Barrow in Baltimore

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A version of the Baltimore Elite Giants

Gretna City Councilman Milton Crosby and I are taking a break for the holidays regarding a grave marker for Big Easy Negro Leagues great Wesley “Skipper” Barrow. However, I’m working on turning out a long-ish piece on him for a new New Orleans literary magazine, so I thought I’d focus a post on what was arguably the “peak” of his career, at least on a national scale — managing the 1947 Baltimore Elite Giants …

When Wesley Barrow was tapped to replace ousted Elite Giants manager Felton Snow, Barrow was still in his mid-to-late-40s who had managed Southern “minor league” teams like the Nashville Cubs and his hometown Algiers Giants and New Orleans Black Pelicans. Barrow, who also had served as a coach for the NAL Cleveland Buckeyes for a bit, had more a quarter-century of hardball experience under his belt.

Barrow Courier

However, his hiring by the Elites — whose most prominent player earlier in the decade had been Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella — to replace a veteran hand like Snow raised a few eyebrows. Stated the Jan. 25, 1947, Pittsburgh Courier:

“Barrow, though practically unknown in Eastern baseball circles, has played with and served as manager of several teams in the deep South. …”

The paper also asserted that Barrow was brought on by Baltimore to improve the club’s performance somewhat significantly, stating that the Elite Giants were putting into place an “overall plan for building a pennant contender in 1947.”

The Courier added about Barrow and the team:

“To help get himself off on the right foot the new field boss has prevailed upon Tom Wilson and Vernon Green, team moguls, to sign five players he has recommended.”

That quintet included for NOLA-area natives Barrow new well from the Big Easy sandlots and ballparks — Bob Bissant, Joe Wiley, Joe Spencer and Gene Hardin — the latter who had just played under Barrow in 1946 with the Portland Rosebuds of the short-lived West Coast Negro Baseball League.

Wilson and Green also promised to sign other players and trade and deal freely with other squads to improve the Elites. The execs followed that up by hiring George Scales as a field coach to help Barrow, both of whom were, stated wire writer Dick Powell, “moulding what they predict will be the team to beat for 1947 NNL pennant honors.”

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Tom Wilson

The Elites ’47 campaign began with a barnstorming trip across the South with the Negro Southern League‘s Atlanta Black Crackers, whose manager, Sammy Haynes, dueled strategically with Barrow across their aggregations’ journeys. The NSL, naturally, was a step below the NNL, but the April 27, 1947, Atlanta Daily World still hyped up an impending double-tilt between the squads in Atlanta, calling the ‘header “the game[s] that Atlanta sports fans have been waiting for” and predicted the event would draw “[t]he largest crowd ever to witness a baseball game in the Gate City …” (Sports pages from bygone days were a little bit hyperbolic.)

But trouble started brewing immediately, or so Hall of Fame Baltimore Afro-American sports columnist Sam Lacy wrote on May 3:

“Report that Wesley Barrow, newly-appointed Baltimore Elite Giant manager, has been fired, was denied this week by the club’s front office.”

In fact, Lacy continued to view Barrow with a jaundiced eye throughout the season; in the May 17, 1947, issue of the Afro-American, the scribe asserted that Barrow “looked decided amateurish when he yanked Second Baseman Junior [Gilliam] from last week’s game against Newark immediately after the young infielder had committed an error afield.”

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Sam Lacy

Lacy, then, must have been positively giddy when the ax eventually did fall on Barrow midway through the season, a development that even a two-game sweep over the storied Homestead Grays in late May couldn’t forestall. The writing might have been on the wall for all parties concerned when Green fined Barrow in early June because players Amos Watson and Butch Davis lollygagged on grounders.

The Aug. 2 edition of the Afro-American broke the news of Barrow’s ousting by calling him the “Elites’ deposed manager” in a cover of the Giants’ 6-5 win over Birmingham. Scales, by then, had been promoted to “acting manager.”

