49 Days: The West Coast ‘Baseball’ Association

When the Oakland High Marine Club met on October 18, 1945, a three day meeting took place between interested parties, who would set in motion the creation of the “West Coast Baseball Association“. Time was of the essence. This idea had been tossed around for some time, and it was time to put it in writing, striking the beginnings of a formal agreement between African American businessmen of the West Oakland and South Berkeley Communities about creating a Negro League they could call their own.

Earlier in the year, on August 28, 1945, Branch Rickey had signed Jackie Robinson to a contract to play in the minor leagues with the Montreal Royals. This formative move created tension on the other side of the color fence of what was to come of the Negro Leagues. It sent shock waves through the West Oakland’s and South Berkeley’s African American communities, and many other African American communities across the nation, where the face of the National Pastime was about to change permanently.

West Oakland after all, was the Harlem of the West, and 7th Street played an integral part in the nation’s African American vibrant culture and race climate, that help foster African American baseball and businesses coast to coast. They also supported the Negro Leagues both far and wide in every aspect of the game. Oakland, being the last stop for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters across the nation, was the mecca of the West for information about African American communities and culture changes that took place, from all over the United States.

For better or for worse, there would be no stopping the future desegregation of Major League Baseball. And the collective Bay Area needed to prepare for the overarching economic outcome that this proposed ‘integration’ move, and how it would change the economic and political landscape. How would the possibility of the desegregation of professional baseball impact the African American community at at large? This was the question on the minds of local African American business owners, and it certainly needed to be addressed.

The first mention of a ‘West Coast’ Negro League was brought up at a meeting of the Oakland High Marine Club on July 12, 1945, when it was noted by the Secretary of that organization, that a small group had a round tabled a discussion about a proposal made by Ed C. Harris, that had to do with “Baseball”. The first pitch for this idea was tossed out by Harris, who had played semi-pro ball for the California Eagles. The idea of mounting a ‘West Coast’ Negro League began weeks before Robinson signed an agreement with Rickey, and sooner than later, the creation of the West Coast Baseball Association would become more than simple table talk.

By August 8, 1945, twenty days before Jackie Robinson would sign a contract to play with Montreal, the Oakland High Marine Club would put together a fact finding committee, with Harris in charge, to study the feasibility of starting a brand new West Coast Negro League, in anticipation that the current Negro Leagues would see a mass exodus of players lost to desegregation of the Major Leagues. The other consideration was finding untapped talent from returning African America soldiers, who would soon be coming home from the Pacific and European theaters.

In hopes that this would be a new beginning for those who wanted to maintain financially independence of Major League Baseball, which had rejected African Americans since its inception based on an unwritten rule among players, coaches, the front office and owners, — the Oakland High Marine Club set forth on the road to insure an alternative pathway for the African America professional baseball players, coaches, managers, and team owners was put in play.

How Abe Saperstein and Jesse Owens became a part of the West Coast ‘Baseball’ Association is a complete mystery, because there is no indication of their involvement at all in the Summer of 1945, when the first seeds of this new league were planted. There is only an indication that Saperstein’s involvement happened sometime late in January 1946. The concept of Saperstein becoming the President of the West Coast Baseball Association, along with his Vice President and associate, Jesse Owens, is completely separate story in and of itself, — which very little research has yet to be performed on that particular subject matter. The fact remains though, both Saperstein and Owens were not a part of the original group of men that decided that the West Coast needed or deserved its own professional Negro League representation.

What is notable about Saperstein’s involvement with the West Coast ‘Baseball’ Association, is he was reluctant to take the job as League President. Owens was elected as First Vice President of the League. And a gentleman named Bruce Rowell, who was the manager of the Ubangi Club in Seattle was elected Second Vice President of the league. Former President Pro Tem, D.A. Portlock, was elected as Treasurer of the league. This removed the power base of origination from the West Coast Association out of the hands of the Bay Area founders where the league was formed, into the hands of Pacific Northwest interlopers. What should have been investment became and act of usurpation. There are those that say that Rowell didn’t even actually own the Seattle Steelheads, and that he was nothing more than a proxy for the behind the scenes ownership of the Steelheads for Saperstein. Leaving the newly established West Coast Association with a three to one in favor of the Pacific Northwest teams, when it came to a governing votes by the Board of Directors for the West Coast Association.

The Chicago Defender – January 26, 1946

Andrew Spurgeon “Doc” Young , sports editor of the Los Angeles based African American paper called the “Los Angeles Sentinel“, wrote a scathing editorial about the fact that Abe Saperstein was allowed to become the President of the West Coast Association. The header read, “Election Of Saperstein To West Coast Baseball Violates Idea Of Negro Promotion”.

Los Angeles Sentinel – January 31, 1946

So how far back does this legacy of baseball within the African American communities of West Oakland and South Berkeley reach? The answer can be found with that formal meeting to establish a league and charter, which took place on October 18, 1945, by glancing at the address “1219 8th Street”, West Oakland. California. This was the home of the Athens Elks Lodge 70. The organization that was also responsible for the birth of the Berkeley Colored League during the Great Depression, and the Berkeley International League — which was the Bay Area’s attempt of integrating baseball with all racial groups that lived in the East Bay. The Athens Elks Lodge was the place where, community dace were held, and many great early jazz performers got their start. Wade Whaley and his Black and Tan Jazz Hounds were made famous, playing weekly for dances in the 1920’s at the Athens Elks Lodge 70.

The Athens Elks club was known on both sides of the Bay, and was the home of the Black Local 648 musician union. This meant that any African American musician who showed up to town, to play in the Bay Area checked in with the Elks Club; and as it was also a dance hall upstairs, and a bar and nightclub downstairs. It was a place where large gatherings of the African American community took place, a lot of famous musicians passed through its door and played in their hall. Jam sessions between out of town stars and local bands were a constant happening. From Jimmie Lunceford to Billie Holiday, the Elks Club was the place to meet and greet your long lost cousin or your next husband or wife.

The San Francisco Spokesman – November 30, 1934

The Spokesman – January 27, 1933
The Berkeley Gazette – September 1945

In 1945, the usual suspects could be found planning the arrival of a league with its core foundation members linked in the Bay Area and its people, with their strong history of African American baseball on the West Coast. In a period of time just a little over three months, one-hundred days, processed through a series of meetings of the Oakland High Marine Club, a charter was established for the “West Coast Association” was founded in October of 1945. The word “Baseball” was an addition later added by Abe Saperstein, that also became prominent in his correspondence sent to different team managers. It seems that Abe Saperstein was an absentee baseball league President, who never read the league’s charter, but is all too often credited with the league’s original formation, when that story couldn’t be further from the truth.

Oakland High Marine Society Club 1946
West Coast Association By-Laws
Original Founders of the West Coast Association – Oct. 18, 1945


Carlisle Tarleton Perry was one of the first players to play the fields of the Bay as one of the Oakland Giants, playing with team members Chet Bost, Norman O. “Tick” Houston, Hilary Bullet Meaddows, and Jimmy Claxton. He also played for the Pierce Giants of Oakland, and the Shasta Limiteds.

Carlisle Tarleton Perry- 1912 Oakland Giants
Carlisle Tarleton Perry – Pierce Giants of Oakland
Carlisle Tarleton Perry – 1919 Shasta Limiteds
Carlisle Tarleton PerryHaroldYellowhorse” Morris – WCBA 1945

Harold “Yellowhorse” Morris started his baseball career with the Pierce Giants of Oakland. He played ball under the tutelage of team Captain, Chet Bost and Owner Steve Pierce.

HaroldYellowhorse” Morris – Pierce Giants of Oakland

The mystery of Steve Pierce has always perplexed baseball historians. He owned a baseball team and he owned a baseball diamond. His popularity in the Bay Area, Central California, and the Napa and Sonoma regions were well known. His players were challenged by teams in Southern California, for the “Colored Champions of California“, and they held their own. Rumor had it that he had once purchased the Detroit Stars. In the summer of 1945, Pierce had returned to Oakland to reinvent the Pierce Giants of Oakland, with two young baseball stars named Mel Reid and Johnny Allen, using “Yellowhorse” Morris as his manager.

California Eagle – February 13, 1925
Chet Bost – Steve Pierce 1923 Pierce Giants of Oakland
Oakland Tribune – June 18, 1945
Steve Pierce – Ed Harris- West Coast Baseball Association 1945

The West Coast Association was the brainchild of Edward C. Harris. In the 1940’s, Ed Harris, a Kansas native, worked for the Works Progress Administration as a Parks and Recreation Director in Berkeley. Verifying his connection as a Fireman in Oakland is seemingly impossible, but if the story is true, he would have been attached to Station 22, Station 33, or Station 28; the only African American fire stations in a city of Oakland, which at that time — had a total of thirty fire engine companies in the 1940’s. Segregation still existed in Berkeley at that time, and a black fireman in Berkeley in the 1940’s was non existent. The Berkeley Unified School District did not desegregate until 1968, although it was the first school system in America to begin the long process of desegregation — moving towards integration in the late 1960’s, by becoming the first school district in the nation to voluntarily implement a two-way busing program.

Engine 22 – Oakland Fire Department- 1943

We do know that Ed Harris played for the California Eagles, which made him well connected to those who played baseball on previous and existing African American teams in the Bay Area. Within that core group of people that Harris played with on the Eagles, Foy Scott, Lionel “Lefty” Wilson, Andrew “Little Sharkey” Auther, and Mel Reid also played for the Oakland Larks as well. Wilson and Auther’s connection to the Larks reaches back to their time spent as team mates on the Berkeley Pelicans of the Berkeley Colored League.

Ed Harris – California Eagles 1940
California Eagles-1940
Oakland Tribune – September 9, 1950, Good Old Sandlot Days
Basehit — Oakland Tribune Semi-Pro Tournament Program – 1935, Good Old Sandlot Days
Oakland Larks lineup – 1946

The discussions surrounding the concepts as to why this West Coast Association league failed, as opposed to becoming a successful Negro League like its predecessors, is a very large and often overlooked subject; but one definitely worth studying today, and it shares stunning similarities to what we see happening with the economic impact of COVID-19 on Major League Baseball. Looking at how desegregation and other uncontrollable factors can effect the financial bottom line of even most well established businesses, including the established Negro Leagues, causes a trickle down effect on established communities that once prospered unabated. They lose their financial stronghold within the community that they built from the ground up.

These massive social shifts can carry both an undercurrent and tsunami like effect, when it comes to society as a whole, and a sub-social stratification, like sports that once helped fuel local economies, suddenly disappear and leaves these communities dry after the surge of initial excitement about the coming changes they will bring. Most of the arguments surrounding the West Coast Association’s rise and subsequent fall usually revolve around unfounded comments such as, “they weren’t good enough“, or “they were not financially sound, based on a lack of collecting a franchise fees“.

The creation of these types of comments or falsehoods need to remedied within the larger discussion of baseball. Because they fail to address a very complex situation of supply and demand in the world of sports and entertainment, and how sports survive in a free market environment where you either continue to expand your market place, — or watch your market place collapse and get taken over by the bigger fish in the pond. Major League Baseball understood its own needs for expansion, and for this reason, Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a financial contract obligating him to be the first of many African American baseball players to join Major League Baseball. This financial concept goes beyond the ‘desegregation into integration’ concept.

It becomes about ticket sales and revenue at the gate. The six original teams represented by the West Coast Association were Seattle Steelheads, Portland Rosebuds, Oakland Larks, San Francisco Sea Lions, Fresno Tigers, and Los Angeles White Sox. Theses teams were the economic gate keepers of the West Coast Association. Their survival depended on an African American working class market place, who could maintain employment on the West Coast after World War II. The ever shifting racial politics in the West, and the decrease in African American employment within the West Coast Military Industrial Complex at the end of World War II also decreased the chances of a new Negro League’s survival. The exponential growth of African Americans to the West Coast during World War II would have easily supported a new Negro League had there been access to larger venues.

