found in “Satchel Paige And Company“, edited by Leslie A. Heaphy, is an astounding piece of research that unveils Baird’s innate acumen as a cunning business man, who saw African American players as nothing more than chattel property, absent of human qualities and personal needs to excel at their profession. Possessing a discrimination factor and depth of perception so acute, that Baird himself could not see the writing on the wall of Major League Baseball change, and basically destroyed all that he built, while laying the blame at Rickey’s feet. Even with his connections to the Ku Klux Klan, posing as a political figurine, and the mere suggestion of being related to Cole Younger of the Jesse James-Cole Younger gang, speaks of how deep his connections to the Knights Of The Golden Circle really were.

Still, he was not infallible.

Baird, in no uncertain terms, was a Donald Sterling archtype character of that period in baseball history.

Baird was no angel; he was a pirate.

Baird gave the pretense of being a ‘farmer’, but people were disposable to him.

So far we have rookie shortstop who takes the risk and decides not to return to the World Champions Kansas City Royals, moving on to bigger and better things with the Montreal Royals, and another heavy hitting shortstop who was a former West Coast Baseball Association player, with a broken leg which now ended his baseball career permanently. What would Johnny Allen do? How would he look at these things and his future? So far as stories go, it wouldn’t end here. I ran across some correspondence between Ed Harris, manager of the Oakland Larks and Co-Founder of the West Coast Baseball Association and T.Y. Baird of the Kansas City Monarchs. I was compelled to share it with those who might have an interest in such research, because people often assume that the West Coast Baseball Association was an inferior league, with inferior players. Research on the subject has proven solidly to the contrary. The WCBA is just not as well studied as other leagues as it should be. The following letter, seen below, is in response to Ed Harris requesting a few practice sessions and possible exhibition games with the Kansas City Monarch after becoming WCBA Champions, and seeing if Mr. Baird could find it possible to arrange a few games with the 1946 Champions Oakland Larks.

Ed Harris Correspondence With T.Y. Baird For Johnny Allen-Poaching Business 1

T.Y. Baird correspondence with Ed Harris, Oct. 22, 1946

One can look at this letter any number of ways. Baird’s reasoning seems forced, but as a business man, who was often perceived as a hard man of ideals, also realizes that he’s pulled one over on Abe Saperstein and Ed Harris by acquiring Jim Hamilton at the end of the 1946 season, when the San Francisco Sea Lions were out of the running. At that time, owners of professional baseball teams, both from the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball, were on the hunt for prospective additions to their teams and new talent that would match the Robinson move made by Branch Rickey. Those that were selling contract were buying new ones, and those that were buying were paying hefty prices for this inexplicable “new” commodity, even though it had been around for many years. Baird never considered the West Coast Baseball Association a viable ‘professional’ league, unless he could use it as his own personal farm. Then his attitude was much more amenable, when it benefited his wants and desires. Ed Harris was no one’s fool, and Baird assumed the Ed Harris and the West Coast Baseball Association was easy pickings.

Ed Harris Correspondence With T.Y. Baird For Johnny Allen-Poaching Business 2

T.Y. Baird correspondence with Ed Harris, January 6, 1947

It was a well known fact, that Johnny Allen was considered by the International League, who had followed him the summer of 1946, to be the next Jackie Robinson. If the truth be told, so did T.Y. Baird. Baird, in respect to Ed Harris, could never be ‘too condescending’. It was in his nature as a negotiator to make those he dealt with feel inferior to him, especially if they were African American, and well educated. In making a stab at a request to buy Johnny Allen’s contract from Ed Harris and the Oakland Larks franchise, Baird’s comment about “if you want to give him a shot to go up”, while at the same time refusing to schedule any games with his Kansas City Monarchs, present us with Baird’s air of superiority stands out above all. In other words, –‘Your team and your players aren’t good enough to schedule a game with, however–I’d like to buy one of them from you–if you can see your way to release him to me for a $300 bribe‘.