Apparently up until that point, the Elites had been streaky and underperforming as of late, stated the Aug. 23, 1947, Atlanta Daily World:

“The Baltimore Elites who were once showing signs at a real superiority stumbled for a while, fired their manager, Wesley Barrow, shook up the team to get back into the running [in the NNL] and refuse to be counted out.”

It seems that Snow was brought back in to finish the ’47 NNL campaign for Baltimore, or so reported Lacy in January 1948; perhaps needless to say, the Elites hadn’t claimed the 1947 league pennant.

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The Taylor brothers

Baltimore’s manager merry-go-round didn’t stop there; in late January of ’48, Candy Jim Taylor, veteran pilot and part of blackball’s royal family, the Taylors, had been hired to bump out Snow. Jim Taylor had just been canned by the Chicago American Giants of the NAL after guiding that team for three years. In a January 1948 article in the Afro-American, Green was quoted as saying, “In any event, you can be sure we will be aiming to strengthen the club.”

So ended arguably the zenith of NOLA legend Wesley Barrow’s career on the national stage. It had been agonizingly brief and, apparently, very volatile from the start. Why Wilson and Green hired Barrow in the first place, then, seems to be something of a mystery, especially because the latter’s stay with the Elites appears to have been destined to fail and was sandwiched between two tenures by Snow as the club’s manager.

But it didn’t phase Barrow, who forged ahead in his managerial career, which lasted practically up until his death on Christmas Eve 1965. It also didn’t dim the love Skipper continued to feel from New Orleans blackball fans and players. He was, and is to this day, still a legend.

Conflageratin’ and recollectin’

Got this from my colleague and online mentor Gary Ashwill a couple days ago — it kind of encompasses several of my recent posts about Dick Redding and Cuba. It seems like Cannonball conflated some of his memories when he was interviewed for the 1932 article I described late last week about pitching against the Tigers in Cuba.

Such exaggeration is common in the Negro Leagues, where record-keeping definitely wasn’t as detailed or diligent as it was in “organized baseball.” However, such foggy yarn-spinning certainly wasn’t limited to black baseball or Cuban players — white players were absolutely known for doing it to. Perhaps we can call it the “glory days” syndrome.

Anyway, here’s Gary’s thoughts:

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Dick Redding didn’t no-hit the Detroit Tigers in Cuba — in fact he never played against them there. The Tigers only made two trips to Cuba, in 1909 and 1910, before Redding had entered big-time baseball. On November 18, 1909, Eustaquio Pedroso of Almendares pitched an 11-inning no-hitter against the Tigers. The Tigers’ trips to Cuba were very well-covered, both in Cuba and the U.S., and Pedroso’s no-hitter was pretty well-known at the time.

The 1932 Defender piece is interesting, and probably the source for several factoids that get repeated a lot (for example, Redding’s supposed 43-12 record in 1912 along with 17 no-hitters). Unfortunately it’s full of exaggeration, though the exaggeration is sometimes based in fact. For example, he didn’t no-hit Jersey City of the Eastern League in 1912–but Redding and the Lincoln Giants did beat a barnstorming team with several Jersey City players (along with players from other EL teams) 3 times at the end of 1911, including winning a doubleheader. Two of the victories were over Jack Doscher (probably the “Dozier” of the Defender article); one of them was a 1-0 win, Redding striking out 12.

In 1912 he definitely pitched at least two no-hitters, one against José Méndez and the Cuban Stars in Atlantic City, the other a perfect game (with 14 Ks) against a team called the “Cherokee Indians.” He also defeated Al Schacht and the “All-Leaguers” (a team of players from the Washington U.S. League team and a semipro team called the Metropolitans), striking out no fewer than *24* batters (but giving up 3 hits). In the 1932 article Redding mentions Schacht as a Jersey City player in 1912. He did pitch for JC, but not until 1919. Could be that Redding was conflating some of his memories.