Fully understanding how macroeconomics works in a competitive market place should be part of this discussion, because it was was the main reason the West Coast Association failed to make inroads into creating a new Negro League. Three very large forces, coming in from all sides, were working against the creation of the West Coast Association; Major League Baseball, Negro League Baseball and the Pacific Coast League. In 1946, the Pacific Coast League was on a course of reinvention. Expansion was on the plate for Clarence “Pants” Rowland, because he was tired of the Pacific Coast League playing both stepchild and farm league to Major League Baseball.


The assumption of success by the West Coast Association was based on expansion of the Negro Leagues to the West Coast, that would create a West Coast venue for African American baseball players, along with a farm system for the Negro Leagues, similar to Major League Baseball using the Pacific Coast League as a place to tap new talent. The West Coast Association as a new Negro League was a sound idea and worthy of exploration. After seeing the financial drawing power of current Negro League baseball, Major League Baseball plotted a course to play the long game — for the future. It would use both the Negro Leagues and the Pacific Coast Leagues as farms, thereby capitalizing on the best baseball talent available.

With that in mind, and the signing of Jackie Robinson as a precursor to desegregating Major League baseball, it should have been apparent to one an all, including the existing Negro Leagues, that no matter how good the Negro League players were, — or how financially sound the opposing Negro League teams they played for were, — that even those existing Negro League teams as well could not compete in a free market economy where Major League Baseball dominated the social and financial spotlight, and had the financial ability to siphon off the best African American talent of the Negro Leagues and the Pacific Coast League. Salaries of former Negro League players that chose to go to the Major Leagues could not be matched. By remaining in the Negro Leagues, players would be financially handicapping themselves.

The concept of “Negro players”, playing in large stadiums provided by Pacific Coast League owners, on off days or when Pacific Coast League teams were scheduled to play out of town was totally unacceptable to Clarence “Pants” Rowland, — unless of course it was a ‘once in a blue moon‘ charity event. A new Negro League offered monetary competition to the Pacific Coast League that Rowland would not allow to come to fruition. Accepting the fact that the West differed from the East when it came to allowing African Americans on baseball fields reserved for white-only players was a big part of why scheduling games was problematic for the West Coast Association. Saperstein was pretty naive and non·plussed as a West Coast Association President and league negotiator when it came securing Pacific Coast League parks for the West Coast Association league to play on. Abe functioned from a barnstorming mentality, where games were played all over the United States for amusement. and not for sport. He was more attuned to participating in sales role, but when it came to league management, he lacked hands on operational skills.

Being President of an actual league was beyond his grasp.

And although Saperstein presented a steady resolve in the public’s eye when it came promoting the West Coast Association in the media, the behind the scene action was chaotic and contradictory. Saperstein was not accustomed to the deeply embedded West Coast racism when it came to securing ball parks to play in, leaving the negotiations of securing parks up to team Managers — who were seldom given the time of day by the ‘white-only’ park owners. From the time of his election as President of the West Coast Association, to opening day of the league, Saperstein spent very little time securing the Pacific Coast League stadiums, that he made a pledge to the league that he would secure.

The excuses that were used to prevent West Coast Association games from being played on Pacific Coast League fields were readily accepted by Saperstein, without putting up a fight, and without the tenacity of leadership required to make headway. Abe chose to communicate with his managers Harris, Perry, Morris — and the rest of the West Coast Association — only by letter or Western Union. He treated his responsbilities very nonchalantly, possibly because he had many other money making ventures that took priority over West Coast Association. One could even speculate by the overall amount of correspondence archived and collected on the West Coast Association, that Saperstein never met consistently with the any of the team owners or managers of the West Coast Association, or any Pacific Coast League stadium owners, and conducted most of the league business only by telegram, mail, and sometimes by phone.

The Weekly Review – March 9, 1946

The success of African American baseball, which was deeply rooted in the African American culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, would shortly become a thing of the past; causing the rapid decline of West Oakland’s 7th Street’s revenue, and killing off most of the black owned and operated businesses that relied on African American baseball as an economic engine that fueled the black community’s economic survival. The Jazz spots, the Night Clubs, the BBQ joints, the social clubs and meeting houses, — which fostered additional economic engines that trickled down money to every mom and pop business in the black community, were also affected by the demise of the Negro Leagues; both the established Negro Leagues and the one in its infancy.


The barnstorming concept was decimated by the Negro League to Major League crossover of African American athletes, who could not be blamed for wanting to make better money than they ever dreamed of making in the Negro Leagues. The businesses that catered to the African American crowds, — that brought the Negro Leagues to towns all over America, could no longer sustain themselves, when these black owned business — who once flourished and thrived, found their loyal clientele in other neighborhoods, spending their dollars in distant places, far away from their own communities. The radio itself, and television as well, made it possible to see or hear the game at a distance. And the idea of attending a game in person became secondary, furthering the economic decline of the African American community.

There are those that say, “poor planning” caused the demise of the West Coast Association, never taking into account that no Negro League survived desegregation of Major League baseball in 1947. By 1948, the Negro National League disbanded, and by 1950, the Negro American League was a former shell of itself. No business plan could have saved any Negro Leagues. Even though the West Coast Association made an attempt to secure a future place for the African American professional baseball players, there were too many dominating economic factors that crushed every Negro League player, manager, owner, and league Presidents — thereby crushing the Negro League spectators as well.

It took only 49 days from start to finish, to witness the final creation of the very last Negro League charter to be written in America, to the signing of the contract of Jackie Robinson to the Montreal Royals. After that, it took less than four years for the economic demise of every Negro Leagues left in existence, which left the African American communities they financially supported and who supported them as well, — financially decimated by their extinction.

Begging the question: would things have played out differently,…if the Oakland Larks had taken their original name voted on by the members of the Oakland High Marine Club?

Only the alt-universe where the Oakland Bees played baseball would know.

Norman O. Houston: Lost and Found

Norman O. Houston, pictured at far right, with his teammates from the Shasta Giants baseball team
1912 Oakland Giants — In uniform– Top Row: Left to right: bench sitting: (1) Chet Bost, (2) Maisona, (3) H.Smith, (4)unknown, (5) Nelson Watson; Manager, (6)Durgan, (7) Richardson, (8) White, (9) Norman O. Houston — Bottom: Left to right: ground sitting: (10) Herb Clarke, (11) Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows (UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library)

This photograph was located deep in the archives of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance collection. It was an odd place to find a flawless image of the 1912 Oakland Giants. Access to such images, that are over 100 years old, of African American baseball teams, are very rare — and they are usually in very poor condition. Upon closer inspection, Norman O. Houston can been seen sitting to the far right in the top row.

Screen Shot 2020-02-10 at 5.15.27 PM
Norman O. Houston

This Dead Ball era photo is one of a few that shows the Oakland Giants in their home uniforms, taken at the State League Park, which was once located at Grove Street and Fifty-Seventh Street, behind Idora Park. Today, it is where Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute sits, behind Dover Park, in the Bushrod neighborhood of North Oakland.

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 7.55.15 PM
San Francisco Call – February 27, 1909

Idora Park Oakland 1910
Idora Park – Oakland Public Library, 1910

The Freeeman-Hilary Meaddows 5-25-1912
The Freeeman – May, 25, 1912

From his humble beginnings, Houston was destined for greatness. Houston was born in San Jose, California to Oliver and Lillian Houston, and lived part of his childhood in the Lower Bottoms of West Oakland. The larger part of his youth was spent in the Brooklyn Township of Alameda county, which is now considered Oakland. His father, Oliver, was a Pullman Porter, and also worked as a waiter at the Hotel Vendome. The story goes, in Houston’s own words, that he was the “godson” of the Sparkling wine baron and “Champagne King of California”, Paul Masson, based on Masson’s relationship with Houston’s father.

Brooklyn Alameda County
Map of Oakland and Brooklyn – 1885

Hotel Vedome San Jose
Hotel Vendome – San Jose

After graduating from Oakland Technical High School, Huston went on to study Business Administration U.C. Berkeley. While attending U.C. Berkeley, Houston became one of the key outfielders for a string of African American baseball teams that left a Bay Area legacy, which led up to the founding of the West Coast Baseball Association. At the turn of the 20th Century, the Oakland Giants were not the first African American baseball team to step foot on the diamonds of the East Bay, West Bay, and Central Valley;  but historically, they were the most recognizable local African American team, and most widely accepted, that paved the way for other African American teams to follow.

Under the management of Nelson Watson, who gathered the best players in the East Bay, the Oakland Giants became a formidable team, that traveled throughout Northern California, with games scheduled through Spalding.

Dutch Ruether-Mill Valley Record, Volume 14, Number 37, 4 October 1912
Mill Valley Record – October 4, 1912

Dutch Ruether-Marin Journal, Volume 50, Number 41, 10 October 1912
Marin Journal – October 10, 1912

At the age of 19, playing for the Oakland Giants, Huston faced Walter “Dutch” Ruether in the batter’s box. “Dutch” was one month older than Houston, and born in Alameda, California, but spent his life in the West Bay. Ruether went on to play ten years of professional baseball, in both the National and American leagues. It was not uncommon, at that time, for an African American baseball team to play the foil to their opponents; the team to beat above all other teams, during the early part of the 20th Century. These type of race based contest created the largest gates, and were advertised accordingly. More often than not, winning or losing a game decided one’s fate, when it came to the return trip home — as well as an extended invitation to return to play another day.

As the Oakland Giants morphed into the Lynne-Stanley Giants, under the leadership of Chet Bost, winning became a way of staying in the public eye. Huston played outfield for Bost and Lynne Stanley from 1913 to 1914. The year 1915 remains a mystery, and the disappearance of the Lynne-Stanley Giants for one year ushered in their 1916 return as the Oak Leaf Club of Oakland, where Houston was once again seen playing the outfield with a large majority of the former Oakland Giants team.

1916_0213_oakland_giants

Oakland Tribune-Oak Leafs-2-13-1916-pg.30
Oakland Tribune – February 13, 1916

At the age of 24, Houston was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War I, where he became a “Regimental Personnel Adjutant”.

Norman Oliver Houston United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918-ii
Norman Oliver Houston – World War I Draft Registration Card

Portrait of Norman O. Houston in his World War I uniform
Portrait of Lt. Norman O. Houston in his World War I uniform

After the war had ended, Huston gave baseball one more shot, returning to play with so many others he had played with before, with the addition of a few new team members, like Carlisle Perry and Jimmy Claxton. At the age of 27, this would be the last baseball team that Houston would play with.

Shasta Giants 1919-20
Shasta Limiteds – Left to Right Top Row: (1) Owner Tod Graham, (2) Jimmy Claxton, (3) Norman O. Houston, (4) Goldie Davis, (5) Carlisle Perry, (6) Gene Cooper, (7) Chet Bost, and the (8) Trainer Green. Left to Right Bottom Row: (8) Fisher, (9) Eddie Jackson, (10) Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows, (11) Billy Woods, (12) Brown, and (13) Vaughns.

Unlike most African American baseball players whose history fades into anonymity, this single photograph of the 1912 Oakland Giants gives us a larger picture of Norman O. Houston’s life, which may have never had been connected before now. Leaving baseball to younger men, Houston pursued on the journey of creating the largest African American owned and operated insurance brokerage in the western United States, along with his partners, William Nickerson Jr. and George A. Beavers Jr. His experience as a clerk for the Board of Fire Underwriters before serving during World War I, led him to leave the Bay Area and head to the boom town called “1920’s Los Angeles“.

By 1920, 15,579 African Americans lived in Los Angeles. Twenty years later the City of Angeles had a Black population of 63,774, more than Denver, Oakland, San Francisco, and Seattle combined.“[1]

Black Los Angeles” was a gold mine of opportunity for the young Houston.

The Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, once the largest black-owned insurance company in the western United States, represented more to policy holders than a mere insurance company. They provided African Americans with life insurance, retirement plans, savings bonds, annuities and mortgages when white-owned banks would not lend to them. In part, they are responsible for the expansion of African American growth in the West, based on their ability to both lend and insure African American owned businesses and properties.

Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company
Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company – UCLA Library – 1925

Screen Shot 2020-01-07 at 4.32.22 PM
California Eagle – 1925

From its earliest beginnings, the founders of Golden State Mutual and their executives, documented the Company’s history and African Americans in California making history, using every form of known media, — including photography, recorded sound, moving images and films, and an array of artwork. At one time, Golden State Mutual maintained one of most extensive and comprehensive African American artwork collections in the United States, which was eventually sold off in 2007, just prior to the Great Recession of 2008, and near the close of its final days in 2009, — after an eighty-four year run, focusing on the African American community.

Executives from the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company and Reverend Ralph Abernathy-1964
Norman O. Houston with Rev. Ralph Abernathy (UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library)

MLK and Houston-ii
Norman O. Houston with Martin Luther King Jr. (UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library)

Los Angeles City Councilman Tom Bradley, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Norman O. Houston-1969
Norman O. Houston with Tom Bradley and Jesse Jackson (UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library)

Congressman Andrew Young and Norman O HoustonCongressman Andrew Young and Norman O. Houston (UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library)

Jesse Owens visits the Home Office of the Golden State Mutual
Jesse Owens visits the Home Office of the Golden State Mutual – June 18 1935 (UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library)

Norman O. Houston and Joe Louis-1945
Norman O. Houston and Joe Louis – 1945 (UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library)

Lena Horne visits the Home Office of the Golden State Mutual Life
Lena Horne visits the Home Office of the Golden State Mutual – 1953 (UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library)

Portrait of Norman O. Houston-ii

The amount of people connected to Norman O. Houston is so vast that all of them cannot be covered here. The same can said for his partners, William Nickerson Jr. and George A. Beavers Jr.

Norman O. Houston Park
Norman O. Houston Park Dedication – (UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library)

We owe a debt of gratitude to those men who founded that company in the 1920s,” said Fergerson, who grew up in Watts. Golden State Mutual “was not only an insurance company. It was a social, political and historic institution that brought jobs and proper insurance to the black community.” [2]

Norman O. Huston Park-2

Neatly nestled on the edge of Baldwin Hills, is the Norman O. Houston Park, near Ladera Heights. The majority of people who gather there daily probably have no idea who Norman O. Huston was, or that he had a deep, endearing love of baseball; or that he was a native of Oakland, California. Houston rarely talked about his life and times in the world of baseball, or who he played with or against. Quiet, reserved and honorable, Norman O. Houston’s legacy of baseball lived on in every youth baseball team that the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company sponsored throughout its existence.


Personal Portrait of Norman O. Houston – KABC Radio 79 – April 30 1966

1) “On June 1, 1900, the first census of the 20th Century counted 2,131 Black Angelenos”, California African American Museum Staff writer, June 1, 2019

2) Lifsher, Marc:California regulators seize struggling insurer Golden State Mutual Life“, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 1, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

So Different Baseball Team- Pierce Giants of Oakland

Pierce Giants-Three Players-ii
1923 Pierce Giants of Oakland
: At Pierce Field, in Richmond California
(Left to Right): Charles Reid, Richards, Harold “Yellowhorse” Morris

Gerald Early is often quoted, stating that: “There are only three things that America will be remembered for 2000 years from now when they study this civilization: The Constitution, Jazz music, and Baseball. These are the 3 most beautiful things this culture’s ever created.” Early jazz and baseball once had a symbiotic relationship; a musical relationship that no longer exist in today’s modern era.

And what we know about Steve Pierces Pierce Giants of Oakland is both unique and minimal. We know that they staked a claim on being the Colored Champions of Northern California. We know that the twenty-one year old Harold “Yellowhorse” Morris got his start there, under the tutelage of manager Chet Bost and owner Steve Pierce. We know that “Yellowhorse” Morris went on to be a starting pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1924, and held the same job for the Detroit Stars in 1925.

Screen Shot 2019-01-13 at 6.33.58 PM
1923 Pierce Giants of Oakland: Harold “Yellowhorse” Morris

We also know that Steve Pierce bought the Detroit Stars from Tenny Blount, after a successful run as the owner of the Pierce Giants of Oakland. These ‘known knowns‘ create the foundation for the unique and minimal tales of the Pierce Giants of Oakland legacy.

Pierce Giants-6-ii
1923 Pierce Giants of Oakland
: Chet Bost and Steve Pierce (owner)

When we take a look at jazz as an purist art form, we realize that it takes the most significant cultural elements of our society and communicates them in musical terms. Jazz is a rift on musical notes that are known, yet easily improvised on, once the style and rhythm is set in motion. Baseball and jazz are two very important and significant cultural elements that are specifically American in their design, and jazz is rooted in baseball, based on the word “jazz” all by itself. This is not a story about Benny Henderson and his famed “jazz ball” pitch, even though the concept of a pitch being motivated by sound is something in need of much more historical exploration.

From the beginning of the Dead Ball Era of 1901 to 1919, to the Live Ball Era of 1920 to 1941, jazz music and the word, “jazz” played a significant role in this beautifully structured game known as baseball. Yet, the paradox that jazz music supplied to baseball, was an integral part of the that crafted the ‘seeing’, ‘feeling’, and ‘hearing’ of a game that took place among spectators and players of that sport, both on and off the field. Rousing conversations about improvised moments on the field of play connected the average fan to the rising and falling of rhythms, beats and tempos, which included base on balls, a hot double plays, or swinging away and connecting the bat to ball for a home run driven out of the park.

No one can be exactly sure when the word “jazz” and baseball became synonymous with one another, even though some have theorized that it all began in 1912, with a pitcher named Benny Henderson, who threw a pitch called a “jazz ball“. If the truth be told, the word jazz was used for multiple sporting events during the Dead Ball era, from soccer to football, boxing, and of course — baseball as well.

Gunboat Smith vs. Sam Langford

San Francisco Call,  September 22, 1913

Dr. Leonard K. Hirshberg, of John Hopkins University once published an article in 1917 called,Rest And Quiet The Sure Cure Of What Is Called Jazz Disease“, and attributed his findings by correlating a poem by Vachel Lindsay called, The Congo: The Study Of The Negro Race“, that read like a Rudyard Kipling poem written by  Dr. John H. Van Evrie. He defined jazz as sort of a delirium or ecstasy of excitement, that was the result of too much action and not enough rest. Jazz in Hirshberg’s eyes — was a malady that was only curable through substantial rest, a plain diet, plenty of sleep, and living a better way of life.

He also laid the sole blame of said jazz disease on “the Negroes“, who had all sorts of ‘traditions’, ‘superstitions’, and ‘fireside folk stories’ about King Jazz and the Jazz Band. Hirchberg, who often took liberties with the truth whenever there was sawbuck involved, was seemingly an expert on so many subjects — that he was eventually found guilty of being the brains behind a $1,000,000 mail fraud scheme, and spent four years in an Atlanta prison.

By 1917, the word ‘jazz‘ was in full rotation, and the world of music as it was known then was completely redefined, moving away from the syncopation of  Ragtime towards Gut Bucket Blues.

Benny Henderson photo
The Sunday Oregonian., September 17, 1911

In truth, for all the ‘jazz’ that Henderson had on his wobbly curve ball, Benny was his own worse enemy. He was an binge-drinking alcoholic. He was often involved in drunk driving accidents on more than one occasion. He even ran his car into The Cabin, a road house saloon located at the corner Fell  and Stanyan streets, just outside Golden Gate Park in the Panhandle, in one of his drunken stupors while driving through San Francisco.  Another time, he ran his car into a street car at the corner of Kearny St. and Market, escaping injury himself, but his passengers were not so lucky. For all intents and purposes, Henderson should have never been behind the wheel.

Henderson in reality was a great pitcher and at the same time a contract jumper, who preferred playing in Cy Moering‘s outlawed California State League; but he was also a raging alcoholic, who probably never should have played for Portland’s PCL team. Not because he wasn’t good enough. Because he was good enough. Henderson had once vowed that as long as Moering had a league to play in, that he would continue to play for Moering no matter what the consequence were. The city of Portland, at the time of Henderson’s tenure with the Beavers, was a den on iniquity between the years 1908 and 1914. There was no way Henderson could have remained on the “water wagon”, as he had promised McCredie he would, because vice was one of Portland’s main selling points and one of its biggest draws as a city.

Good Twirler-Bad Driver

San Francisco Call,  August 13, 1912

Like clockwork, Benny Henderson went AWOL more than once from the Pacific Coast League.  But he also went AWOL from the California State League. Cy Moering was just more forgiving than J. Cal Ewing or Walter McCredie.  Henderson consistent drinking problem was much more unwavering than his ‘jazz ball’, or his ability to show up for training camp, or abide by his contract for the sake of his team for an entire season that he signed on for. The No Booze slash Water Wagon contract that McCredie had him sign had zero effect on Henderson’s alcoholic reality.

The Kearny Street accident better explains Henderson’s proneness to driving accidents, and how he came to call this wobbling pitch the jazz ball. This specific location is within walking distance of a place once known as “Terrific Street“, where West Coast Jazz was born. It was the left coast’s home to many of the original jazz greats like King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton. But the most significant patriarch of West Coast jazz was none other than Louis “Sid” LeProtti, who was Sid Purcell‘s and Sam King‘s top act at the So Different Cafe, located at 520 Pacific Street in North Beach area near Chinatown. “Sid” LeProtti was the most active jazz pianist on the Barbary Coast in its heyday, between 1907 and 1917. Purcell’s So Different Cafe was a hot spot for night life and over-the-top ‘entertainment’ that rivaled the likes of New York City, Chicago, and New Orleans when it came to high class but sometimes illegal and titillating raucous enjoyment.

Born the illegitimate son of Louis LeProtti, an immigrant dry goods salesman from Italy, and Amelia “Netty” Dangerfield, a seamstress from Oakland, California, “Sid” LeProtti grew up a biracial child abandoned by his birth father, learning the harsh realities of a segregated society early in life. Listening  to music and playing classical piano became his solace. Falling in love with the piano playing styles of “Blind Tom” Wiggins” and “John William “Blind” Boone“, “Sid” LeProtti trained himself in both a variation of classical piano and the music of the day; Ragtime. By the age of twenty-one, LeProtti had earned the top billing spot at Purcell’s So Different Cafe, which was in direct competition with the Red Mill, also known as the Moulin Rouge. You also had Spider Kelly’s Saloon and Dance Hall, The Thalia, Izzy Gomez’s Cafe, Parenti’s Saloon, The Midway, Griffin’s, and The Hippodrome, that had their paws in everything from taxi dancing to the key rackets.

Spider Kelly's
1915Spider Kelly’s Saloon and Dance Hall

27584011657_b60b4a57dc_b

hippodrome

1915- “Terrific Street” – Thalia’s, Spider Kelly’s, The Hippodrome, and The So Different Cafe on Pacific Street.

But it was here, on Terrific Steet— as seen in this 1914 video, in the So Different Cafe, the Texas Tommy dance craze was invented, and spread throughout the country like wildfire. This is the only known footage of the early Crescent Orchestra. The Texas Tommy was such popular dance that theater producers sent dancers West to learn the dance, and some of them like Al Jolson, hired dancers from the Barbary Coast to teach the Texas Tommy to their chorus lines for their stage productions back East.  These Barbary Coast saloons, also known as  “black and tans” clubs, catered to black and white patronage alike, and despite their limited number and size, were often frequented by the famous as well as the infamous of Bay Area society.

