A league discovered!

My mind is fairly racing right now. I’m giddy bordering on manic. Why you ask? The answer to that question begins three days ago …

That’s when friend and colleague Bill Staples Jr. sent me a clip from the March 27, 1905, Dallas Morning News that details the recent founding and impending start of play for … a southern colored league!

The existence of such an organization had, to my knowledge, been unknown until this point — or at least remained extremely hidden. The idea of an African-American loop in Dixie had been tried before, in 1886 with the Southern League of Colored Base Ballists, but that was a dismal failure.

It was until the Negro Southern League was formed in 1920 — the same year Rube Foster, C.I. Taylor and additional visionaries founded the famous and landmark Negro National League — that a more or less permanent blackball circuit existed in the South.

So the discovery of an attempt — an apparently quickly failed one — to coalesce an association of colored ball teams below the Mason-Dixon line in 1905, two decades after the SLCBB and 15 years before the NSL, is a pretty big find.

And, because the 1905 league, called Colored Southern Baseball Association, seems to have been based in New Orleans, my curiosity has been piqued, to say the least.

Soooo … I’m going to attempt to spend the weekend looking into this, particularly from the NOLA angle. I haven’t been able to do extensive research into it, but here’s what I’ve found so far …

The earliest mention of the formation of the CSBA, at least that I could find, in the local press was in the Feb. 12, 1905, issue of the New Orleans Item. The paper included the following blurb under the small headline, “Southern Colored Baseball League Organized”:

“The Colored Southern Baseball Association was organized in Montgomery, Ala., a few days ago and Will Morton of New Orleans was elected president.

“The directors of the association are Frank Palambo, New Orleans; Mose Symon, Pensacola; S.H. Phillips, Montgomery; Pinkey Bailey, New Orleans; W.E. Robinson, New Orleans; Edmond Turner, Mobile; C.J. Taylor, Birmingham; A. J. Lewis, Montgomery; and Thad Curtis, Montgomery.

“The eight cities represented in the league are New Orleans, Atlanta, Macon, Ga., Pensacola, Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery, and Beaumont, Texas. The season opens on Easter Sunday, when New Orleans will meet Montgomery here.”

Included on the same page as that article is another small blurb that serves as a complement to the above-referenced article. This second brief mentions that a candidate for the honor of New Orleans representative in the CSBL will be “(T)he champion colored baseball team of the South, “The Brookes,” who have “reorganized for the season of 1905 … Their manager has leased the Union Baseball Park, corner Magnolia and Louisiana avenue for the season, where they intend to play the best teams that can be found in the Southern States.”

The next mention in the NOLA press comes about a month and a half later, when the March 26, 1905, Times-Picayune, stated that the “Southern Colored Baseball Association was organized a few days ago …” But this article reported two additional teams, ones from Houston and Galveston. It’s also odd how the two articles, published six weeks apart, both say the circuit was formed “a few days ago.”

The T-P story, further, goes into detail about the financing of the new organization:

“The league has a paid-up capital of $2,000, each team depositing a forfeit of $200. They have leased Louisiana park, corner Rampart Street and Louisiana Avenue, and the stand has been increased to accommodate 3,000 people.”

The article stated that the league season was officially scheduled to open April 23, when the New Orleans squad was to host Montgomery.

The manager of the NOLA team, the article reveals, is Frank Palambo, and adds that the club “has been formally chartered before a notary.”

Oddly enough, neither the Item nor the T-P really seem to indicate exactly where this organizational meeting was held. However, the Dallas Morning News article — that one that Bill Staples sent me — which was published day after the T-P story, states that the meeting was, in fact held in New Orleans on March 26.

Something then apparently happened to move up the season’s opening day considerably, because the April 2, 1905, Daily Picayune, reported:

“This afternoon at 2 o’clock the Colored Southern League will be formally opened at the Union Park … by the Brooks’ local team and Mobile. Three games will be played in this series.

“J. Madison Vance will deliver the opening address and pitch the first ball over the plate. Max Williams will do the pitching for the Brooks team, and General Rhone will be in the box for Mobile. …

“The games will be run all summer …”

Ahh, how many attempted African-American leagues launched their inaugural season with such verbiage, such high hopes and expectations, only to fall apart rather quickly?

Was that the case with the 1905 SCBA? That is quite the apropos query, because coverage of the league appears to have completely dropped off after that — until least until Aug. 19, when the Daily Picayune ran a single-paragraph story on what appears to have possibly been the league’s requiem:

“There will be a double-header at Union Park Sunday between the Tennessee Blacks and the Smiths, in the first game, and the Birmingham Blues, of Alabama, and the champion Brooks of this city, in the second. Both games have been arranged for a benefit to the Birmingham team. This will be the last time this season that the colored teams of the South will be in action.”

Thus, apparently, capped the “colored” baseball season, at least here in New Orleans, and at least as my tertiary research has so far uncovered. That last articles leaves a lot of questions up in the air, namely, the exact fate of the SCBA. Also, of what exactly are the Brooks champions?

There’s other questions I hope to explore within the next few days. Like, for example, was there any southern colored league in the years after 1905? And who exactly are all these people being mentioned in the referenced articles? Is there more to the story of the Brooks team? And what about coverage in other cities? I’ll do my best to keep everyone posted.

And, finally, there’s perhaps the biggest intriguing possibility of all, one I didn’t get a chance to address in this post, and the one about which Bill originally emailed me the Dallas article … It involves the possibility that a Japanese player, Shumza Sugimoto, played for the New Orleans team in this league.