In my opinion, it’s perfectly possible that he pitched batting practice against the NY Giants at some point. In 1911, for example, the Giants played a series against the (white) Atlanta Crackers on their way north, and Redding was later said to have pitched batting practice for the Crackers (see Atlanta Daily World article from 1934, attached). I kind of doubt McGraw brought him north, though. The Giants’ spring training was pretty well-covered by the press, and I’d think the presence of a black pitcher, even just as a BP thrower, would have been worth a few news items here and there.

Also, I have to note that my Rochester bud, Mike Sorenson, pointed out, quite correctly, that the Tigers hadn’t won the World Series in 1912, as Redding “recalls” in the 1932 Defender article. Detroit went to the Series in 1907, ’08 and ’09 and lost ’em all, and they didn’t even go in 1912, let alone win. (The Red Sox defeated the Giants that year.)

A showdown of Georgians?

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A small part of the Cannonball Dick Redding mythology/hagiography is that the famous (or infamous, perhaps) Ty Cobb refused to take batting practice from a Redding, a blossoming speedball artist and future Negro League great from Atlanta.

Since both Cobb and Redding hailed from Georgia, it certainly could be feasible for such a showdown — or lack of a showdown — to take place. Tracking down the possible veracity of the story, however, has proven very difficult.

It seems to have first come to life in a relatively early, and relatively brief, biography of Redding by influential Negro Leagues historian John Holway. In the piece, written for the Society of American Baseball Research, Holway interviews several of Redding’s African-American contemporaries, teammates and opponents, who regaled the writer with tales of Redding’s mastery over all hitters, black and white.

Fairly early along in the bio, Holway writes this: “Dick was so good that his fellow Georgian, Ty Cobb, reportedly refused to hit against him in batting practice.”

But despite Holway’s very thorough, lively and enlightening interviews with the former players, the author doesn’t directly attribute the above quoted statement to any one of the athletes he talked to for his article, or any other source for that matter.

I did a little database digging, as well as quickly reviewed various Cobb biographies — and there’s a lot of them — and found no references to any direct pitcher-batter confrontation between the two hardball greats, certainly none that went down in batting practice as Holway described. Granted, I was unable to go into extremely extensive depth in this pursuit, but so far, I’ve found no conclusive evidence that Cobb spited the Cannonball.

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However, that certainly doesn’t mean the pair never crossed (base)paths. I discovered the above article from the Dec, 10, 1932, Chicago Defender. The article is an absolute revelation, and a gem of a tale. Why? Because it features Redding himself directly detailing an encounter with Cobb and the Tigers. It’s fantastic.

The article, written by A.E. White, is basically one huge direct quote from the Cannonball. Toward the end, Redding says this:

“We used to play the big leagues down in Cuba during the winter. I remember pitching a no-hit game against the Detroit Tigers, hooking up with George Mullins in that battle. Remember Mullins? I also pitched against the late Wild Bill Donovan, later manager of the New York Yankees. What we used to do to Ty Cobb in those games was a-plenty. We just kept him off the bases to make him sore. And you haven’t seen a man sore until you see Ty Cobb raving mad because he couldn’t hit the ball safely. Incidentally, they were the world’s champions at the time.”

That was in 1912. But there definitely could have been an earlier fracas between Cobb and Redding, back when Redding was in all likelihood still a semipro hurler on the ATL sandlots. (However, as a side note, while some historians assert that one of the sandlot teams for which Cannonball played was the Atlanta Deppens, I’ve again had trouble confirming that, even though the Deppens were a fairly long-running and successful semipro club.)

In the mid-to-late 19-oughts, the Tigers help spring training at various cities in Georgia, enterprises that often included exhibition games in at Atlanta or against Atlanta-based aggregations. Were any of those contests against any sort of African-American team? It’s not immediately clear, but it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t be at least a couple like that.