So Different Jazz Band-Texas Tommy
1914–Sid Purcell’s So Different Cafe, with “Sid” LeProtti and the ‘Crescent Orchestra’, which would eventually become the So Different Jazz Band.

In 1915, Sid LeProtti reorganized his Crescent Orchestra to become the So Different Jazz Band. From here, along with other details about Sid LeProtti’s time spent at Sid Purcell So Different Cafe in the heart of the Jackson Square, we can see how West Coast jazz was taking shape, ala leaning towards a New Orleans flavor. New Orleans was called Crescent City because the original town-the Vieux Carré, was built at a sharp bend in the Mississippi River. The fact that “Sid” LeProtti named his first band after ‘Crescent City’, also known as  New Orleans, points to what influenced his musical talents, even though they were steeped in West Coast African American culture.

Oakland Sunshine (Oakland, Calif.), Ed. 1 Saturday, March 20, 1915-Pg. 1.jpg
The Oakland Sunshine, March 20, 1915

Sid Le Protti's So Different Jazz Band-1915-1918
1915 — The So Different Jazz Band
(Left to Right): Clarence Williams, Benjamin Franklin “Reb” Spikes, Adam “Slocum” Mitchell, Louis “Sid” LeProtti, Gerald D. Wells, Peter Stanley.

At the turn of the 20th century, they referred to early jazz as ‘barbarous noise for a degenerative peoples’, because this was the new sound of African American culture, rising up during the first Great Migration, and it was being spread throughout the United States by way of railroad from Coast to Coast, courtesy of your local Pullman porters including Purcell and King. The Oakland Mole, or course was the terminus, or “end of the line” for all passengers headed West.

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe rail yards roundhouse was located in Richmond, California. Pierce Field was owned and operated by Steve Pierce, and the grandstand on the baseball grounds, once stood between Macdonald and Nevin Avenues just west of First Street, — and were located near Atchison Village Park where the St. John’s Apartment complex is located today. The Pierce Giants of Oakland were very well known throughout the entire state of California and barnstormed locally in the Bay Area, Sacramento and Napa regions, and well out of those regions, as far South as Los Angeles.

By 1917, jazz was well rooted in every day American culture, not only as a word, but as a relationship with those who listened to it for its entertainment value and expression of the unspoken trials and tribulations of being human, in a world on the brink of humanistic collapse. The world was at war with itself, and the tavern life offered an escape from the inevitability of a relatively short life span that left the average man dead by the age of 48.

From 1914 to 1917, the war in Europe raged on to what seemed to be no end in sight. “Sid” Leprotti’s So Different Jazz Band eventually left Sid Purcell’s So Different Cafe, but kept the band’s name in spite of their departure from Purcell’s. Preserved records on the life of “Sid” LeProtti’s  indicate that on his World War I Draft Registration, he and his jazz band were working at the Portola Louvre Restaurant, a much classier cafe in downtown San Francisco. Located at Powell and Market, the Portola would bring LeProtti even higher recognition in the world of music and social standing in the West Coast jazz community.

Portola Lourve

1915-Portola Lourve Restaurant

LeProtti was making jazz waves all over California, playing clubs all along the Coast, whenever he could get a paying gig. Baron Long’s Tavern, on 108th and and Central Avenue in Watts, was one of the places that “Sid” Leprotti worked continuously, along side a young dancer named Rudolph Valentino, the “tango pirate“, and his rowdy partner, Marjorie Tain. Long’s Tavern was a Los Angeles area based ‘black and tan’, opened by Long for the purpose of catering specifically to early Hollywoodland’s elite performers, local politicians, and ne’er-do-wells. It was located in a nearby unincorporated area, so alcohol could be served around the clock. This was a era when Long’s Tavern was frequented by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Lottie Pickford, Jack Pickford, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Harold Lloyd and many others who went looking for a good time and good music.

From 1907 to 1926, Watts was a hotbed of unsavory politics, within this predominately all-white community, that was run on bawdy entertainment, bootleg whiskey, and bad decisions. In 1917, Sid LeProtti created a sensation on the Hollywood nightclub scene, by playing the yet unpublished Jelly Roll Morton song, “The Crave“, which caused a major rift between these two musicians. The public at large preferred the LeProtti version of the song to the Morton improvised version of his own work. The Cadillac Cafe on Fifth and Central Avenue in Watts, the old stomping grounds of Morton, was one the many haunts that LeProtti played to an overwhelming jazz following, that were both black and white, so these two men crossing paths while playing in the Los Angeles proper was not uncommon.

Jelly roll Morton-1917 Cadillac Cafe

1917- Jelly Roll Morton Outside The Cadillac Cafe (Left to Right): “Common Sense” Ross, Albertine Pickens, Jelly Roll Morton, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, Eddie Rucker, Mabel Watts.

Aug. 18-1917

California Eagle, August 18, 1917

It was also in Los Angeles that LeProtti found and married his wife, Mayme Golphin. Both “Sid” and Mayme had been previously married, and this was the second go around for the both of them.

One year and one month after “Sid” LeProtti  registered for the draft in 1917, he would be inducted into the U.S. Army in Hawaii. He and his band mates, those who were either drafted or who had enlisted,  were attached to the 25th Infantry Regiment as their resident jazz band. They never spent a single day at Schofield Barracks, but instead their living arrangements were quite exclusive and unique. LeProtti’s rank was “Musician 3rd Class”, five days after arriving from Los Angeles to Hawaii. His permanent living assignment was at the Alexander Young Hotel in Honolulu.

The Roof-Top Garden at the Alexander Young Hotel, one-third of an acre in extent, became one of Honolulu’s most fashionable social venues, in part by the jazz scene that flourished there. During WWI, the Army occupied the entire second floor of the hotel. Even though the Roof-Top Garden venue was great, the war took its toll on the So Different Jazz Band, and most of the musicians ended up going their separate ways after joining the military.

young_hotel_roof_garden_1909

After his tour of duty ended in the South Sea island chain, Leprotti returned home, without a band, and without a job. There were gaps left in his return home, and his fellow band mates had left for the East to replace other musicians who had left to fight the war in Europe, never to return to the West Coast. With money he had saved, LeProtti opened up a shoe shine stand on the corner of Grove Street and University Avenue in Berkeley, and worked as a full time boot black while rebuilding the So Different Jazz Band. Working here and there as an ‘ad-hoc’ pianist, whenever he could, allowed a new So Different Jazz Band to develop from scratch.

“Sid” LeProtti gave Curtis Mosby, Russell Masengale, Ashford Hardee, and Evelyn Joiner their first early breaks in 1922 in the West Coast jazz scene, long before they made big names in the jazz world for themselves. Evelyn Joiner was a phenomenally accomplished entertainer and singer, and very little is known about her, except that she traveled and worked in an ‘all male’ jazz band. Curtis Mosby’s Blues Blowers were legendary, and can be seen playing in the films, Josef Von Sternberg’s 1929 “Thunderbolt” and King Vidor’s 1929 African-American movie musical “Hallelujah“, starring Nina Mae McKinney.

Sid LeProtti New Band
Healdsburg Tribune, September 12, 1922

Healdsburg is actually where this jazz  and baseball story begins. The East Bay location of Sid’s Shine Shop was located on Grove Street and University Avenue in Berkeley, and Purcell’s Cafe in the West Bay located on Pacific Street on the Barbary Coast, are both respectively 70 miles from these locations on either side of the bay, heading North on the King’s Highway — once you’ve crossed over the water. At this time in history, Healdsburg has a predominately white population, located in the heart of Sonoma County, consisting of orchard farmers who provided locally grown goods to both sides of the Bay. Even though segregation is a cultural phenomenon, their fear of African American culture was almost non-existent, especially when to came to money, music, and baseball.

B&W-Healdsburg Ball Club 1923-ii

1923 – Healdsburg Prune Packers

Back row (Left to Right): Al Bidwell, Bob Weston, Bob Vellou, L.J. Hall, Quim Seawell Middle row (Left to Right): Harlan Remmel, Frank Meisner, Pep McDonald, Jim Shinn, Pop Artlett, Gus Smith, Ben Begier Front row (Left to Right): Red Corrick, Zad Vare, Chick Autrey, Husk Contade

The Healdsburg Prune Packers baseball team was organized in 1921, and headed up by former PCL Oakland Oaks pitcher, “Pop” Arlett. This was the era when “Babe” Pinelli, Lou Guisto, Carl Holling played for the Napa team, another steadfast Prune Packer rivalry. Like a lot of teams in the area, the Napans were known for hiring ringers when facing the Prune Packers. From 1921 through 1925, the Pierce Giants of Oakland had a standing invitation to play against the Healdsburg Prune Packers. There was always a big gate, and the Pierce Giants fan base from the East Bay often accompanied them to Healdsburg in groups as large as 400 people. The Pierce Giants of Oakland also traveled with a jazz band, and were highly sought after as a one-stop total entertainment value.

The Healdsburg Tribune-July 16, 1924

The Healdsburg Tribune-July 16, 1924

“Realizing that the game on the local baseball lot tomorrow is the toughest game of the season for them, the Pierce Colored Giants are reported from Oakland to be looking high and low for new playing material, of the proper brunette hue, to strengthen the team that is to line up against the Prune Packers.

So far the only definitive line on increased strength, however, is that addition of the So Different Jazz Band of the colored syncopationists that the Giants carry with them. It is the theory of the colored management that the proper sobbing note on the saxaphone[sic] at just the right moment will add strength to the bats of the dusky players, and that a curve ball thrown by a colored pitcher can be corkscrewed into unbelievable twist if it is urged by a raucous blast on a trombone.

These of course of are only theories, based on the old maxim, “Music hath charms” and it is doubtful if “Pop” Arlett and the Prune Packer aggregation will pay much attention to them. Healdsburg has twice defeated the Giants — one in a pitchers’ battle 1 to 0; the other time in a slugging match, 9 to 8, in 12 innings. It is the intention of the locals to make it three in a row, for nothing it to be gained by weakening the week before the Santa Rosa series starts.” — The Healdsburg Tribune, July 19, 1924

The deeper story that was not told here was the long standing relationship between former team mates and now opposing team leaders, “Pop”Arlett for the Healdsburg Prune Packers and Chet Bost of the Pierce Giants of Oakland, which reached back well over a decade when they both played for Elmhurst in the Oakland City Winter League. These two men were early pioneers of breaking the color line in baseball, who once integrated a team within a league, and  now were engaged in the playing of integrated baseball with an all white team pit against an Independent African American team that traveled all over the state of California during the height of Jim Crow in 1920’s America.

When all is said and done, the story itself involves union vs. non-union musicians and the love of jazz, that was rarely witnessed outside of Terrific Street in San Francisco, West Oakland, or South Berkeley. The battle between the American Federation of Musicians Local 6 in the Bay Area and African American musicians, particularly those that played jazz, is legendary. The best way and sometimes the only way to see the So Different Jazz Band, was to attend a privately sponsored functions, such as a ‘lady’s improvement club’ function, — or a baseball game — where ‘union rules’ of employment for musicians did not apply.

Segregation was one of the strongest factors in where African American jazz bands could be heard or seen live. Even black and tans which operated outside of the laws on most occasions, did so based on the money to be made by the club owners, crooked politicians, and the elite upper crust of society who enjoyed jazz music so much, that the risk was worth the reward in the long run. There is no doubt that African American baseball spread the sounds of jazz all over the nation, and that jazz and baseball were intrinsically tied to one another, by hook and sometimes by crook. Being hard pressed when asking, ‘where has the music of baseball gone?‘, we know that jazz was once the music of baseball that lasted over four decades. The untold story on “How Baseball Gave Us Jazz” is that one where the Pierce Giants of Oakland took the So Different Jazz Band with them when they barnstormed rural California, spreading good will, good cheer, good music, and good baseball wherever they landed.