But Sugimoto has proven a vexing sphinx of baseball lore, a figure around whom so much vagary and possible mythology has developed that no one can confirm for certain that the guy even existed. Here’s a post I wrote on Sugimoto a while back, and here’s a recent essay by Gary Cieradkowski, to kind of fill in the background.

The marker is here! The Steelies get their due! And other NOLA doings!


It’s here! The Wesley Barrow grave marker has arrived. Pretty soon the picture above of the Skipper’s grave will include a stone remembering the man who oversaw black baseball in NOLA for decades.

The news comes from Gretna City Councilman Milton Crosby, who reports that the stone has indeed been delivered to Alfortish Marble and Granite in Gretna, and we’re working on getting it in the ground within a month or so. I’m trying to pull together a dedication ceremony, maybe for late April.

As such, anyone who’s in or will be in the New Orleans area around that time, y’all are welcome to attend. The more we have, the greater the testament to this wonderful, influential man. Also, if you want to help with anything along the way — getting the stone in the ground, scheduling/arranging the dedication ceremony, maybe even speaking at the event — feel free to contact me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com or by commenting on this blog. We’re getting close!

There’s some more local Negro Leagues-related news as well … earlier this week I heard from Felton Glapion, the late Herb Simpson’s nephew, that the Seattle Mariners will honor the entire West Coast Negro Baseball League Seattle Steelheads team from 1946, a squad that included the humble Mr. Simpson.


I had that news confirmed by both Bob Simeone of the RBI Club and by Mariners exec Rebecca Hale. The event will be dubbed Turn Back the Clock night and is scheduled for May 16. Ms. Hale said details haven’t been worked out yet, but she’ll keep me posted.

Felton said he and other members of “Unc’s” family are planning on going. I would love to go, but I just don’t think timing and finances will allow it. But I’ll naturally be there in spirit, as will, I am sure, Herb and the rest of his Steelie teammates. Their legacy will live on forever in the Pacific Northwest.


Finally, I’m working on a lot of research about Louisiana native and New Orleans University (now Dillard) grad Gentleman Dave Malarcher to follow up on this post I did last week. The resulting posts will largely be about his roots in St. James Parish, his family history, and the social, cultural and economic conditions from which he sprung. Hopefully I’ll get those posts up next week …

Fading memories, dwindling numbers

Toles League Park Photo Cred Danielle Brassard Photography

Ted Toles (photo by Danielle Brassard Photography, courtesy of Michael Swank)

I just had this article published today about former Pittsburgh Crawford, Cleveland Buckeye and Newark Eagle Ted Toles Jr. for the Plain Dealer and cleveland.com for the end of Black History Month. Much of the story is about Mr. Toles’ best memories of his playing days, but it also talks about how fewer and fewer living Negro Leaguers remain and the passing of their legacies.

More on Wabishaw Wiley … and more mystery?


In this post from about a couple weeks ago, I addressed the issue of shifting ethnic identity as exemplified by the case of Wabishaw Wiley, best known as a catcher on the great Lincoln Giants teams from the early 1910s. The question of whether Wiley was African-American, Native-American or mixed-race remains basically unanswered to this day.

Soon after I put the post up, I got an e-mail from friend and mentor Gary Ashwill, who helped clear up the questions I raised with my entry. Primary among Gary’s items of input was the basic identification of a pattern in the way Wiley described his ethnic background as time went on — the earlier the official document, the greater the likelihood that it identified Wiley as black and hailing from Louisiana, and the later the form, the increased chance that it states that the backstop was from Oklahoma and of Native-American bloodlines.

It’s certainly an intriguing trend, and one that raises the simple question of why Wiley’s racial identification evolved the way it did. In my post, I raised the issue of “passing” as one or another ethnicity for various reasons of necessity and/or convenience. Gary feels that Wiley’s elusive cultural identity was less a matter of passing and more simply a personal preference that simply evolved as Wiley aged.

The other main fact that Gary helped crystallize was exactly where in Louisiana Wiley was allegedly from. Because his WWI draft card states that he was from “Vernon, La.,” I assumed — incorrectly, as it turns out — that Wiley meant Vernon Parish, Louisiana, which is on the western edge of the state.

But Gary noted something I overlooked — that there’s an unincorporated community in Jackson Parish named Vernon, and if one looks hard, and creatively, enough when sorting through old records and documents, they’ll see that this Vernon is indeed where Wabishaw and his ancestors were from, not Vernon Parish. It appears the Vernon community in Jackson Parish might be more or less abandoned today but, during Wiley’s life, used to be well known and somewhat thriving.

And thus enters another factor in all this confusion — the various name spellings and monikers Wabishaw Wiley and his relatives were known as in contemporary records. Throughout his life (and his baseball career as well), Wabishaw went by numerous first names and nicknames — Doc, Spencer, Bill, William, Willie, etc. In addition, different Census reports and other documents list the Wiley surname with several varied spellings, including Wyly, Wyley, etc.

Put this all together and we have the following connected pages from the 1900 U.S. Census:


The sheets indeed identify young Wabishaw and his family as living in Jackson Parish, headed by 46-year-old Anderson and 37-year-old Janice. The family surname is spelled “Wyley,” and 13-year-old Wabishaw is pegged as “Willie.” Interestingly, the whole family is listed as black, and Anderson is stated as hailing from Alabama, a fact that will come into play in a few paragraphs down from here.