As an added insult, Baird “suggest” that Ed Harris “write  a little slower”, as not to appear too intelligent in the face of Baird’s self-aggrandizing awesomeness. These are moments that either make one cringe, or accept the devil in the details of how things really happened in those days, without the necessity of sugar coating them for posterity’s sake. Baird was who he was, and Ed Harris was who he was. They both butted head, proudly, at a time when the greatest game in the world would change the American perception of how people of color should be accepted in a nation undergoing undeniable shifting, that would offer no other choice but to move it forward.

It was also a time of great confusion.

Spokane Daily Chronicle-8-14-1946-Pg. 13

Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 14, 1946

I do not know if “Effa Cared More Than Jackie?!?!?!?“, which was asserted by Lawrence Rushing at the 2014 Jerry Malloy Conference in Detroit. Ryan Whirty who wrote this blog gives a blow by blow details of what Mr. Rushing asserted that brought the house down. Such comparative analysis often requires proof. When proof is presented, then said assertions are undeniable. 1945, 1946 and 1947 were a time of tremendous upheaval in the all professional MLB, AAA baseball, and semi-professional baseball, with a change that would ignite conflicting political stances across the board. Things would never be the same again, and that would certainly sadden some and uplift others. Johnny Allen spent 1946 with the Oakland Larks, as their heavy hitting shortstop. He spent 1947 and 1948 on the road, barnstorming the United States and elsewhere with the Oakland Larks, even though the West Coast Baseball Association disbanded after only one season. Finding places that would allow them to play presented more of a challenge when it came to all the changes that were taking place in the United States and also on the West Coast.

There’s no telling what Johnny Allen would have done, or how far he could of gone if he had a mentor like Branch Rickey.

Negro League Baseball: Mayor Lionel Wilson’s Life And Times Before The Oakland Larks

I just finished reading a post called “Looking Back: California’s Negro League“, by Ralph Pearce, written for the San José Public Library.

It was nice, informative, and mentioned in passing, Lionel “Lefty” Wilson, former Mayor of Oakland, California. Lionel was one of the Oakland Larks pitching staff, along with Marion “Sugar” Cain, Wade James, “Wee Willie” Jones, and Charles “Specks” Roberts. Not many people know that Lionel “Lefty” Wilson was part of the Oakland Larks pitching staff, but they know even less about how many years he played the game of baseball as a formidable semi-professional pitcher on multiple teams in the Berkeley Colored League, and other East Bay Area teams in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I’ve always wanted to do a post about Mayor Wilson’s abilities as a baseball wunderkind, utilizing the sporting skills he amassed, which served him well during his three terms in office as Oakland’s first African American mayor, that lasted from 1977 to 1991. Lionel Wilson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the eldest son of Jules and Louise Wilson, when Lionel’s family moved to Oakland in 1918, and Lionel was just under four years of age. He and his two young brothers, Kermit and Julius, along with Jules’ mother, Mary Wilson, left the South to forge ahead and seek new opportunities in California during the period of the Great Migration. As a boy, he spent a good deal of his time playing sports and delivering newspapers throughout the Oakland and Berkeley proper–on foot.

After graduating with honors from McClymond High School, Lionel’s grades and hard efforts made it possible for him to enroll in the University Of California at Berkeley to study economics. It should be noted, at the same time he was an integral part of the Berkeley Pelicans of the Berkeley Colored League, which would become the Berkeley International League by 1935. I was asked to point him out in this photograph, archived by John Ward, owner and proprietor of Good Old Sandlot Days website, and it was easy enough to do. Lionel Wilson was the sharp dressed young man, wearing the Cal Berkeley letterman’s sweater.

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Berkeley Pelicans of the Berkeley International League, formerly the Berkeley Colored League

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I do believe the photograph is circa 1930’s, and a further approximation would be between 1933 and 1935. Lionel was one of the pitchers on the roster for the California State Semi-Pro Championship Tournament for 1935, sponsored by the Oakland Tribune and the Northern California Baseball Managers Association. The tournament itself was styled after the Denver Tournament, and after years of correspondence, Charlie Tye, Executive Secretary of the Northern California Baseball Managers Association was able to put together a solid annual event where as many as 35,000 spectators watched their favorite hometown semi-pro players, until the remaining five top five teams competed in the finals for a shared pot of $3,500-and bragging rights.