Interview with “Sid” LeProtti by Turk Murphy, including “The Crave“, (the way Jelly showed me). Film footage of the So Different Cafe on Terrific StreetTexas Tommy and Barbary Coast Dancers featuring the So Different Jazz Band.

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

Oakland Giants-ii

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.

Grove St. Park-Cy Moreing-SFC-Mar. 12, 1912

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.

Cy Moreing-ii

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


Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 5.05.35 PM

Left to Right: Top Row: A. Thomas, unknown, N. “Tick” Houston, Herb Clarke, Nelson Watson (manager), Chet Bost, Richardson, unknown, Perry.
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

1896_recommended_state_highway_system_for_California

….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.

 

Options in Elmhurst: Echoes of the Past

Screen Shot 2019-03-01 at 1.03.54 PM

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.

Pop Arlett -PCl

1917 Zeenut — Alexander Benjamin “Pop” Arlett

Arlett Buzz-1925-ii

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.

Eddie Jackson-1911 San Leando-Western Jewelers-II

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.

Elmhurst-East Oakland 1896 map-ii

Elmhurst was once an all white neighborhood.

Today Elmhurst is East Oakland.

Chet Bost – The West Coast Linchpin

Oakland Tribune-Oak Leafs-2-13-1916-pg.30

Oakland Tribune-Oak Leafs, Feb. 13, 1916-pg.30

 

“These players were formerly on the Lynne-Stanley Giants Club, which will play under the Oak Leaf’s name.”

 

The Oak Leaf Club, sometimes called the Oak Leafs were in fact the Lynne-Stanley Giants.

Every once in a while, you run across this name: Chet Bost

Chester Allen Bost, was born on October 3, 1890, in Fresno, CA., to parents John and Alice Bost, who were originally from North Carolina, and migrated West before the Great Migration, between the years of 1888 and 1889. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, Chester A. Bost, better known as “Chet” was one of nine children. This large family owned their own home, free and clear of mortgage, at 128 M Street, in Fresno, CA.

John Bost, and Chet’s bother, James were ‘Teemers’, and more than likely worked at the Fresno Brewing Company, where they unloaded grain for beer making. Chet’s older brothers, William and John worked as a ‘boot black’ and ‘barber’, which added dollars to the family’s income and financial stability.

 

Chester Allen Bost-U.S. Census 1900

 

Lynne B. Stanley was an Oakland merchant, who owned a Men’s haberdashery , but was also one of Oakland’s principal community leaders.

Polk-Husted Directory Co.'s Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda directory v.1913-i

He sponsored auto racing, baseball, and was also the main founder of the Athens Athletic Club in Oakland. whose origin reaches back to 1919.

 

According to the Oakland Tribune, September 27, 1925:

It was in April, 1919. that Lynne Stanley then a local merchant, first broached the suggestion for such a club. He pointed out that nearly every important city had an athletic club, with a fine, modern building and with the leading citizens of the community in its membership, except Oakland. Stanley determined that Oakland should have such, an institution. Within the next few days he-had prepared a typewritten sheet stating that those whose names were undersigned would help organize an athletic club. Then he started out to get signatures. Stanley submitted his plan to one after another of the business and professional men of the city, obtaining a name here and another there.

 

Leaders lead. Lynne Stanley was a leader, and knew leadership quality when he found a young Chet Bost, and asked him to lead the Lynne Stanley Giants, one of the preeminent African American baseball teams on the West Coast. They played their seasons at Grove Street Park, Bayview (Ernie Raimondi ) Park, Klinknerville (Freeman’s) Park, and sometimes Oaks (Emeryville) Park.

Those are the basics.

Not much is known about Chet Bost, or how he got his start in baseball. Documenting his career in the early years is a laborious task, given what remains intact about his history in general. He played for a brief, but memorable period, for both the Occidentals of Utah and the Chicago Giants in 1911, before becoming the ‘captain’ of the Lynne Stanley Giants in 1914.

How long he played for the Occidentals or Chicago Giants is questionable, but he spent a longer period with the Occidentals, shortly before the State League went under. Records indicate that he played with the Occidentals from April 10 to July 16 of 1911.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 6.12.34 PMScreen Shot 2017-06-06 at 6.17.28 PM

Los Angeles Herald-Number 119,  January, 28, 1911

 

****McCormicks vs. Chicago Giants-Los Angeles Herald-Chet Bost-February 11-1911.pdf

Los Angeles Herald – McCormicks vs. Chicago Giants -February 11,1911

 

***Chet Bost-Salt Lake Tribune, 1911-04-16.pdf

Salt Lake Tribune, April 16, 1911

 

Salt Lake Tribune-1911-05-14-Swift Occidentals

Salt Lake Tribune-May 14, 1911

 

Bost Record-Salt Lake Tribune-1911-06-17-Occident

Salt Lake Tribune– June17, 1911

 

Bost hit two home runs in a single inning while playing for the Occidentals in 1911. Major League Baseball records showed that the last person to perform such a feat was Jake Stenzel (AL) of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1894, and the next would be Ken Williams (NL) of the St. Louis Browns in 1922. This accomplishment would make Bost a regional celebrity throughout the West for years to come.

In 1912, Bost would play shortstop for the Oakland Giants, a semipro team, managed by  a fellow named Watson. The Oakland Giants team was comprised of: “Herb” Clarke second base and team captain, B. Martin at first base, Houston at third base, Warwin Martin behind the plate, Hillary “Bullet” Meaddows pitching, Richardson in center field, with Durgan in left field and White in right field, and Hawkins as utility man. They would be the building blocks for the Lynne-Stanley Giants of 1913 and 1914.

By 1914, Bost had taken over as the position of team captain from Clarke, while Watson retained his position as manager, and with the financial backing of Lynne B. Stanley, the Lynne-Stanley Giants were born.

 

The Lynne Stanley Giants constitute the best colored baseball talent to be found in the bay county regions, and Manager Watson can brag of also having one of the fastest clubs around the country, for he has some men who have proved there ability in even faster company.

The Giants made the proud record in 1913 of winning 27 out of  32 games played, and they met such fast teams as the Modesto Reds, Sebastopol, Sam Mateo and Santa Rosa. The Lynne-Stanley Giants are even faster this season than last and have won a greater majority of their games by their fine fielding and strong hitting.

The infield is composed of experienced men at all positions. For Matthews at first base has more than proven that he can still dig them out of the dirt, and he save the infielders many an error by his clever work. “Herb” Clarke at second is considered a second “Jimmy” Johnston on account of his speed. He is very fast and a heady ballplayer and hits above the .300 mark at all times. “Bullet” Meaddows at third was the Giants mainstay in the box last season, but since he has shown his stellar work around third base to “Captain” Bost , there is not a chance of his being moved. He is a very good hitter and fast. “Chet” Bost, captain and short-stop, needs very little introduction. He trained under well-known baseball leaders. “Rube” Foster of the Chicago Giants and Frank Black of the Occidentals of the Utah State league, which one the pennant of 1910. Houston, Mitchell and Durrgan are this season — all hitting over the .300 mark, and it is very hard to drive a ball over this trios head, for they are all sure fielders with good throwing arms.” —- Oakland Tribune — edited by Bill Crosby, “Clever Colored Team, Which Plays Carnations Today” — July 5, 1914

 

Bost spent three years building the Lynne-Stanley Giants as one of the West most notable African American semi-pro teams. Which brings us to the year of 1916.

Soldiers returning from the Philippines, soldiers of the 24th Infantry stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco, is where Bost chose to ‘farm’ his new club. With Henry F. Hastings replacing Watson as ‘manager’, and the financial backing of Lynne B. Stanley gone, Bost reorganized the team he had helped build, and renamed them the Oakland Oak Leafs.

Hastings was a liquor salesman and a saloon keeper from Louisiana. In relationship to the time period, location of black owned businesses, and sporting events, Hastings fits into the picturesque seediness that was early West Oakland and Emeryville. Emeryville, CA. was the ‘Las Vegas of the East Bay’, long before Las Vegas was thought of.

Gambling, sporting events, book making, card clubs, saloons, race tracks, bootlegging and bordellos were all a part of the patchwork pattern of this industrial boomtown,  Every race, gender, and social class intermingled openly, in full view of the public within the borders of Emeryville when it came to gaming and sports.

Emeryville was also the home of the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League.

In mid-Feb. of 1916, Bost secured two new twirlers. One by the name of Salsbury, who was supposedly a “regimental star pitcher”.  The other, Blake, who was known for his curve ball. These two unknown pitchers were selected out of the nine regimental teams of the 24th stationed at the Presidio that returned from the Philippines in 1915. Salsbury was ‘sufficient’ as a fast ball pitcher, and Blake threw a mean, breaking curve ball, but as the season opener grew closer, his new picks (Scott, Brown, Blake, Smith, Salsbury and Daniels) would be shifted around to make room for additional members who had experience.

As “Captain” — Bost had high expectation for the Oak Leafs, and so did his returning players. By Feb. 20, 1916, “Henry” Hastings had lined up a squad of 17 men to choose from.

Houston, Richardson, Clarke, Meaddows, Bost, Dunlop, Salsbury, H. Smith, Scott, Blake, C. Smith, Brown, Couver, Swazie, Rhodes, Murillo, and Raymond. Pitching was still and issue though. Between Blake and Salsbury, both right handed tossers, Hastings was looking for something ‘special’. Hastings was in negotiations with Jimmy Claxton to bring his skills South to California and play in the Bay Area. Claude Couver, who had played with Claxton on the 1914 Lew Hubbard Giants (also known and the Colored Giants Of Portland) was already working out with the Oak Leafs in preparation for opening day.

In March of 1916, Claxton signed a ‘questionable’ contract with Gresham Giants of the Portland Inter-City League, in Oregon. Trouble was brewing within the league though. According to Ty Phelan, writer of “Dark Horse, The Jimmy Claxton Story“, Claxton dark hue caused significant problems for the “business men” who financed the Gresham Giants. This is more than likely the truth, but it would seem a cover story was needed.

 

“Considerable fuss has been stirred up because Eddie Bogart and Billy Stepp signed contracts with both the Gresham and St. John’s clubs. As the signed their names to Gresham parchments first, they will probably be declared property of that club.

Following are the players by the respective team leaders:

Gresham — Fred Garner, Tommy Townsend, Eddie Bogart, Billy Stepp, Ogden, Johnny Newman, Jimmy Claxton, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Roy Lund, Phillip Lind, Cack Blanchard, Phillips, Fred McKean, George White, “Tot” Manning, and O’Leary ” — The Sunday Oregonian — March 5, 1916

 

By March 21, 1916:

Morning Oregonian. (Portland, Or.) 186-1-March 21-1916

Morning Oregonian-March 21, 1916

 

Claxton made his way to the Oakland Bay Area, and was available for the season opener against the Bloomheart baseball team on Mar. 26, 1916, at 3:30 PM. Claxton probably reached Oakland, by train, on Mar. 22,  days before the Morning Oregonian reported on the 25th that “League Officials Meet: William A. Ross Retained As Manager Of Gresham“, only to pitch against U.C. Berkeley on the 24th . Having no time to familiarize himself with his new team, or they with him, the Oak Leafs lost to U.C. Berkeley by a score of 8 to 6 — with Claxton giving up nine walks, and five hits, and Meaddows, Richardson, Woods, and Brown, absent from the line-up.

