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.