Upon further examination, the Wiley/Wyley family does indeed go back a fair ways in Jackson Parish. In fact, the 1870 federal Census appears to peg a 5-year-old Anderson as living with a family headed by a single mother in the post office section of Jackson called … Vernon! Again, the family name is spelled Wyley, and all the members are stated as black.

The 1880 Census lists Anderson living in Jackson with his own burgeoning family, but, quizzically, his ethnicity is pegged as “mulatto.” Then, fast-forward to the 1920, and Anderson Wiley is still living in Jackson Parish with his family. Anderson, now about 65, is listed as black and still toiling at his lifelong career as a sharecropper. By now, though, the family surname is stated properly as Wiley.


But there’s something a little strange as well … in that 1920 Census document, Anderson (as well as his own parents) is listed as hailing from Georgia, not Louisiana or, as the 1900 Census claims, Alabama.

On that note, a page from the 1866 state of Alabama census of the “colored population” appears to list what could be an Anderson Wiley in Pike County. However, thanks to a different style of handwriting at that time and some other document vagaries, it remains somewhat unclear whether this could be the Anderson Wiley who later fathered Wabishaw Wiley, the famed pre-Negro Leagues catcher.

Does any of this conclusively clear up whether 1) Wabishaw Wiley was African-American, Native-American or both; or 2) whether he was from Louisiana or Oklahoma? No, not really. But it does lend some credence to the Louisiana side of the ledger. (The issues of the often-forced migration of Native-American peoples from the southeastern U.S. west through Oklahoma to “Indian Territory” also come into play, i.e. if the Wileys were in fact Indian, could they have originated as Choctaws or Cherokees from Georgia and/or Alabama?

However — and there’s always a “however,” isn’t there? — there’s some evidence that Wiley, or at least someone called “W.S. Wiley,” was indeed from Oklahoma, not the Pelican State, and was actually Native-American. Those clues come in the form of contemporary articles from after the turn of the 20th century in what is now Oklahoma but what was, a century-plus ago, called Indian Territory.

Take, for example, a March 2, 1906, issue of the Durant Weekly News that reports on a Rev. W.S. Wiley, a Baptist minister and president of the board of trustees of Bacone University, revving up a campaign to raising $100,000 for the institution of higher learning. Bacone was formed in 1880 as The Indian University by the American Baptist Church.

Or look at the April 9, 1910, edition of a paper in Guthrie, Okla., that includes an article about the fundraising efforts to build a new structure for the Oklahoma School for the Deaf. Among the committee leading the charge? Rev. W.S. Wiley.


The Oklahoma School for the Deaf

Or geez, there’s the multiple articles in the Tulsa Daily World in June 1914 about the annual Baptist Young Peoples Union being held in that city. One of the presenters and organizers at the event is Rev. W.S. Wiley, who is stated as hailing from Muskogee — just as Wabishaw Wiley’s WWII draft card does roughly three decades later.

Such information also jibes with later press coverage of Wabishaw Wiley’s life, including obituaries in both the New York Amsterdam News and the New York Times after his death in November 1944. Indeed, Wiley attended Arkansas Baptist College.

But those postmortem articles make no reference to Wiley being a minister. In fact, they stress that, in addition to his status as a former baseball star, Wiley was a very successful and respected dentist and Howard University graduate.

So what’s going on? But ahhh, that’s perhaps best addressed in an ensuing post, because this post is getting a little bit far afield and too much off point …

The groundbreaking Pythians

Just had this story come out on philly.com about the trailblazing Philadelphia Pythians, who made history thrice in the 1880s. I had fun doing this. Although the Pyths’ story has already been explored fairly well — thanks at least partially to the sociopolitical importance of their founder, Octavius Catto — my old friend and mentor James Brunson gave some great quotes about the team’s off-the-field influence.

The Negro Leagues from a politician’s POV


Frank Robinson’s achievements helped Councilman Young develop a love for baseball.

I just finished a story for CityBeat, the alternative newsweekly in Cincinnati, about the Vigilants Club, an African-American, or “colored,” base ball (two words back then) team in the Queen City in the 19th century.

But I was originally trying to pull together a cover story for the paper about the Cincinnati Tigers, a top-level black squad in the 1930s that was a member of the nascent Negro American League in 1937. Although I couldn’t quite pull things together in time to get that piece done and did something smaller on the Vigilants instead, I did manage to get come pretty cool comments for the Tigers piece.

One person from whom I elicited comments was Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young, an African-American baseball fan with a deep appreciation for the city’s rich black heritage. (For example, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located in Cincy’s confines.)

Stated Councilman Young in an email:

“With the Major Leagues being closed to African Americans, the role that the Negro League played in Cincinnati’s African-American history is [that it] provided an opportunity for us to participate in the ‘national pastime.’ The Negro League provided rich entertainment opportunities for the African-American community, because we were often treated like second-class citizens at Major League ballparks.

“The Negro League in Cincinnati also helped to develop a sense of well being and pride in the community that allowed all Cincinnatians to see that we could play and achieve as well as anyone else. And so, when Major League baseball finally welcomed African-American players, we were not surprised by the accomplishments and character African Americans brought to the ball game.”

Young acknowledged that historically, the Cincinnati Reds were slow to accept integration of the majors as well as recognize the importance of baseball to the African-American community. But he added that over the last half-century, the city’s MLB team has done an admirable job of catching up with the times, so much so that the general community in the Queen City now views the Reds as just as racially progressive in modern times as other Major League clubs. Said Young:

“I am relatively sure that there is a general recognition and some awareness of Cincinnati’s black baseball past within the modern Cincinnati community. However, in large part I think the Cincinnati community just accepts that the Cincinnati Reds have African-American players and they see it as a simple fact of the game.