At least Claxton was still alive. When men lose their jobs, they are likely to do anything.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire as the saying goes, must have been Claxton’s motto

 

Comedy Keeps This Team On Toes-O.T.-4-16-1916-pg. 41

Oakland Tribune — April 2, 1916

 

Within weeks, Claxton ruled on the mound in his new found home. Bost and Hastings were elated by his continued performance and successes. Reading multiple articles from the period and knowing the historical terrain the Oak Leafs were based in, one could sense that Claxton’s exceptional notoriety would bring unwanted exposure to the Oak Leafs as a team. This imported player from Portland out shined the men who built the Oak Leafs from the early Lynne-Stanley Giants. It didn’t matter though. Claxton was enjoying the spotlight. He was grateful to have a place to play, when in fact, he could have probably played anywhere in the nation, had the racial playing field been level when he was heading towards his peak.

Hastings was 100% business, even if some of it was illicit business. Bost was 100% team oriented and focused, and Claxton was 100% star, who needed guidance and grounding.

Mixing this combination with weekly barnstorming and league play, while replacing players on a whim, is a dangerous cocktail when trying to take a team to the top. Bost was caught in the middle, with no escape in sight. Hastings relied heavily on Bost to manage a winning ball club at all cost. Bost relied on Hastings for his financial support of the Oak Leafs and business acumen to draw crowds for the gate. The end sum result would be a very high turnover in players. Winning was important, and the Oak Leafs were definitely winners, but camaraderie within a team environment is crucial to its success, and it also cultivates its  longevity.

 

“Hastings is one of Oakland’s prominent business men and is trying to put the city in the limelight with an aggressive ball team. He sent away this season to import good talent for his team, as nothing but a winning team will suit him. He has his wires out now to land Dunlap of Vallejo, who is rated as a wonderful ball player. Hastings has put “Chet” Bost at the head of his team this season, as he thinks Chet’s ability is just about right, and he will cater only to the best of players for games this season, as he has a club that will compete with any of them.” —  Oakland  Tribune –“Comedy Keeps This Team On Toes” — April 2, 1916

 

Reported in the Oakland Tribune on May 14, 1916, that a week prior to the article, The Oak Leafs had once again beaten the No. 1 ranked Bloomheart team, by a score of 4 to 0. The caption read, “Oak Leafs Still Unbeatable“.

 

“Chet” Bost has the club going at top speed and deserves a lot of credit for the Brilliant manner in which the club has been going.

Jimmy Claxton and Couver are really a big league battery only in disguise, as they both are showing a lot of class, and with pitcher Dunlap are going to make the Oak Leafs some battery.

Claxton has struck out over eighty men in six games and in the last three only five hits and two runs have been made off him.

Scruggs, the new first baseman this season, is the best the club has had in years as he is a natural fielder and a good hitter.

Manager Hastings wants only to meet the fastest clubs and any of the country clubs can accept the invitation by communicating through Spauldings. Hastings says, “Just bring ’em on.” –Oakland Tribune, “Oak Leafs Still Unbeatable” — May 14, 1916

 

Many stories have been written about Claxton.

Most of them exclude his relationship with Chet Bost and Henry Hastings.

That two week period between May 14, 1916 and May 28, 1916, up to the day when Claxton first set foot on the mound for the Oakland Oaks of the PCL, are open for speculation. ‘Maggie’ the missing pig, the Oakland Oaks most prized mascot, supposedly eaten by the Oaks secretary — was not the reason the Oaks were in a slump, nor was it because Rowdy Elliot ‘rubbed’ the head of Erasmus Pinckney Johnson the wrong way, before a game in April against the Los Angeles Angels.

There are those who say that Claxton was introduced to Herb McFarland, Secretary of the Oakland Oaks, by a fellow named “Hastings” of Native American descent from Oklahoma, and that Claxton provided documentation asserting to the claim that he was indeed a person of ‘Native American’ descent. Others believe that Claxton was outed by a ‘friend’ who pointed Claxton out to Oaks officials at a bar on 7th Street in West Oakland, that ‘friend’ of course being Elliot himself.

From race to rumor, from rumor to superstition, killing the Claxton bird was worth two in the bush. The press he was receiving in those daysfrom main stream media, for an African American pitcher shutting out team after team in the West, as truly amazing.

Oakland needed a winning team, it just didn’t need to be the Oak Leafs.

Then again, there is ‘that photograph’, showing Claude Couver, Henry Hastings, and Jimmy Claxton of the Oakland Oak Leafs from the Oakland Tribune in April of 1916, and the endless reporting by the Oakland Tribune of Claxton’s success on the mound as an Oak Leafs southpaw — with an amazing strikeout record! Any seasoned reporter who might have checked on the reason why Claxton left Portland, and what team he played with prior to hurling for the Oak Leafs could have been ‘the culprit’ who outed him.

Claxton never returned to the Oak Leafs after his short stint with the Oakland Oaks.

The Oak Leafs played a few more games after that, but their new pitcher Scruggs wasn’t the same gate lure as Claxton. After Claxton left, Hasting had to move his team and give up Freeman’s Park as their home field spot. Moving the club to St. Mary’s College field, Hastings found it difficult to secure games with other teams. The Oak Leafs, formerly known as the Lynne-Stanley Giants would never reorganize next year, nor play under that name ever again. Claxton was a major draw when it came to home town fans, but there was no way he could return to play for the Oak Leafs after the Oakland Oaks debacle. It hit to close to home, and the wounds were still fresh.

The PCL farmed from semi-pro teams in the area, especially the Oakland Oaks, but no African American ever attempted to enter J. Cal Ewing‘s all-white baseball dynasty. And now, Ewing’s front office had inadvertently hired a “colored fellow” as a pitcher, from a extremely well known African American semi-pro club, in the local area.

 

“If I were a player working for McCredie, and he asked me to go out and play against these colored fellows, I would refuse to do it for him.”…

“There are two classes I bar from playing on my ball park—colored tossers and bloomer girls. They will never use any park I control.” — The Morning Oregonian – J. Cal Ewing –“Coast Magnates Draw Color Line”, January 24, 1914

 

After Claxton left the the Oak Leafs permanently, the Oak Leafs fell apart. According to Bost 1917-1918 World War I Draft Registration, he worked as a “Ice Cream Porter” at Bowen Ice Cream Company in his hometown of Fresno. Bowen Ice Cream Company would have a change of ownership in September of 1917, selling lock, stock and barrel to the Weimer brothers who brought in new equipment to increase production to 1,500 gallons a day.  It would be close to three years before Chet Bost would play for a truly significant team again.

 

1917-1918_0605_draft_registration_bost-ii

1917-1918 World War I Draft Registration, Chester Allen Bost

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 1.41.29 PM

Ice Cream Review, Vol. 2, September 1917

 

Bost played for local teams, like the Weilheimer Giants in 1917, sponsored by L.H. Weilheimer, Indian (motorcycle) Agent, who had dissolved his partnership with Hertwick & Weilheimer, and taking over Mr. Hertwick’s interest in the business. Building a new showroom, Weilheimer needed as much publicity as he could afford. The Weilheimer Giants were more of a advertising platform for Weilheimer’s new business venture. Weilheimer was certainly not as sport minded as Lynne B. Stanley. His main focus was on all that was motorcycles and mechanical, which led to patents on motorcycle devices, including like the ‘Moto Meter and Radiator Cap Lock ‘ in 1919.

The Shadow Giants seem to have been Bost’s 1918 attempt to get a local team going after Weilheimer pulled his backing. Eddie Jackson was ‘captain’ of the Shadow Giants, and played catcher as well. Gene Cooper, who played for the Los Angles White Sox, pitched for the Shadow Giants. Billy “Bullet” Woods held down short stop.

The 1919 Shasta Limiteds were a different group though under the ownership of Tod Graham. Bost seemed to be getting back on track, gathering a team that compiled such men as Billy Woods, Goldie Davis, Gene Cooper, Jimmy Claxton, Carlisle Perry, Houston, and Hillary Meaddows, and Eddie Jackson as his co-Capatain.

 

Shasta Giants 1919-20

1919 Shasta Limiteds, Northwest Dispatch –February 7, 1983 — courtesy of Ty Phelan

 

Oakaland Tribune-Jun 30-1919

Oakland Tribune — June 30, 1919

Great Game Between Tractors And Shasta Team Ends In Ninth-Inning Row: San Leandro Mayor Puts Stop To Greatest Bush Game Ever Put On Here. Bad Decision by LaRue and Too Much Baumgarten Is Cause Of Near Riot.Oakland Tribune — By Eddie Murphy — June 30, 1919

 

C.L. Best Tractors were the 1918 Mission League Champions. So on that fateful day, the 30th of June 1919, a lot was at stake. ( In 1925, C. L. Best Tractor Company and Holt Manufacturing Company merged to form Caterpillar Tractor Company )

C. L. Best Gas Traction Co. Tractors baseball team-1918-were the Mission League champions

C.L. Best Tractors 1918

 

The main topic among the bush baseball fans this week will be the game to be played at San Leandro next Sunday afternoon in which the C. L. Best Tractors of that town and the Shasta the colored organization of Oakland, will clash In the first battle of their three-game series. The game is expected to figure in deciding the bush championship of Northern California, and also promises a great pitching battle between Johnny Gillespie and Jimmy Claxton. the strikeout kings of the bushes. The colored boys have met the best amateur teams and held their own, but it will be the first time they clashed with the Tractors.” Oakland Tribune — June 23, 1919

 

This game would be the first game of a three game series, Gillespie vs. Claxton, for the semi-pro championship of Northern California. Bost was placed in the middle once again. The first game of the series was deemed a ‘tie’, although it involved a lot more than a dueling battle between Claxton and Gillespie. Bost, as “captain” of the Shasta Limiteds was thrust into the middle again. In the ninth inning, Bost was tasked with protecting Umpire Larue from fans who thought Larue made a bad a call at home plate.

A fellow named ‘Jake Baumgarten”, who seemed to be a agitator/spectator, caused havoc on the field that day, when a bad call was made in the ninth inning by Umpire, Louie Larue, allowing for the tied score of 1-1. Baumgarten was the umpire that Risberg had leveled with a single blow after he called a third strike on Risberg. Baumgarten was not officiating the game, but felt compelled to speak his mind about the bad call, and other things. He took a megaphone and headed towards the center of the diamond.

Kelly Boyer Sagert and Rod Nelson, write a terrific biography about Swede Risberg, where it mentions Swede having to skip town after having a run in with ‘a man’ at a White Sox team hotel in New York.

The Oakland Tribune states:

“Charley (Swede) Risberg, Chicago White Sox player is not the only one who can boast a one-second decision over Jake Baumgarten. Yesterday afternoon at the San Leandro ball park the biggest crowd to witness any bush game this season was out and hoping to see the C.L. Best Tractors and the Shasta Limited battle for the Northern California bush championship. They saw part of it, and the reason they did not see it all was because Jake Baumgarten made himself a little too busy trying to tell those fans what they should do. The result was a big crowd after Jake and the first fellow to arrive within reach of him planted his paw squarely on his mouth. Jake lost a tooth or two.

Jake was rescued by a few fellows who did not want to see murder committed. but Jake got mad and went out on the field with a bat. He came to Eddie Jackson, catcher of the Shastas, and Eddie being a little too wise for Jake let his fist fly and Jake hit the ground almost as quick as he did the time Risberg dropped him for the count at one of the Shipbuilder’s League games.” — Oakland Tribune — “Great Game Between Tractors And Shasta Team Ends In Ninth-Inning Row“– By Eddie Murphy — June 30-1919″

 

O.T.-Great Game Between Tractors And Shasta Team Ends In Ninth-Inning Row"- June 30-1919

Oakland Tribune — “Great Game Between Tractors And Shasta Team Ends In Ninth-Inning Row” — By Eddie Murphy — June 30-1919″

It seems that the entire 3 game series was filmed by the TRIBUNE-KINEMA man, including the fight.

 

Before the game Mayor Felton, Judge Gannon, C.L. Best, Manager Bill Wagner, and Toney Enos of the Tractors and Tod Graham of the Shastas, along with players of both clubs. paraded to the flagpole in center field, and hoisted the TRIBUNE pennant won by the Tractors while the movie man was busy turning the crank.

