Military baseball in the Northwest

Everett_PAE_07 (1)

(Aerial view of Paine Field today)

Garner Booker was, you could say, an Okie from Muskogee (apologies to Merle!) when he arrived at the Paine Field air base in Everett, Wash., shortly after enlisting in the Army in February 1942.

Born in that city in 22 years earlier, Booker was one of thousands of African Americans who enlisted to serve in a war that was fought for the ideals of justice and ethnic equality despite the fact that the very Army in which they served was still enforcing rigid racial segregation within it own ranks.

As a result, when Booker signed up to play for Paine Field’s rec baseball program, he was placed on the station’s Brown Bombers African-American club, a team separate from the air base’s white Paine Field aggregation.

But Booker, a right fielder, and his African-American teammates forged ahead, competing in regional military service leagues and state amateur tournaments after being formed in 1943. The team was studded with several hardball diamonds in the rough, such as Seminal Brack, who, according to one source, was “the smallest athlete on the base” but nonetheless a “midget Negro flash.”

The Brown Bombers were part of the Seattle area’s rich tradition of service baseball, and they were one of several African-American military teams in the state of Washington during the war era. Another, for example, was the aggregation from the McChord air base in Tacoma, which occasionally clashed with the Paine Field Brown Bombers on the diamond.

The Brown Bombers were brought to my attention by Chieko Phillips, the exhibitions manager at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, which is currently showing an exhibition on black baseball in Washington.

Chieko and I had corresponded a bit over a year ago, when I was doing an article on the Seattle Steelheads for Seattle Magazine. I reached out to her again a couple weeks ago soon after arrangements were made for me to journey to the Jet City to cover New Orleans native Herb Simpson’s second visit to Seattle in July.

Herb, as I’ve written about before, is the last living member of the Steelheads, Seattle’s entry into the short-lived West Coast Negro Baseball League in 1946. Next month he’ll again be the guest of the Seattle Mariners as the MLB team celebrates its annual African-American Heritage Day.

I contacted Chieko earlier this month because Herb’s visit to Seattle will include both a visit to the NWAAM to check out its baseball exhibit, as well as an appearance at the Everett AquaSox game against Spokane on July 27. The game scheduling is kind of neat because Herb played for the Spokane Indians in 1952. And it just so happens I did an article on that recently. 🙂

The AquaSox are a short-season Single-A team based in the Snohomish County city of about 100,000 people roughly 25 miles north of Seattle. The Sox are in the North Division of the Northwest League and are a Mariners affiliate.

I emailed Chieko because I was curious if Everett had any African-American baseball teams in its history, and she uncovered the Paine Field Brown Bombers.

The Brown Bombers seem to have had a brief existence, however, but in a very good way — a year after they were formed, the Bombers were merged with the Paine Field white team in one of the Army’s earliest desegregation efforts.

The highlight of the Brown Bombers’ day in the sun — yes, there are days of sun in the Pacific Northwest — was their participation in the 1943 state semipro tournament, which was actually held in Everett during that July. The tourney also included the defending champions, the Fort Lawson Warriors, as well as the Fort Lewis Medics, two local teams (the Everett Tyees and the Rexes), the Bellingham Bells, a squad from Auburn, and the white Paine Field team.

Unfortunately, the Brown Bombers didn’t fare very well, getting knocked out of the tournament early via a 7-2 loss to the mighty Fort Lawton team, which had just been made even better by the addition of several more ringers to the squad.

(But the Bombers shouldn’t have felt bad — Paine Field’s white team wasn’t any better, also getting bumped from the tourney bracket.)

I’m hoping to accompany Herb to the AquaSox game on July 27; I love minor-league ball, especially the “smaller” city teams like Everett. The games are so much more intimate and cozy; the stands, and therefore the fans, are much closer to the field and the players than in sprawling Major League parks. So hopefully I’ll be able to issue a report from Everett that night.

Many thanks to Chieko Phillips for the tip about the Brown Bombers. I’m also looking forward to attending the reception for Herb at the NWAAM and finally meeting Chieko.

One thought on “Military baseball in the Northwest

  1. Pingback: A post for a weekend of family | The Negro Leagues Up Close

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