“Firmly, I believe that the Cincinnati Reds are very aware and appreciative of African-American contributions to the ball club. I think this is evident by the recognition bestowed upon African-American Reds alumni in recent years. While the Cincinnati Reds have not always shown appreciation to its African-American players, it is quite evident that the Reds, like so many other Cincinnatians, have evolved to see African Americans as an integral part of the team.”

In fact, for African-American Cincinnatians like Young who are too young to remember the Negro Leagues, especially the Cincy Tigers, personally, the Reds, despite their historical reluctance to accept black contributions to the national pastime, were many modern African Americans’ first entré to the world of baseball. And there was one legend in particular who helped in that process.

“I still remember the acquisition of Frank Robinson to the team,” Young said. “With this, I became an even bigger fan of the game. Frank Robinson was someone I saw in the community, and he became someone I knew. At that point, I not only rooted for the team, but I also cheered for the guy who made baseball real to me.”

As a final note, I think it’s safe to say that Young’s experience of growing his love for the game by identifying with and idolizing one player in particular has been, is and will always be a familiar one to legions of hardball fanatics nationwide and, indeed, worldwide. For me as a kid, that player was Rod Carew, and as I got older it became Tony Gwynn, who still represents, to me, everything that is wonderful about the game.

Many thanks to Councilman Young for his fantastic thoughts and willingness to contribute to my modest endeavors.

Shedding light on Gentleman Dave, Part 1


As I continue to explore and push for recognition of the Louisiana and New Orleans African-American baseball scene, one figure I’ve particularly been drawn to is David Malarcher, who gained his best fame as the player-manager of the great Chicago American Giants in the mid- to late-1920s, when he led the squad to multiple Negro National League titles.

Malarcher became such a good on-field pilot because, at least managerially speaking, he was perhaps the first disciple of the legendary (and almost mythical) Rube Foster, the father of the organized Negro Leagues.

Malarcher also deserves respect for being known as “Gentleman Dave,” a Renaissance man who wrote several epic poems, graduated from New Orleans University (now Dillard University, as I wrote in this article for the school’s alumni magazine), and treated his teammates, opponents, umpires and just about everyone else with the utmost respect, courtesy and humility. He never drank, never smoked, never even cursed.

Because of that astounding blend of impeccable character and on-field success — and the fact that he played for the New Orleans U. hardball team as well as one or two NOLA African-American semipro teams before hitting the big-time — I’m going to nominate him for induction into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s more than worthy of the recognition and honor.

But now, even despite my lengthy article on Malarcher for the Dillard U. magazine, I’m running into major, major problems identifying and chronicling his roots and youth, i.e. where he came from. I’m finding massive amounts of conflicting information, and I’m not sure where to start laying out the muddled picture I’m getting.

But I’ll try …

Let’s start with the source of the multiple beliefs regarding where Gentleman Dave was born. We have serious contradictions in the published bios on him, particularly the online ones. Wikipedia, which refers to my article in the Web encyclopedia’s entry on Malarcher, asserts that he was born in Union Parish in 1894, probably based on the fact that Malarcher listed “Union, Louisiana” as his birthplace on his draft cards for both WWI and WW2.


I’ll readily admit that I jumped to the conclusion — incorrectly, I now see — that by “Union, Louisiana,” Malarcher meant Union Parish. Contributing to my reasoning was that there aren’t any current communities, either incorporated or unincorporated, listed in the state of Louisiana. That error was perhaps understandable but still unacceptable, and I regret that.

I likewise should have checked exactly where Union Parish is in the state. Turns out it’s positioned at the very north of Louisiana, bordering on Arkansas’ Union County. That places it extremely far away from New Orleans, making it somewhat unlikely that Malarcher would make the trek from there to attend school in the Big Easy.

So what did Dave Malarcher mean by Union, Louisiana? I think I’ve found the answer — there might not be a “community” with that moniker, but there is a Census-designated place (CDP) called Union, at the very least historically. It’s located in St. James Parish, which rests alongside the mighty Mississippi River, about 50 or so miles to the west of NOLA, making it much more likely that Dave trekked to New Orleans from there instead of Union Parish.

Now, in exactly the same place as what is — or, perhaps, what was — the CDP of Union is the modern CPD of Convent, which also happens to serve as the seat of St. James Parish. Convent is also, as luck would have it, the location listed as Malarcher’s burial place on the illustrious findagrave.com.

To be more precise, the Web site states that he’s buried at the St. James Methodist Cemetery in Convent. After making a few calls down to that area, I discovered that that citation refers to the burial ground at the current St. James United Methodist Church in Convent.

Given the growing confusion about Malarcher’s background — as well as the fact that so many Negro Leaguers are either interred in unmarked graves and/or have incorrectly listed birth places — I called the minister of the St. James UMC, Rev. Gaynell Simon to confirm that Gentleman Dave Malarcher, the baseball player, is indeed buried in the church’s cemetery. (He died in Chicago in 1982.)

After a few days, Rev. Simon called me back and said Gentleman Dave is indeed buried at her church, which, for the record has a congregation of about 40, according to the church Web site. Rev. Simon said she learned as such by talking to Dave Malarcher’s niece, who lives in Convent.

In fact, a whole slew of Malarchers live in Convent today, at least according to the online white pages, including, it seems, a nephew of Gentleman Dave named after him. Rev. Simon then said she will send me some church documents that will greatly illuminate Dave Malarcher’s personal background. I’m practically salivating in anticipation at the thought.