And it’s not like the media, baseball fans and Georgia residents weren’t aware of the likelihood that it would happen, or at least that the Tigers would encounter a fair amount of black citizens during their spring-training treks across the state of Georgia. Take this from an April 1, 1906, dispatch the the Detroit Free Press by writer Joe Jackson:

“One section of the Southern population always has its welcome warm for the baseballist. The colored odd jobs man is there strong with the City-of-Welcome stuff on all occasions. Ever our Afro-American friend has his eye out for the visitor from the North, who tips more often and more stronger than his Southern cousin, and who doesn’t get one-half of efficient service as the latter, as has well been brought out by divers [sic] occasions by Tyrus Cobb. The latter, born and bred in the South, knows the ways of the Negro perfectly, and is ever ready to prove that the colored man more readily responds to the requests or demands of those in the South, who maintain the old relation of master and man between the races, than to those of the Northerner, who proceeds on lines that indicate that he believes the fourteenth amendment means just what it says.”

It’s hard (at least for me) to fully grasp the tone of the paragraph. Is it sarcastic? Is it patronizing? Paternalistic? Tongue-in-cheek? Snarky? Or completely straight-faced (and rather clueless)?

At the very least, it’s quite intriguing, especially given the racial dynamics of the time and Cobb’s notorious (though recently disputed by some) racist reputation. But it also raises a valid point: in many ways, Southern whites were less hesitant about interacting with blacks, with whom contact was frequent, than white Northerners, who, despite allegedly progressive beliefs, were often reluctant to relate to African Americans and shunned them because Northerners weren’t as used to being around minorities.

In fact, that situation still exists, to a certain point. While Southern and Northern racism might take on different forms and subtleties, at the core they could very well be the same.

But I digress. So did Tyrus Cobb refuse to take BP from Richard Redding Jr.? Dunno. Could it very well have happened? You bet. Will we ever know for sure? Probably not. As a result, the tale will continue to be enshrined in baseball lore as a juicy what-if and what-could-have-been.

The Cuba Effect

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Blackball great and Hall of Famer Cristobal Torriente, arguably the greatest beisbol player Cuba has ever produced.

Regardless of exactly how President Obama’s recent relaxation of economic sanctions against Cuba and a possible movement toward normalizing relations between the island nation and the U.S. plays out, there’s no doubt that baseball historians — folks who frequently see modern political machinations as irrelevant to their line of work — are salivating at the potential for historical research into what is easily the Cuban national pastime as well.

Much of the baseball-and-Cuba-related conversations being bantered around now have focus on what could happen now, today. How will this affect the pipeline of Cuban baseball talent onto American shores and ultimately into MLB? How much will modern baseball in both countries benefit — or, perhaps, detract from — the quality of current play in both countries?

But what absolutely also needs to be considered is the doors that could be blown open on historical baseball research, and that could happen most profoundly in the field of African-American baseball history. There’s already a group of almost two dozen baseball researchers, many of them Negro Leagues specialists, that’s coalescing to take a boat trip to the island country for the purposes of historical documentation.

If Obama’s overtures toward Cuba possibly continue blossoming, that initial trickle of hardball researchers trekking to Cuba could become a flood. Imagine what we could learn about the rich but politically hidden heritage of baseball among the Cuban people if we could freely take a 30-45 minute plane ride from Miami to Havana?

It seems like many, many American sports fans don’t comprehend how HUGE baseball is in Cuba, how MASSIVELY it permeates Cuban culture at every level. It’s nothing like any of us now living have experienced in our lives in America. Even with the outsized popularity of the NFL in the U.S — and the NFL is the king of American sports right now — it still doesn’t come CLOSE to matching the Cuban obsession with baseball.

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Martin Dihigo, another legend from Cuba

The next thing is that that obsession has been cultivated for well over a century, well before Fidel or Raul Castro were even born, let alone ruling the island with an iron Communist fist. Before the Marxist revolution on the island, American players — especially black ones — very frequently made the journey to Cuba to play in the winter leagues there, or even in the summer leagues, where Negro Leaguers were treated like heroes and often paid much better than they ever could have been in the Negro National and American Leagues.

