BIRMINGHAM—Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, the oldest living professional baseball player, will throw out the first pitch at the annual Rickwood Classic played at America's oldest ballpark. Radcliffe, who played for more than twenty Negro League teams during his 36-year career in baseball, played for the Birmingham Black Barons during the early 1940s. Read the full story in the Birmingham News.
Throughout the 1930s the Piney Woods Country Life School built upon it's reputation as one the country's premier preparatory institutions for college-bound African-American students. During this period the school discovered a novel method of raising funds and spreading a favorable public relations message throughout the county—the Piney Woods Giant Collegians baseball team.
Barnstorming throughout the country the team, variously known as the Giants and Giant Collegians, played a high brand of baseball against professional squads, semipro teams and amateur town nines. An excellent (and entertaining) overview of the team's colorful history can be found at the Diamond Angle website.
During the Great Depression baseball fans along the Atlantic seaboard may have had very little silver in the pockets, but they could certainly watch a sterling performance on the diamond when the Baltimore Silver Moons came to town.
During the mid-1930s the roadways of the mid-Atlantic states were heavily trafficked by independent baseball squads, each of them vying for their share of the scarce entertainment dollars of regional fans. Teams that played a "fast" brand of ball were more likely to find success, and those that combined fast baseball with high quality entertainment quickly developed a following that guaranteed them return engagements in the ballparks of the region. The all-black Silver Moons was such a club, usually treating fans to a solid, professional baseball performance as well as the entertaining routines of an umpire (employed by the team) that the Frederick (MD)Post newspaper referred to as "the life of the party."
The Silver Moons began life as the "Baltimore Pirates", booking games in 1932 and 1933 against area amateur, semipro and minor league teams. As their reputation for solid entertainment spread throughout the region the team became increasingly in demand. Looking to further enhance their appeal as a quality "attraction" the team adopted the intriguing "Silver Moons" moniker for the 1934 season.
In 1934 the Silver Moons drew record crowds in middle-market ballparks. The team began the season with a slick fielding infield, a full slate of faster-than-most baserunners, but found their pitching staff thin and lineup lacking in power at the plate. These shortcomings proved increasingly apparent as the season wore on, and the team failed to live up to it's self-claimed title of "colored champions of Baltimore".
The Moons suffered several embarrassing late season defeats at the hands of their hometown rivals, the Baltimore Giants, and dropped several games by embarrassing margins to lesser team, including a few amateur squads. As the team's on-field fortunes diminished, so did the Silver Moons' fortunes as a gate attraction. The team disbanded at the end of the 1934 season.
During the 1940s Wendell Smith at the Pittsburgh Courier and Sam Lacy at the Baltimore Afro-American waged an unrelenting battle in the black press against segregation in professional baseball. But, while the mainstream press virtually ignored the issue, Lacy and Smith did not wage their battle without the aid of at least one white sportswriter--Lester Rodney.
Just as history has overlooked so many of the men who labored in the fields of baseball's Negro Leagues, so has it overlooked the significant contributions made by Lester Rodney. Why? Because he was a communist. Rodney maintained an incessant barrage against baseball's color ban for ten years in the pages of New York's widely distributed communist Daily Worker, and his efforts bore considerably fruit.
It seems unlikely that a white entrepreneur from Iowa would put together one of the most powerful and long lived teams in Negro League history. On the other hand, this was only one of the contributions that J. L. Wilkinson made to the game of baseball.
Former Chicago American Giants star Thomas "High Pockets" Turner celebrated his 90th birthday on June 22. The News Democrat (Georgetown, Ohio) has a feature article by Katie Chadwell that takes a closer look into Turner's life and career in baseball, as well as an insightful look into the day-to-day life and experience of professional black players during the era of racial segregation in America. Read the full article here.
Thirteen years before Rube Foster organized his Negro National League in Kansas City a group of baseball pioneers met in Indianapolis with a vision to form a viable professional Negro baseball circuit. In November, 1907 a group of ten delegates met in Indianapolis for the purpose of forming the National Colored Baseball League.
Cities represented at the meeting were Toledo, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Kansas City, St. Paul and Nashville. The intention of the meeting was to form a league consisting of eight regular member teams and two affiliated teams. Each club was to be formed as an independent stock company. The league never materialized.
In the early years of the 20th Century professional baseball was a wild affair on the west coast. Playing second fiddle to Pacific Coast League franchises, the rough and tumble teams of the California State League battled with dozens of semipro squads, both white and black, for the attention of local fans.
Traveling teams from outside the Golden State also found California fans eager to put up their money to see high caliber baseball. Not the least of these out-of-state squads was the Salt Lake City Occidentals, a traveling "Negro League" squad that claimed to be the "Colored World Champions."