Many fans will want to see the movies so they will know for themselves just how the play at the plate which ended the game should have been decided. — Oakland Tribune — “Great Game Between Tractors And Shasta Team Ends In Ninth-Inning Row” — By Eddie Murphy — June 30-1919″

 

Bob Shand, of the Oakland Tribune,  tells a similar, but slightly different version of the C.L, Best Tractors vs. Shasta Limiteds ninth inning brawl that day.

 

O.T.-San Leandro Game Breaks Up In A Row-June 30-1919

Oakland Tribune — “San Leandro Game Breaks Up In A Row” — by Bob Shand—  June 30, 1919

Baumgarten’s major complaint, it would seem, had to do with the mention of “betting on ball games”. By witnessing LaRue’s bad call, he felt the game was rigged. Baumgarten was ejected from the playgrounds. It was a very exciting day in San Leandro.

 

One final team that Bost played for was the Oakland Pierce Giants.

Chet Bost-Oakland Pierce Giant

 

If relevant to your post, perhaps mention that (in 1923, I think) as a member of the Oakland Pierce Giants he and his teammates partied with Zenimura and the other members of the Fresno Athletic Club.”, — was a comment shared with this writer, by Bill Staples Jr., author of “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer“.

The word ‘relevant’ leads  to the U.S. Census Record for 1920 in Alameda, where Chet Bost lived in Japantown, and shared part of a duplex-house on Park Street with a man named “Kodama”, while working in the Oakland Shipyards as a laborer. Mary Dyson, an older widow, was the owner of the duplex. Renting her property to African American and Japanese men didn’t seem to bother her in the least. More than likely, Bill’s story about Zenimura’s Fresno Athletic Club partying together with Bost and the Oakland Pierce Giants  is true — along with the other stories that have been bandied around about Chester Allen Bost.

Without “Captain” Chet Bost at the helm taking risk, playing with multiple teams in the West, and building quite a few of them from scratch like the Oak Leafs, there would have never been a 1916 Jimmy Claxon Zeenut card worth $15,000 in (NM) mint condition.

If you can find one.

Claxton may be the reason you never hear much about the Oak Leafs, formerly known as the Lynne-Stanley Giants.

Chet Bost is the reason they’ll always endure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save

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: Byron “Speed” O’Reilly And The 1928 Western American Baseball League

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve used Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows as a tracking system to research the inception and development of the Berkeley Colored League.

Ryan Whirty got me hooked on researching the Berkeley Colored League much more deeply than I had before when he interviewed me for his article, “World Series: During the Great Depression, a Wild Experiment in Baseball History Defied Segregation“.  Not just because my grandfather and great uncles played in the league, but because during my research, I grew quite fond of the African American journalist, first and foremost, who put the league together. Byron “Speed” O’Reilly is a truly fascinating man, with extreme journalistic talents. I was lucky enough to meet him when I was a child, and I remember him well enough, although I had no idea at the time who he actually was. All I knew of him at that time, was that he was my grandfather’s friend. What I hadn’t known, before I began this on this long quest, was how important he was to the African American community as a journalist of note.

Jimmie Smith, of the the California Eagle during the 1920’s, was an African American sports journalist of some note. I sometimes wonder if Byron took his lead from Jimmie Smith. They had similar styles and taste when it came to writing about sports. Jimmie provided an opinion editorial column for the California Eagle in 1924, with a particular focus on baseball and boxing. It was aptly called, “Hung Out” by Jimmie Smith. He dished all the dirt he could about what happens behind the sporting scene, revealing his opinion on activities concerning sports teams and sporting figures, giving his readers a blow by blow account of incidents that took places involving the insiders of professional and amateur sport in the Los Angeles area, and and across the nation as well. His weekly editorial featured a logo, which had a clothesline held up by two baseball bats on either end, with dirty laundry hanging on the line, and a pair of boxing gloves in the upper right hand corner.

CE-1924-Hung Out-Jimmie Smith-6-6-1924-i

“Hung Out, by Jimmie Smith”, California Eagle-June 6, 1924

He was a shameless promoter of the 1924 Carrol Giants, a business venture struck up by Will Carrol and Lonnie Goodwin for summer league play in Los Angeles at the newly remodeled Goodyear park, until the Carrol Giants failed to show up one Sunday for  scheduled game. He then became their worse critic.

CE-1924-Hung Out-Jimmie Smith-7-18-194

“Hung Out, by Jimmie Smith”, California Eagle-July 18, 1924

Byron “Speed” O’Reilly was much more ambitious than Jimmie Smith. He often traveled with the last remnants of the now-defunct Steve Pierce Oakland Pierce Giants, documenting their barnstorming adventure for the Western American, a small African American newspaper published in Oakland that was short lived. They now played under the name, the Royal Colored Giants Of Oakland, playing games as from Lodi, California against the Victor Tops, to games as far south as Santa Cruz against the Padres. These were more ‘exhibition games’, keeping the players skills honed and sharp, and there names alive out there in the Central Valley and Coastal areas of California. They picked up games wherever they could. In a news article in the Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, dated July 8, 1927, on page 8, the Oakland Colored Giants would play a series of games against the Santa Cruz Padres, which would end on July 19, 1927.

It was stated in the article on July 8, 1927, that “They are not only a star lot of ball players, but figure strong as comedians and the fans will surely get a real kick out of their latest sketch, “A Shadow Baseball Game.” It has created a barrel of fun wherever presented and has the endorsement of Nick Altrock, regarded as the greatest clown in baseball.“[1]. This article mentions the term “Shadow Baseball”, otherwise known as ‘Shadow Ball’, two full years before the Stock Market Crash of 1929 or the beginning of the Great Depression. The reference itself, referring to the men who played the pantomime game for the crowd of spectators, while also using it to refer to the men themselves as ‘Shadows’. In the Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, Page 8, dated, July 9th, 1927, the Jim Crow journalist referred to Royal Colored Giants of Oakland as the “Sons Of Ham“[2].

The Oakland Colored Giants of these articles, between July 8th and July 19th in the Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz that played against the Santa Cruz Padres, were actually the Royal Colored Giants of Oakland, and more often than not, Jim Crow newspaper journalist would misquote their team name and their personal monikers also. This is due to the fact that there had been many African American teams from the Bay Area who held the name “Giants”. This was not a Chet Bost team. Their line up included, Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows at second base, Bobby Briand (Brown) at third base, “Sharkey” Winston Auther at shortstop, Robert “Doak” Collins in left field, John Dean in right field, and Lonis Coins in center field. Charlie Reid and Ernest Elliot traded off as pitcher and catcher, while Smith played first base and acted as a relief pitcher when needed. It was a very tight knit crew, and it was Byron “Speed” O’Reilly’s core in building the the Berkeley Colored League.

By September 12 1927, the Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, in an article called, “And They Call Him Speed O’Reilly” states that Byron “Speed” O’Reilly, sporting editor of the Western American was named manager of the Royal Colored Giants of Oakland [3]. This seemed to be the turning point in Byron “Speed” O’Reilly sports promotion career. By maintaining his position as a sports editor for the Western American, while being named manager for the Royal Colored Giants of Oakland, these two positions would place Byron in a position to promote Negro Baseball in the East Bay area on his terms, while building a league of his own. A year later, in 1928, the Berkeley Daily Gazette mentions a league called the Western American Baseball League. Could the small African American news publication be the formal sponsor of this newly formed Negro Baseball League in the Oakland and Berkeley East Bay Area?

BG-WABL-Close Games Mark Negro League Play-6-27-1928

Berkeley Daily Gazette, June 27, 1928

The Royal Colored Giants of Oakland still barnstormed here and there on occasion as a pick-up squad, receiving part of the gate for putting on a show for the spectators that gathered from near and far to see them play. But by 1931, most of them were deeply entrenched in East Bay Baseball league play, leaving their barnstorming days behind them, by finding a permanent home at San Pablo Park in Berkeley, California.

1) Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, dated, July 8, 1927, Page 8

2) Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, dated, July 9, 1927, Page 8

3) Santa Cruz Evening News from Santa Cruz, dated, September 12, 1927, Page 8

Negro League Baseball: The Rise, Fall, And Transformation Of The Oakland Pierce Giants

As was stated in my last post, concerning  “The Oakland Pierce Giants“, Bill Staple’s made certain references to the Oakland Pierce Giants taking the field under many different monikers, in his book, “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer“. Bill contacted me about after reading my post. My comment was not an attack on his book. After many years of researching the information for myself, I’ve come to the conclusion and realization about researching African American baseball on the West coast based on Jim Crow era news articles, or hearing stories told by an aging elder, whose memory isn’t a sharp as it used to be. The task that lays ahead of us, is even more daunting than one could imagine. Those of us who consider ourselves historians of African American baseball have many tough obstacles laid out before us, and sometimes a comment can be misconstrued or taken as a slight of someones hard work and efforts in uncovering detailed events never before seen by the public. I’ll make my assertions based on these facts alone with the data that has been presented to me through my own research; unless the reporter slash journalist states the names of the player(s),  or gives a line-up in the article in the teams you’re researching, I cannot assume any of the teams with like-sounding names sported the same players.

It really isn’t anything personal, and Bill reached out to me and offered to show me his research findings on the Oakland Pierce Giants, over a period of time, when the opportunity presents itself. I’m sure he’s a very busy man. I appreciate his offer, because the task of documenting African American baseball, or any early ethnic baseball team or league on the West Coast can be a bear for those of us who go at it full bore. With that in mind, I’d like to extend the offer of my research findings out to Bill and other SABR members, who are interested in setting the records straight for posterity. Because exploring the social dynamic differences and interactions between Eastern, North Eastern, Midwestern, Southern, and Western African American baseball teams, and other ethnic baseball teams, is truly imperative to those of us who want to set the records straight in the 21st Century.

Having said that…

There were many teams that called themselves one or another version of “Giants” that hailed from California, and Chet Bost may or may not have been involved with some of them. One of those teams that called themselves the “Giants”, was the Shasta Limiteds, which featured Jimmy Claxton, former hurler for the PCL’s Oakland Oaks. That was– until he was outed by Rowdy Elliot for being less than forthcoming about his African American heritage. Byron “Speed” O’Reilly tells a very interesting story about that memorable West Oakland incident that cost Jimmy Claxton his position with the Oakland Oaks.

C.G. Bradford was manager for the Shasta Limiteds, who were also known as the Negro Giants Of California. Bost is mentioned in one article I found, and it connects him to the Shasta Limiteds. It is my belief, that because Jimmy Claxton played for a team that referred to themselves “the Giants” when deemed appropriate, and the average individual assumes that it was the Oakland Pierce Giants. I haven’t been able to verify any information that ties Claxton to the Oakland Pierce Giants or Chet Bost. There is a blog out there that says Claxton played for Bost, but it offers no access to verify their findings or the teams they played on together. It only mentions Bost in passing, more as a footnote to Claxton performance as an individual. The article below explains how this was probably a singular exception. Information on Claxton’s life and baseball career between 1916 and 1919 is sparse. The “Oakland aggregation” mentioned in the article below was more than likely the Oakland Pierce Giants that had served the Shasta Limiteds their only defeat for that season in 1919.

Bears To Meet Negro Nine Here-6-2-1919-i

Bears To Meet Negro Nine Here-6-2-1919-ii

The Evening News, San Jose June 3, 1919

The Shasta Limiteds, as a team name carried a moniker that represented  a strong social connection within the African American community. This is something I’ll be discussing in future blogs. This connection between the early African American baseball players and the transcontinental railroad system, as it was the preferred form of travel is seldom discussed among the SABR community. The Shasta Limiteds, as they were ‘officially’ called, used this personal name, referring to themselves after a ‘express train’ that traveled, daily, between Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California. The Southern Pacific line used Pullman Porters, and the Shasta Limited De Luxe, was an “exclusive extra-fare train catering to the most elite of passengers” [1]. It required the best of the best to work the Pullman Sleeping Car that travled the Portland to San Francisco express route on a twenty-seven hour turn around.  Most of the West Coast African American baseball players of the early days, were tied intrinsically to the Pullman Porters, the Red Caps, and the Oakland Mole in one way or another. This helped foster the growth of West Oakland, which was also known as the Harlem Of The West, during the 1920’s to 1940’s.