For Negro Leaguers, Cuba — and, to be true, much of the rest of Latin America — represented not only a huge opportunity for financial enhancement, but also a chance, at least for a few months a year, at social respect and dignity on a scale that was unimaginable in the U.S. at the time.

As longtime Associated Press columnist Jim Litke told PBS Newshour a few days ago: “It used to be, quite frankly, sort of a wintering season for a lot of the great Negro League players, because Cuba allowed black players around 1900.”

(Of course, Cuba itself also has had and continues to have its own racially-based divides, with Cubans of African ancestry, i.e. descendants of sugar plantation slaves, often fighting for true equality with other, lighter skinned, Latino Cubans. Those are schisms that, to my understanding, were and are sometimes at best hidden and at worst encouraged by the Castro regime.)

So many legendary Negro Leaguers played in Cuban leagues at one point or another that the research possibilities that could be opening to us are, to many of us, mind-blowing, quite frankly. I’m not sure I’d want to go to myself — although if the opportunity for a free or heavily subsidized trip presented itself for me, I’d probably jump at it — but for many of my colleagues, it’s an opportunity that just cannot be passed up, and shouldn’t be. It’s something that for so long seemed unimaginable, something that was just never going to happen for a long, long time. And now it could, very soon.

Or maybe not. Obama has already faced considerable uproar over his moves, and that will only heighten in passion and influence.

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And Jose Mendez

But as historians, a lot of us try to put petty modern politics aside when we do our job — we realize that the historical big picture is so much wider and more all-encompassing than whatever politically-motivated sniping occurs today. We realize that the continuity, unpredictability and ever-progressing motion of history is, in a way, what really matters. The passage of time never, ever stops, and, as a result, never does the tenuous state of current international sociopolitical affairs. History is about facts, but it’s also about nuance, neither of which, it so often seems, are qualities modern American politicians ever grasp.

While it can always be interpreted in many ways, fundamental history cannot change. It’s eternal, rock solid, etched in stone, so to speak. As a result, we need to learn about what has happened to help us not just figure out what will happen, but change and direct what will happen.

And baseball history, although admittedly just a small part of it all, adheres to those ancient truths and cultural progressions as much as any aspect of American and Cuban culture. It’s a beautiful thing, really, when you take a few steps back. A beautiful, beautiful thing. More from Litke:

“People in the U.S. don’t always know, as you mentioned in the introduction, the game goes back 100 years there. It was a rallying point when they fought a war of independence with Spain because the Cubans didn’t want to go to the bullfights. They wanted to play baseball.

“So it became a very, very important symbol in that society a long, long time ago.”

The backbone of the game

On this Christmas Eve, I’ll try to say happy holidays with an upbeat, feel-good post courtesy of old-time Philadelphia Tribune sports columnist Ed Harris, who, in July 1940, wrote an eloquent exposition on the massive importance of the legions of semipro and sandlot squads that formed the backbone of the grand American game, especially in the shadows of the racial curtain.

I came across Harris’ column while I was doing research for a story I wrote for Pennsylvania Magazine, kind of a broad survey of the Negro Leagues in the Keystone State. While poking around for the story, I found the existence of the Pennsylvania Colored Baseball League in 1940, a collection of (eventually) five eastern PA semipro teams with high hopes for a long-running type of feeder system for the Negro League “bigs” like Hilldale, the Philly Stars and others.

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Hilldale Park

The PCBL, unfortunately, only lasted one season despite the best of intentions and lofty plans. But in his July 1940 piece, Harris did his best to support the league by extolling the virtues lower-level hardball. Harris’ column was prompted by a PCBL showcase contest at prestigious Hilldale Park, where the “little guys” got to shine on one of the Negro Leagues’ biggest stage. Here are a few excerpts from the column, loaded with enthusiasm, optimism and respect for the so-called scrubs who toiled below the surface of big-time ball:

No doubt and it is our sincere hope Hilldale Park, full of hoary tradition and memories in its own right, will once again be filled to the brim with anxious and enthusiastic spectators.