So aaaaaaaaall of this points to the notion that David Julius Malarcher was from what is now known as Convent, La., in St. James Parish. And I have more proof, too, in the form of U.S. Census records.

The 1900 Census reports that a Julius Malarcher is living in St. James Parish’s third ward with five siblings and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Willie Malarcher, a farming family. Willie’s wife’s maiden name was likely, according to state marriage records, Noelic Goodberry; they wedded on Feb. 23, 1889, in St. James Parish. The 1900 Census lists Willie’s birthdate as 1857 and Noelic’s as 1961, both before or near the start of the Civil War.

Then, the 1910 Census lists the couple living in the same place with several children. Not among those offspring is David Julius, who was likely already in New Orleans at school. (I couldn’t immediately find Dave in the 1910 Census, though.)

So we have matters settled, right? Wrong. There are substantial hitches in this theory despite all the evidence I just outlined. First problem? That in the 1900 and 1910 federal tallies, the Malarchers are listed as … white! What?!?!?

And take the 1860 Census, which lists 3-year-old Willie — spelled “Wily” — living in Convent, St. James Parish, with his siblings and parents, Adolphe and Lilelia. The fact that Willie and family are even listed as citizens in the antebellum South seems to be a clue that the Malarchers of these documents are white and not African-American or even mixed-race.

But, umm, Gentleman Dave Malarcher was black. He played in the Negro Leagues. Below is a picture of him!


And there’s yet another inconsistency; namely, the fact that numerous biographies of Dave Malarcher — including ones from NLBM/KSU, Pitch Black Baseball and Baseball-Reference.com — state that he was born in Whitehall, La.

I know the inherent dangers of ever citing Wikipedia — often not the most accurate compendium — as a source of information, but for these purposes, I will (at my own peril). Wikipedia lists two “places” in Louisiana called Whitehall, one in Livingston Parish, the other in La Salle Parish, neither of which is particularly close to the Convent or Union CDPs.

It’s all quite puzzling, perhaps something that might not be solved until I receive the documents from Rev. Simon and travel to Convent myself to try to talk to some of the living Malarchers, something I plan to do very soon.

So, yes, this post will be the first entry in a series of posts about Gentleman Dave Malarcher, Negro Leagues great and prospective New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Famer. To conclude this one, I’ll defer to … David Julius Malarcher himself!

In his autumn years, Malarcher donated most of his personal papers to Dillard University, his alma mater. Included in these volumes is a personal life narrative told to seminal Negro Leagues researcher John Holway. Here is an excerpt or two from that regarding where Malarcher was from:

“I was born in 1894; that’s a long time ago, a long, long time ago. Union, Louisiana, that’s my home, about 57 miles from New Orleans and about 30 to 35 miles from Baton Rouge, right on the River Road, as we call it, Route 61. I was born right there, right under the Mississippi river levee. Anywhere from seven or eight years old, I used to swim in the middle of the Mississippi — man, we just had a ball. All of the kids, we just lived in the river. It was a wonderful life. …

“There were plantations all up and down the river, one at Burnside, and another three or four miles south, and then below our home there was one where my father worked, called Charbony. All of the people there were French people and very fine. We never had any difficulty with white people in my home. No sir, never. My mother in the later years became a mid-wife; she gave birth to them. It was a fine relationship. Not even a threat of lynching — no.”

But wait! More mystery! And it’s to be found in those same files at Dillard U. — clues that throw into question much of what I just wrote! Part 2 to come … let’s follow the trail.

The Seattle-Cincy-NOLA connection, courtesy of Abe


Abe Saperstein presided over it all

I’ve been working on a story timed for Black History Month for CityBeat newspaper in Cincinnati about the Negro Leagues scene in the Queen City, but I couldn’t quite pull it all together in time. But I have gotten enough to write a shorter story for the paper and a couple posts here on the ol’ blog, so this will be the first of two pieces on Cincy here …

And this first story is one I just had to do because of its intrinsic connection to New Orleans. Introducing the 1946 Cincinnati Crescents, a barnstorming squad that was piloted by … none other than Napoleonville, La., native Winfield Welch, who was one of the best managers in the Negro Leagues in the 1940.

But there’s even more of a Crescent City connection to this quality traveling Cincy team. The guy who was pegged, at least early on, as the ace of the pitching staff was Groundhog Thompson, the stubby little NOLA native who got his nickname because he looked like, well, a groundhog.


The Groundhog


However, aesthetic bodily features aside, Thompson — whose last name might actually have been Thomas, but for purposes of this post will go with the former — was one of the best pitching prospects in black baseball in the early 1940s. Unfortunately, the Hog didn’t quite pan out in the big-time Negro Leagues, so in ’46 he reunited with Winfield Welch on the Cincinnati Crescents roster. (As a side note, the Crescents’ mound rotation included other Louisianians, like Johnny Markham and Robert “Black Diamond” Pipkins.)

But who were in Cincinnati Crescents?

They were one of the many brainchildren of legendary sports owner/promoter Abe Saperstein, who was best known, of course, as the founder and owner of the Harlem Globetrotters hoopsters. And in 1946, Saperstein was quite the busy little beaver in black baseball.

On one count, he joined with Olympic champion Jesse Owens to form the West Coast Negro Baseball League, the first major venture into region-wide Negro Leagues ball on the left coast. But not only did Saperstein preside over the circuit, he owned its Seattle entry, the Steelheads — who, of course, featured NOLA native Herb Simpson, who recently passed away.