Southern Pacific Co's Broad Gauge Mole Oakland CA 1687

The Oakland Mole-Transcontinental Railroad Terminus

One of the things I’ve noticed in my research, that during the era of Jim Crow journalism, the writers used repetitious referencing to African American baseball teams as either ‘fast’ or ‘comedic’. This was commonplace and seemed to be the required social perception of that period in American history. It seemed to be part of an overall marketing strategy used by promoters and journalist in those days to fill the ball parks. Specific terminology like ‘fast or ‘comedic’ made the Caucasian viewing public feel safe. Enough so, that engaging with African Americans to play within the confines of their cloistered and protected neighborhood, white patrons needed to hype the style of African American ball play as a selling point to fill the seats.

This is partly do to the fact that some African American teams represented themselves that way, in order to procure gainful employment during the Great Depression, while presenting themselves as entertainers as well as sportsmen, in a world which limited them only by the color of their skin. Jim Crow journalist often gave their readership the impression that coming to see African Americans baseball players engage Caucasians players on their home fields was a dangerous and heady proposition. It was a major selling point for those who felt the need to live dangerously within the confines of their community, even though no real danger actually existed. Sometimes, a Jim Crow journalist would mention the fact that a lot of  African American teams bringing a large constituency of fans with them. Sundown towns in California, seldom saw so many African Americans is one locale, especially their own county or township. This often left the reader of this type of news with an sense of danger or excitement, depending on their visceral response to African Americans venturing to their town for a game. The fact that the Shasta Limited also chose to call themselves “Giants”, was because their mere size was a crowd drawing feature that reached beyond their color. Jimmy Claxton is a prime example of someone who was often described by his 6 foot 4 stature as a “Giant”, while at the same time conversely referred to as a “little Jimmy Claxton” [2], or “Jimmy is a little fellow, only six feet four inches tall” [3] .

Try, as I may, I cannot substantiate everything that has been said about the concepts surrounding the “The Colored Giants“, “Shadow Giants“, “Lynne-Stanley Giants“, “Weilheimer Giants“, “Pierce Giants“, “Oaks“, and “Oak Leafs“, or that they were all teams nurtured by C.A. “Chet” Bost. What I can do is confirm the existence of the the Negro Giants Of California (also known as the Shasta Limiteds), the Colored Giants of Oakland, the Lynne-Stanley Giants, the Nehi Giants (of the Berkeley Winter League), the Royal Colored Giants of Oakland, the San Francisco Giants (sometimes called the San Francisco Colored Giants), the Oakland Giants, and the Oakland Pierce Giants. After reading so many articles, where the team name differs, but the line-up remains the same a week later, even though there has been no change in sponsorship, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Jim Crow journalist at that time were not interested enough in the players to get the team’s name correct. Because even though the sportsmanship may have excelled by those participating in the scheduled events, it was still only for the purpose of exhibition and not–social recognition.

I am almost certain that Chet Bost had very little to do with the most of these teams other than the Shasta Limiteds and the Oakland Giants. The Oakland Pierce Giants left a distinct paper trail of familiar names of players, using them over and over again on reconstituted teams, until they would eventually become the core group of individuals that initiated the Western American Baseball League, and eventually morph into the Berkeley Colored League.

When Steve Pierce’s Oakland Pierce Giants won the Northern California Semi-Pro Championship, in league play against the San Francisco Eagles, a cycle of events would take place, where the certain names appear for the discerning eye.

CE-1924-Pierce Giants Cinch North California Championship

The California Eagle, August 1, 1924

I haven’t had a chance to research the San Francisco Eagles as deeply as I would have liked to do before writing this post, but the name that stuck out most in my eye was their pitcher, “Elliot”. I’m certain that this was Ernest Elliot of the Berkeley Colored League, and he was one of the starting pitchers for the Royal Colored Giants Of Oakland [4], during the the creation phase of the Western American Baseball League in 1927.

The remaining facts of this story are this: The Oakland Pierce Giants would remain the Northern California Semi-Pro Champions of 1924. The Jasper All Stars, which had replaced the Carrol Giants earlier that year, defeated the Glendale White Sox, and would be considered the Southern California Semi-Pro Champions [5] by default— because no actual series ever took place. Lonnie Goodwin never accepted Steve Pierce’s challenge for a State Champion series and could not find a park to play in at the time of the offer. Manager John Jasper never negotiated a series between the Jasper All Stars and the Oakland Pierce Giants with Steve Pierce. By February 1925, the Oakland Pierce Giants were left to the own design, when Steve Pierce bought the Detroit Stars, eventually heading East and leaving the 1924 Northern California Champions to fend for themselves, by barnstorming here and there in California, which became a way of life for those who continued to play as a ‘team’, until they could find new leadership that would nurture their talents to build a league.

CE-Steve Pierce Of Oakland Buys Detroit National Team-2-13-1925-i

CE-Steve Pierce Of Oakland Buys Detroit National Team-2-13-1925-ii

The California Eagle, February 13, 1925

1) “Southern Pacific Passenger Trains”, by Brian Solomon, Voyageur Press, Page 88

2) Shasta Limited Nine To Meet Bears”, San Jose Evening News, June 6. 1919

3) “Bears To Meet Negro Nine Here”, Evening News, San Jose California, June 3, 1919, page 5

4] “Gene Valla To Lead Padres In Game Against Colored Giants”, The Santa Cruz Everning News from Santa Cruz, July 9, 1927

5) Headline-“ALL STARS SEMI-PRO CHAMPS”, The California Eagle, August 27, 1924, Page 9

Negro League Baseball: The Oakland Pierce Giants

 

The Oakland Pierce Giants

I had heard that Charlie Reid pitched for the Oakland Pierce Giants, but I’d never seen him in uniform until a picture of them. .

The Oakland Pierce Giants, according to Bill Staples book, “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer“, were called “The Colored Giants“, “Shadow Giants“, “Lynne-Stanley Giants“, “Weilheimer Giants“, “Pierce Giants“, “Oaks“, and “Oak Leafs“. I’m not really sure how he accessed this information is, because my research shows different completely different data. At some point, I hope we can exchange our findings.

I used what know as the bullet proof method of tracking down information when it came to the Oakland Pierce Giants. Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows proved to be an invaluable source when it came to tracking down the players of the Oakland Pierce Giants, and how the evolved into what would become the genesis team/group for the Berkeley Colored League, which was started by Byron “Speed” O’Reilly.

I’ve only been able to locate one small article on the Lynne-Stanley Giants, where they defeated the Wixsons, by a score of 5 to 3, at Grove Street Park, in Berkeley on August 18th, 1913. And, I was only able to locate that by chance, finding Meaddows mentioned in the article. Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows, sometime called “Rapid Fire” Meaddows was a phenomenal player, according to many news articles and my Grandfather, “Big Sharkey” Winston Auther. According to my calculations, and the articles I was able to obtain, Hilary “Bullet” Meaddows played the game of baseball for well over twenty-two years. He played with everyone from Chet Bost to Jimmy Claxton, Yellowhorse Morris, all the way to Sunny Jim Bonner. He played his early years as a hard-hitting second baseman, sometimes switching to shortstop and even hurling on the mound when needed. His base stealing skills are legendary. In his own words, “I’m and old man, but I’m a good one“.

Charlie Reid was also a phenomenal pitcher that most Negro baseball historians have never heard of, but is a well known figure in the East Bay Area.  Charlie is known to have pitched against the like of Chick Hafey, Buzz Arlett, Ernie Lombardi, and Lefty Gomez. This might seem unusual to some, because even though it is well known among the African American community of the San Francisco Bay Area, not many people outside of “Shadow Ball” arena know about the skill level of those African Americans that played the game of baseball against their Caucasian contemporaries, at a time when being semi-pro was the only option you had on the West Coast, based on the era of Jim Crow in America. The Charles Reid Foundation is still very active today and has brought happiness, annually, to hundreds of at-risk youths living in Richmond, CA. by helping them develop life skills that will help excel in their future.

Charles Reid ball player

Charlie Reid

I’ve been recently researching the Carrol Giants of Los Angeles, which was a team owned by Will Carrol and managed by Lonnie Goodwin, when I came across this article.

CE-1924-Oakland Pierce Giants May Play Here Labor Day

The California Eagle, July 26, 1924

The Carrol Giants were a short lived team, who I believe the owner, Will Carrol, absconded with the teams funds and didn’t pay his field fees, and thus was locked out of Goodyear Park. Will Carrol was responsible for the money and business side of the Carrol Giant’s team, and after a series of early losses, I believe he couldn’t handle the pressure of team building. Soon after, the Japser All-Stars. lead by mananger/owner John Jasper would fill the void left by the Carrol Giants. Jasper’s crew had players like Slowtime Evans and Bob Fagen. Fagen was was eventually chosen to lead the Jasper All-Stars as their manager and wrote a series of articles called, “My Experience As A Manager” for the 1924 California Eagle newspaper. He based his experience at at managing and leadership qualities on his ideal manager of managers, Lonnie Goodwin.

What he had to say about ball players of any professional magnitude, and why they might consider playing in the West as opposed to the East, would be their ability to play baseball year around as opposed to five months a year, in he article called “West vs. East“. He stated that the players from the West are in better condition and seldom left there small towns where they were comfortable. But, his emphatic statement about the main reason being that “managers don’t want to pay sufficient salaries to beginners from the bushes.“, speaks volume to what I’ve been saying to members of the SABR community for months now. The social dynamics and opportunity for African American men during the days of Jim Crow kept some of the best players close to that opportunity.

I’m not sure that Gary Ashwill or Bill Staples will agree with me on the issue of why some of the best African American baseball players remained in the West, or those that played in the Negro League Majors, left the league and headed West to make a life for themselves. Some will continue to state that they were in their declining years as sportsmen. The social dynamic of securing a park to hold seasonal play was also a major limiting factor, and there’s was a lot of mileage and land between Kansas City and California. The African American population in both the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County was sparse in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Great Migration was a move from the South to the North, and to the North East and Midwest in most cases. The West was an oasis for the African American who stayed and built a life, but it still wasn’t free of Jim Crow. One added advantage of living in the West was one wasn’t limited to playing baseball for a living, and if the truth be told, a lot of players from the East were limited by their options in the days of Jim Crow to only playing baseball for a living.

As Charlie Reid stated, “I played for several other semi-pro teams in Vallejo, Martinez and just about every city in Northern California. Some times I made as much as $100 for pitching one ball game.

$100 was a lot of money between 1912 and 1934. It was especially a lot of money for playing “semi-pro” ball in a single game, when it was a known fact that Eastern League teams had difficulties paying their players on time, or never paid enough to keep them from jumping teams to make a decent, livable wage. These long standing semi-pro teams of the West could match the skills of any Eastern teams they came across, but it was really a money ball type of existence for Western African American baseball players. Exhibition games paid better than the standard league play, but if there was some accolades for winning against one of the best teams or players, or just playing them for bragging rights, the players from the West would pick up their gloves, travel to areas unwelcomed, and play for the sake of a story to tell later on.

I will explain in a future post how the Oakland Pierce Giants morphed into the Royal Colored Giants of Oakland, and they would become the flagship of the Berkeley Colored League, lead by the indefatigable Byron “Speed” O’Reilly.

Time to go make some Christmas Gumbo for the family.

Save