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Editorial from ‘Basehit’, the Official Souvenir Program for the 3rd Annual California State Semi-Pro Baseball Championship Tournament in 1935

By 1939, Lionel had graduated from Cal Berkeley with a B.A. in Economics. He put himself through school  by working as a Pullman Porter, a dishwasher, and a factory laborer at the C&H Sugar Refinery in Crockett, and still found time to play semi-professional baseball and basketball. By 1940, he found employment as a maintenance worker at Alameda Naval Air Station, and was part of the recreation staff at the North Oakland Y.M.C.A., which is noted in the 1940 U.S. Census, although it shows him as a “Teacher” for the E.E.P (Emergency Educational Program founded by the Works Progress Administration), which Lionel clarifies in his Bancroft Library Oral History interview with interviewer Gabrielle Morris.

By 1940, Lionel would once again pick up his glove and don his baseball cap to play in the 1940 California State Semi-Pro Championship Tournament for the California Eagles. Except this time, he wasn’t part of the pitching staff. That was left to “Cool Papa” Jackson, Mike “Showboat” Berry, “Speedball” Cranston, and “Schoolboy” Taylor. Lionel was on the team as Lionel Wilson, not “Lefty”, for the tournament. That year, he played Center Field for Ike Thompson, Manager of the California Eagle Champions.

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1940 California Eagles, Champions of the California State Semi-Pro Championship Tournament

Working at the Naval Air Station only delayed Lionel Wilson being drafted. At first, it was thought that he might join the Civil Air Corps, but that idea wasn’t for him. Even with his degree and work experience, Lionel made the decision to enlisted in the United States Army in 1943, and served two years during the end period of World War II. After completely three years of service two of them in a combat unit in the U.S European Forces, Lionel was promoted to First Sargent. He left the service shortley after being accepted at Hasting Law School in San Francisco.

In 1946, he would also return to his first love; baseball. In 1946, upon the creation of the West Coast Baseball Association, Lionel tried out for the Oakland Larks and made the team. It should be noted here that Ike Thompson, former Manager of the California Eagle Championship team, would one sit on the Board of Directors for the West Coast Baseball Association and would have known the quality of baseball that was played by Lionel “Lefty” Wilson.

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Lionel “Lefty”-“Everything” Wilson, 5 wins 2 Losses, Bats Left, Throws Left

At the age of 31, “Lefty” Wilson would find himself part of the pitching staff of a newly formed, professional ‘Negro League’, based on the West Coast, that was started by Abe Saperstein and Jessie Owens, along with Byron “Speed” O’Reilly acting as the Executive Manager of the WBCA and Dewey Portlock as its Executive Secretary. Lionel would play as often as he could, and playing for the Oakland Larks would always in the forefront of his memories, while the time he spent playing semi-professional baseball was always a conversation that Mayor Wilson avoided, if at all possible. Even if he did play on championship teams in his youth, it was a sore spot that he never quite shook.

Lionel Wilson spent a good portion of his youth hoping the doors of integration would open up in the world of baseball, so he could give it his best shot when he was still relatively a young man. The Oakland Larks would be his last attempt at being noticed by the powers that be in the professional baseball circles; those able to recognize his prowess as a left-handed dynamo and team leader of the men that he played with. The Oakland Larks would be the end of that dream and his professional baseball quest. He went on to become a outstanding lawyer, the first African American Judge of Alameda County appointed to the bench, and eventually the first African American Mayor of the City Of Oakland. The early years he spent playing baseball for the Berkeley Colored League taught him the value of perseverance.

Lionel Wilson

Hats off to one of baseball’s finest men.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Question:

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.

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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