(The WCNBL had several more links to the Big Easy as well, most prominently with manager Wesley Barrow, who managed the league’s Portland Rosebuds and who encouraged Herb to come up to the Great Northwest to play for the Steelies. A few of us down here in NOLA are currently in the process of obtaining a marker for Barrow’s grave.)

But at the same time Saperstein and Owens were forming the WCNBL, Abe was pairing with Winfield Welch to bring together the Cincinnati Crescents, an independent barnstorming (or mainly barnstorming) team named after one of New Orleans’ nicknames.

And in many ways, the Seattle Steelheads and the Cincy Crescents were one and the same organization, despite being thousands of miles apart geographically.

That link was even formalized in early spring 1946, when the Philadelphia Tribune (and possibly other African-American newspapers) reported thusly:

“One of the surest signs that baseball is at last on the right track and headed for the same widespread cooperation that organized league baseball enjoys is the announcement by the Seattle team of the new West Coast Baseball League that a tieup has been made with the Cincinnati Crescents, the club W.S. Welch is assembling. The two teams will train together in the South … and play a spring schedule of games together. Seattle will have first call on all players Welch will not keep for the Crescents.

“In return, Seattle will give Cincinnati first call to purchase any players they may wish to sell. In no way, however, is Seattle to be regarded as a farm club.”

I found that last sentence to be intriguing, especially when viewed in light of the article’s very first sentence trumpeting the Seattle-Cincy deal as a harbinger of the type of networking that had existed in organized baseball for years.

But one of the basic foundations of organized baseball has always been the farm system and the link between major league teams and the minor-league franchises in their talent ladder. But the last sentence of the Philly Tribune article seems to discount the farm-system concept.

And indeed, the Negro Leagues never really established any sort of farming method at all, although some top-level teams did have informal arrangements with lower-tier teams. Perhaps the best example of this is the loose relationship between the Kansas City Monarchs and the Monroe Monarchs.

But back to the 1946 plot line … in the same issue of the Tribune as the aforementioned article was another one headlined, “Gus Welch in Ohio Readying Crescents.” The story refers to Welch as a “great manager of baseball” who was pulling together a team with a moniker that was “a throwback to one of the great teams he managed that first brought him into the national spotlight, the New Orleans Crescent Stars.”

The article also notes:

“Welch will meet with Cincinnati leaders, who have promised him their full cooperation, asking only in return that he put on the field the same type of aggressive, hustling aggregations that he has had in recent years.”

It’s a deal on which Welch definitely followed through, beginning with the inking in March of the famed Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe as a field manager-catcher-pitcher. Stated the Philly paper:

“Welch plans to build around the crack mound corps with young, dynamic and hustling players of the type for which he has become famous. The aggressive clubs he is noted for have been built up on this formula. Virtually all of the players who have become great under him were youngsters he developed and brought along carefully. He tolerates only winning ball players and they must hustle, and keep hustling, to play for him.”

After training with the Steelheads at one of New Orleans’ HBCUs, Xavier University, began plowing through an ambitious schedule, including a series with the mighty K.C. Monarchs in April and a barnstorming tour with the La Palomas squad from Havana.

The Crescents, who played what few home contests they had at Crosley Field, the Reds’ headquarters, then launched an eastern tour in June with a game in my home stomping grounds of Rochester, N.Y., against the famous bearded House of David aggregation.


An incarnation of the Chattanooga Choo Choos

The Cincys stopped in Atlanta and Birmingham in July, then took part in a doubleheader at NYC’s Polo Grounds in September by taking on the Chattanooga Choo Choos of the Negro Southern League.

One clash in particular  stood out during the Crescents ’46 tour — a thrilling twin bill showdown for, perhaps, bragging rights in the Queen City in mid-July. That’s when they split a twin bill with arguably Cincinnati’s most famous Negro Leagues team, the Cincinnati Clowns, at Crosley Field.

The Crescents’ story didn’t end in 1946, though. In fact, the team once again became another crucial cog in the Saperstein sports empire. After fielding another hoboing squad in ’47 — when they managed to finished second in the prestigious Denver Post Tournament — the Crescents opened their 1948 season on late April of that year when they arrived in Chattanooga to play … Saperstein’s Harlem Globetrotters hardball team!

The clash was promoted in an April 17, 1948, article in the Atlanta Daily World, which described the Globies this way:

” … [T]his is the fourth season Abe Saperstein’s brilliant club has been in operation — the Globetrotters have come to be known and respected as a formidable factor on the diamond. Like their namesakes of the basketball court … the baseball Globetrotters mix high-grade thrilling play with the dash of showmanship so pleasing to the fans. A Globetrotter appearance is always a a novel an interesting occasion.”

The article then called the Crescents a “sparkling entry in the field of independent traveling Negro baseball teams … the Crescents have an even greater personnel than the one [that] grabbed off second place” in Denver the season prior.


The diamond version of the Globies

“With the Crescents are a number of top-ranking colored players,” the story added. “The team has a formidable hitting attack and boasts the pitching, defensive ability, speed and hustle to give any club a tense session.” In addition, the piece said Welch himself was “regarded as the top pilot in all Negro baseball …”

We ain’t done yet. To add to the madcap Saperstein empire, the Globetrotters of 1948 were piloted by Paul Hardy, who in 1946 had managed … the Seattle Steelheads! Another tangent to explore!


Herb Simpson with his Steelies jersey

Because, as the Cincy Crescents were putting together a solid record during the 1946 season, the West Coast Negro Baseball League, and the Steelies along with it, collapsed by early summer, proving a failure for Saperstein (and Jesse Owens) despite the venture’s ambitious plans.