Baseball as it fills our view is more than likely to resemble the A’s, the Phillies or the Philadelphia Stars. These clubs and the others like them dominate the baseball horizon and are first to catch our view when we scan the scene.

But behind and underneath it all, the solid foundation on which all baseball is built, are the little clubs, the sandlot teams, the semi-pro clubs, the minor leagues.

The broad and solid foundation of the diamond sport is represented in clubs in these categories.

Were it not for the little fellow, the big fellow would not be. It seems that way in all walks of life and it is particularly true in baseball. The clubs of the Pennsylvania league are somewhat higher in stature than other clubs but they are part of the many on which baseball depends. …

Out of these games come the big-league stars of today and tomorrow. They start down, way down, with some neighborhood playground team and slowly begin their way towards their destiny. Some of them don’t have to wait long, very few of them though. Most make the routine way through playground, sand-lot, semi-pro until word of the ability of the particular player gets to the ear of someone who handles a big-time club. …

The small and often obscure teams nurture and feed the game. Unheralded and unsung they do their work day by day during the hot summer months. The destinies of each of these little teams are just as important as those of the first-class clubs. Whether we hear about them or not they exist and as long as they exist baseball can live. …

So take a run out there [to Hilldale Park] Sunday. It will serve a two-fold purpose. You’ll be seeing a good game in a good cause and you will get a chance once more to sit within the walls of Hilldale Park. Time will not was away the tradition, the history of Negro baseball written on these wooden fences. Even as once you saw the greats of Negro baseball, you will be seeing the dawn of careers that will someday rival the great names you remember today.

Well, well said Mr. Harris. You described exactly why I love doing what I do. And to everyone else … happy holidays!

Bad news on Barrow marker

Got some bad news about the Wesley Barrow grave marker effort …

Apparently the cheapest stone is $200 more than our one donor has pledged, so we need more help buying a burial marker for the unmarked grave of one of New Orleans’ most vital and influential Negro Leagues figures.

If there’s anyone out there who would like to and be able to help out, please email me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com. Whatever anyone can do would be incredibly appreciated in this season of giving!

An NC league that never got off the ground

I know I said I’d wait until early next week to start blogging again, but I just couldn’t stay away. 🙂 I got the bug again. I miss it!

I’ll start off with a little bit about an example of one of the facets of Negro Leagues research that truly fascinates me — all the seemingly “little” semipro, sandlot and industrial leagues that came and went over the years. A great deal of them were specifically regional in nature, encompassing and including cities in a limited geographic area, often in spots from which you’d never imagine any sort of higher-level baseball circuit sprouting.

And, unfortunately, despite the best of intentions and the level of excitement behind their creation, many of these league’s last only one or two years tops, and a lot never got off the ground at all. I tripped across an example of this existing in the late 1940s in the coastal plains of North Carolina.

A little background … I was raised (as I’ve annoyingly yet proudly mentioned many times before) in Rochester, N.Y. But when I was a junior in college, my father and step mother moved to a small city in eastern North Carolina called Rocky Mount. As a very important side note, Rocky Mount was the hometown and lifelong residence of the great Buck Leonard.

When I graduated at Indiana U., I decided to head to NC and see what life was like there. I eventually spent two years living and working in Tarboro, N.C., which itself has its own surprising Negro Leagues connections, as my article here in the Raleigh News & Observer demonstrates regarding Hall of Fame hurler Bill Foster.

Since then, I’ve moved around all across the country, and my parents moved first to Raleigh, then to Atlantic Beach, N.C., for their retirement years. I visit my folks there occasionally, and I’ve gotten to know the region, dubbed the Crystal Coast, a little bit. The area includes Carteret County and one of its biggest burgs, Morehead City, which is across Bogue Sound from Atlantic Beach.