With the disintegration of the WCNBL, the Steelheads evolved into a Saperstein-sponsored all-star team that subsequently launched a quite successful tour of Hawaii. On the team was a handful of New Orleans products, including the recently-passed Herb Simpson.

But further muddling matters was the fact that another Abe-funded team, the Cincinnati Crescents themselves, also played a series of 13 games in Hawaii in fall 1946 with the Hawaii Senior Loop Braves.

Convoluted and confusing? Definitely. I myself have trouble following it all. The trails from New Orleans to Cincinnati to Seattle and back to New Orleans form quite an interesting geographic triangle, all presided over by a man better known for creating a world-famous, clowning basketball team.

A mystery of ethnic identity

I’ll start this off with a quote about Native-American identity from the Web site for the Four Winds Tribe, the Louisiana Cherokee confederacy, which is based in DeRidder, La.:

“American Indians of western Louisiana agreed to publicly identify themselves appropriately, in 1995. These people had long been oppressed and out of fear of retaliation from the federal government had chosen to hide their true identities. Earlier there could be no public acknowledgement of their rich heritage.

“Those who owned land feared it would be taken from them if they admitted they were American Indian, so therefore, many many census records reflect the racial status as ‘White, Free Person of Color, Black or Free Person,’ obviously an incorrect category. These people were denied the right to be proud (publicly) of their roots. Several generations have been deprived of their human rights due to this extreme injustice.”

The quote addresses a theme that runs through Native-American history, a very tragic and heart-rending theme — that of the racial, ethnic and cultural identity of the American Indian. As I wrote in this post about Cyclone Joe Williams’ ethnic make-up, as well as this article I turned out about how Native-American baseball player Jim Toy, who spent virtually his entire life, and certainly his baseball career, “passing” as white.

The gist is very basic — life for many Native-Americans has historic been so difficult and rife with racial prejudice that Indians were frequently hiding their cultural roots from the public and “pass” for other races, even identifying as African-Americans, who as it was didn’t exactly have an easy row of it in American history.

Enter Wabishaw Spencer Wiley, a catcher for the legendary Lincoln Giants teams of the 1910s who served as the primary receiver for Williams and Dick Redding, among others all-time great black pitchers.

It’s thus an interesting quirk of baseball history that Hall of Famer Joe Williams, whose ethnic makeup walks the line between black and Indian, would form a battery with Wabishaw Wiley, a respected player of his era who would spend his entire life wavering between identifying as African-American and Native-American. Why would Wiley at times officially list himself as black while at other times calling himself Indian? Because, as several other cases in baseball history illustrate, American citizens were frequently better off identifying as something they, in reality, weren’t.

Wiley is a perfect example of such hindsight-derived public confusion. In essence, was this man who played in black baseball during the pre-Negro Leagues era African-American, or was he Native-American?

In some official documents, such as the 1910 and 1920 Censuses, Wiley described himself as “mulatto.” On other forms, like the 1940 Census, he states that he’s “Indian.” And on still other forms, like the 1930 Census and his World War I draft card, he called himself “Negro” or “African.”


Tied up in his racial birth identity is the issue of where and when he was born. Many documents state that he was from Oklahoma — Muskogee, to be precise — but a few others say he was from Louisiana, a fact that makes me even more interested in his case, given my affinity for Louisiana black baseball.

Take, for example, Wiley’s WWI draft card, which states that he was born in “Vernon, “La.,” and the 1910 Census — at the time he’s a student at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, Ark. — lists him as a native Louisianian.


Now, there isn’t a town or similar municipality in Louisiana named Vernon, but there is a Vernon Parish. Today, Vernon Parish is best known as the home of the Army’s massive Fort Polk. But it’s also part of the region that, in history, served as the hone of a significant Native-American population — like, for example, the Four Winds Confederacy discussed at the start of this post.

The area that now comprises Vernon Parish, as well as a handful of other modern parishes, was frequently a sort of way station for Native-Americans from the southeastern U.S. as they migrated — once in a while voluntarily, but much more often forced to do so by our own government — from their ancestral homelands to the lower Midwestern states, particularly Oklahoma. However, there were also several tribes who were from western Louisiana historically as well.

So, if Wabishaw Wiley was, in fact, Louisianian by birth, there’s a decent chance that he could have been Native-American. There’s other (admittedly quite circumstantial) evidence, such as the presence in past Census records of Wiley families scattered throughout Vernon and its neighboring parishes, and the fact that several turn-of-the-century federal tribal rolls include a bunch of Wileys (as well as Wylys).

And of course, if Wiley was born in Oklahoma, where today thousands of citizens of indigenous descent live on reservations and in other communities thanks to the aforementioned forced relocation, there’s possibly an even better chance that Wiley was Indian, mixed-race or a free person of color living among native tribes.

In a future post, I’ll try to go into detail about Wabishaw Wiley’s life, especially his second career as a much-honored dentist, and his roots, both geographic and ethnic.

Stone heads south (of the border)


Took a few days off, had another cool project to work on. It’s actually for someone who hired me as a researcher, but I myself have become enraptured by it. Maybe I’ll try to tell a little bit about it in an upcoming post. It’s not Negro Leagues-related, but it does have to do with African-American history.

But for now, let’s revisit Wilmington, Del., native and outfielder Ed “Ace” Stone, about how I just turned in a story to Delaware Today magazine. The article revolves around the mystery of where Stone is buried — and when and where he even died, exactly. I’ve discussed that topic specifically here and here, but something else about Stone also captivates me — his notorious penchant for jumping to Latin America.

After playing for some hometown semipro teams in Wilmington and then with the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Stone signed up with the Brooklyn-turned-Newark Eagles just as new owner Abe Manley was starting to assemble a Negro Leagues powerhouse that eventually included Hall of Famers Willie Wells, Ray Dandridge, Mule Suttles and Leon Day, in addition to other top-level stars, like second baseman Dick Seay, who joined with Suttles, Wells and Dandridge to form the “Million Dollar Infield.”

In fact, Seay figures into one of Ed Stone’s first forays into Latin America. An April 1939 article in the New York Amsterdam News outlining the Eagles’ upcoming season refers to Seay and Stone’s imminent, expected return from Puerto Rico.

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The Eagles traded Stone to Ed Bolden‘s Philly Stars a few years later, and he continued to establish himself as a solid but not great center fielder with power at the plate.

But in spring 1946 — just as Jackie Robinson (and Johnny Wright) were undertaking their season with the International League’s Montreal club — Stone got into major hot water with the Negro Leagues powers-that-be by hopping over the Rio Grande. I’ll let the Pittsburgh Courier’s W. Rollo Wilson explain in a May 11, 1946, article:

“The Pasquel brothers of Mexico stopped feasting on the white major league clubs long enough last week to bite off another Negro National League player. This nip was right at home, for the athlete taken was Ed Stone, vintage outfielder of the Philly Stars, Ed Bolden’s entry in the Eastern loop. Stone, one of the real sluggers of the club and whose long hits have kept many a rally going in past years, has already left for south of the border, where he will be assigned to one of the power-packed clubs of so-called ‘outlaws.'”

From Mexico, Stone apparently decided to head even further south; a July 1946 article in the Philadelphia Tribune claims that “Ed Stone, burly outfielder and a native of Wilmington, Del., … was marooned in Venezuela.”

But another article in the Tribune a few weeks later has Stone back in Mexico, playing for Monterrey. However, apparently Stone first competed for the Torreon Club before signing up with Monterrey.

Stone stayed in warmer climes in 1947, playing for Mexico City with, among other top-shelf Negro Leaguers, Ray Dandridge. However, it seems Stone’s tenure in 1947 wasn’t exactly a smooth one — in February, Stone was one of a dozen players to hold out for more bucks in an effort to earn equal pay as their white brethren. Here’s the February 22, 1947, Baltimore Afro-American:

Jorge Pasquel, president of the Mexican Baseball League, is due here Thursday to attempt to put down a wholesale uprising and American diamond stars who were the backbone of his South-of-the-Border circuit last year. …

“The players … have served notice on Pasquel that they do not intend to return to Mexico for the 1947 season unless each receives a sizeable [sic] increase in his 1946 salary.

“The group is said to be in open rebellion against the Mexican League head for his action in signing a large number of white major leaguers at substantially higher salaries than they were receiving.”

That conflict was apparently resolved, though, at least to Stone’s satisfaction, for the Delaware kid expressed his intention to once again play in Mexico in 1948. But that seems to have earned him (and a bunch of other players) an informal “ban” from playing back Stateside in the Negro Leagues. A February 1948 column by George Lyle Jr., though, stated that the NNL would life its ban if the majors removed their similar one, and if that happened, Stone would be among the players welcomed back to the U.S. and, for Stone, the Philly Stars.

But that appears to have been it for Stone in terms of flying south; he spent his last couple years in the Negro Leagues playing mainly for the Black Yankees. But the team-hopping undertaken in the past by Stone and a slew of other players remained a sore spot for many on the Negro Leagues scene. That included Lyle, who, in a June 1950 column, lamented those players’ penchant for am-scraying south:

“What is the real reason behind these players’ moves? Money, of course, is the big item, and yet I know that some of the guys were getting what they asked in the way of salary.

“Can it be the romantic idea of life lived in those hot-blooded countries to the South? Well, hardly, for many of them have told me about the incredibly poor living conditions that exist. And the food can do things to a guy’s stomach …

“Whatever the lure — we’ve lost a number of top players to Latin America — players whom we could ill afford to let go, for their contributions to the national scene could have meant more major leaguers.”

On a final note, it’s fascinating to track Stone’s movement between the latitudes with ship and plane passenger manifests. One such list for a March 1936 voyage from San Juan, Puerto Rico to NYC pegs Stone as a 26-year-old native of Newport, Del. Another passenger on the trip? None other than Hall of Fame first baseman Buck Leonard.


Another manifest, this one describing the passengers of an autumn 1935 voyage of the S.S. Borinquen from the Big Apple to San Juan, lists Stone as a native of “Welington, Del.” Listed right below him is his Eagles teammate, Dick Seay.

A manifest from September 1939 on a sailing from New York to San Juan lists Stone traveling with his wife, Bernice, while a January 1940 document includes Bernice traveling sans husband back to the States from PR.

Stone’s later trips to Mexico are documented by airplane passenger lists, while another mentions him and Bernice flying on American Airlines from Miami to Havana, Cuba, in March 1948.

But the absolute best manifest is the one below. It’s for a November 1936 voyage of the S.S. Coamo from NYC to San Juan. Why’s it awesome? Because, aside from Ed Stone, the manifest lists a few other pretty decent baseball players — Terris McDuffie, Leroy Matlock, Dick Seay, George Scales and some dude named Leroy Paige, whose birthdate, and this is just a feeling, is listed incorrectly.