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Bogue Sound and Morehead City

And since I’ll be visiting my parents in AB over the holidays, I was pondering going to a local library and reviewing some regional newspaper archives to see if the region has any history of African-American baseball. As preparation for that process, I did some internet researching for baseball in Morehead City, and in doing that, I tripped across …

The East Carolina Baseball League.

In early 1948, a year after Jackie Robinson debuted in Brooklyn, six small cities — a few of them little more than small towns, in fact — in the coastal plains of North Carolina decided to put up teams in the nascent ECBL, including New Bern, Morehead City, Washington, Oriental, Trenton and Pollocksville.

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To be honest, I’d never even heard of those last two communities, and I’ve only vaguely heard of Oriental, mainly because of its un-PC name (at least for this day and age). These towns were perhaps bigger and more important six or seven decades ago than they are now, of course, but from this 21st-century perch, it seems unlikely that such small communities could sustain any sort of organized baseball circuit.

But that’s what’s special about the world and history of baseball — the imaginations and ambitions and move of the game that permeates every level of society, including in the African-American community.

Apparently, representatives from the half-dozen municipalities met in New Bern in late March to organize the new loop and chose its first slate of officers: Floyd Brown of Trenton, president; Allen Brown of Pollocksville, VP; Roy Stiles of Morehead City, secretary; and John Price of Washington, treasurer. The board of directors included Morehead City’s Anthony Dudley, Trenton’s G.O. Franks, Allen Mann of Oriental, Washington’s William Marsh, and Harry Brown of Pollocksville. In addition, at the time of the loop’s creation, the founders were seeking two more teams as well.

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Unfortunately, however, it appears the grand plans for the East Carolina Baseball League turned to dust almost immediately and the league never got off the ground — I couldn’t find any more references to it in various online archives, and the only game report I could find on a contest between two of the cities in the league in 1948 was a 25-2 beatdown the Trenton Blue Sox put on the New Bern Eagles in late April. I couldn’t determine if those two teams were even each city’s representatives in the ECBL.

But it looks like the Trenton Blue Sox were a fairly established semipro team in that town, with a history stretching back to at least 1939, when the Norfolk New Journal and Guide reported on the Sox’ 3-0 win over the Jacksonville Giants and 6-5 trimming of the Camp Patterson Yellow Jackets. Around that same time of July ’39, the Blue Sox inked solid-hitting shortstop Jimmie Barber, then a sophomore at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, for the rest of the season.

Barber seems to have stuck around with the Sox, who went 18-4 during the 1939 season, when they were managed by Floyd Brown, who would become the president of the failed ECBL in ’48. Barber eventually took over the managership of the team, including during the 1948 campaign.

That year, in addition to their win over New Bern, the Blue Sox beat a team from Red Hill and a squad called the Jacksonville Pepsi Cola Joint. That last opponent most likely represented the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company in Jacksonville, N.C., a small city that is best known today for being the home of Camp Lejeune U.S. Marines Corps base. (Actually, the Pepsi Cola company itself was founded in New Bern, which I did not know, so Jacksonville, N.C., just a little ways away, who have been a natural spot for a Pepsi bottling supply company.)

The Blue Sox lasted until at least April 1952, when the New Journal and Guide reported their season-opening, doubleheader sweep of the Oriental Hornets. At the time, Jimmie Barber was still the manager.

Actually, Barber was a native of Trenton native who was quite active in his hometown community. But, perhaps more importantly, he went on to become a professor and dean of men at NC A&T as well as a Greensboro city councilman. He now has a city park named after him.

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And that, gentle readers, is something else that enraptures me about black baseball history — the fact that the sport so often served as a springboard for and a precursor to the civic success and impact of so many African-American men (and women!). Blackball wasn’t just about a sport, a simple game. Its influence reached into so many aspects of American life and society — and not to mention geography — that it simply cannot be shrugged off as an “unfortunate” historical anomaly or anachronism from a time when equality for all men and women was a farce and falsehood.

And it’s pretty cool that a supposedly obscure town like Trenton, N.C., played a large part in creating the Negro League painting on the canvass.