Lew Hubbard, right (April 24, 1910, Oregon Daily Journal)
One of biggest and most important lessons my buddy Ron Auther — West Coast Negro Leagues guru extraordinaire — has taught me about blackball out West, it’s that in the first couple decades of the 20th century, the African-American baseball scene frequently intersected with boxing culture. Fisticuffs frequently accompanied — or, in the case of the subject of this blog, supported — hardball on the Left Coast.
And the topic of this modest treatise is one Lew Hubbard of Portland, Ore. (Shout out to my brother, Nathan, who’s lived and thrived in that city for nigh a decade). Hubbard was a sporting magnate on the African-American sports landscape in and around Portland in the 1910s.
A postcard picture of the 1914 Hubbard Giants (photo courtesy of www.sportingoregon.com)
For most of that decade, Hubbard managed/owned/played for a semipro, barnstorming baseball team called the Colored Giants. The formal name of the aggregation seems to have varied from year to year — alternately the Hubbard Giants, the Golden West Giants or just the Colored Giants. The team frequently played at McKenna Park.
And once in a while, Hubbard handed over the managerial reins to other guys, like a man named George Ellison (I haven’t had a chance to delve into his background, but, really quickly, he took over the piloting duties for a spell in summer 1912).
Before we delve in the tale of the Hubbard Colored Giants and their connection to the boxing world, a little background … Horace Llewelyn Hubbard was born on Sept. 28, 1882, in Illinois. He made his way to Portland, and by 1910, he was working as a mailing clerk at a fire-insurance company and living as a lodger on 13th Street.
By the time the 1920 national Census rolled around, Hubbard, his wife Esther and his stepdaughter Jane Bryan were dwelling on E. 58th Street N.
Hubbard and his family held an interesting place in Portland society and race relations. Hubbard himself appears to have been mixed-race — the 1910 Census says he’s “mulatto,” while the 1920 document tabs him as black — and at both of his homes, he (and then his family too) were the only African-Americans in an otherwise all-white neighborhood.
Now, as far as the geographic setting goes … Portland is located in a quite unique topographical area. The hub of Multnomah County in the Willamette Valley region, rests at the foot of the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Hood, at the confluence of Willamette and Columbia rivers and just east of the Pacific Ocean.
Culturally, Portland today is one of the nation’s most socially and politically progressive cities, with a steadily diversifying population in terms of ethnicity, a city-wide love of education and intellectual and spiritual exploration, and an emphasis on environmental appreciation and preservation.
The city of Portland, with the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Hood in the background.
But, from what I’ve gleaned from limited historical studying and shooting the breeze with Nathan, Portland wasn’t always so liberal, and it underwent significant growing pains and sociopolitical upheaval during the 19th and 20th centuries. As different ethnic populations, including African Americans and Asian-Americans, started to gravitate toward Portland in search of its booming industry and status as a coastal port, the integration and assimilation processes didn’t always go smoothly.
OK, back to the story … With that backdrop, Hubbard steadfastly had overall control of the outfit, which seems to have been a feared one in the Portland area and was constantly looking for opponents with whom to cross bats. Take, for example, this little article in the April 13, 1914, Morning Oregonian:
“The Hubbard Giants (colored) want out-of-town games. Manager Lew Hubbard has collected a fast bunch of ballplayers and his roster includes some of the funniest coachers imaginable.”
Or this from the June 26, 1910, Oregon Daily Journal:
“Lew Hubbard wants to book his colored Portland Giants with out of towners during July and August. His outfit is working nicely now and is an attraction everywhere because of their fast, clean playing and funny coaching.”
(The excerpts display one of the ballyhooed attractions of early black baseball — funny base coaches, who jibed opposing players and riled up the fans playfully.)
I haven’t been able to pin down much proof that the Hubbard Giants were actually able to drum up a plethora of travel games, but there were a few. In July 1911, for example, Giants came from behind to beat a team called the TFBs despite the fact that the Hubbards were missing six of their regular starters. A brief write-up on the game in the Daily Journal further stated that “[t]he Giants would like to hear from the Portland Business College team concerning next Sunday’s game.”
Hubbard was also a solid player, displaying hustle and grit. In August 1910, he tore a few ligaments in his chest when he smacked into a fence chasing down a high fly ball. The muscular affliction kept him out of the lineup for a couple weeks.
But … what about boxing? Well, here’s the dope, as sportswriters declared waaaaaaay back in the day:
Lew Hubbard himself boxed on the amateur circuit and appears to have been pretty decent at it. In January 1910, Hubbard, fighting on the undercard at welterweight in a six-rounder, overwhelmed another African-American boxer, Casey Rhodes, earning a third-round TKO.
A few months later, Hubbard again flashed his fistic skills in another multi-card slate. Reported the April 30, 1910, Oregon Daily Journal:
“Referee Richardson stopped the bout between Lew Hubbard, colored, and Jack Farrell, a plump looking middleweight, when the latter was all but out. Hubbard gave away about 15 pounds and made a good impression.”
But to others, apparently, Hubbard was but a mediocre pugilist; in November 1910, a columnist at the Daily Journal said thusly, with a healthy dose of early-20th-century snark:
“Lew Hubbard (colored) played third base for the Columbia Hardware team yesterday. By the way, that reminds me that Hubbard was a boxer before one of the fight clubs a few months back, and the way he played ball yesterday I would recommend that he keep on playing ball instead of taking beatings in the padded arena.”
Whatever Hubbard’s talent as a boxer, he did seem to know the Portland fistiana landscape and economics, and he put that knowledge to good use to raise money for his baseball squad, the Colored Giants. Hubbard frequently threw together large entertainment bashes that included not only boxing bouts but other forms of extravaganza.
For example, in spring 1911, he assembled a slew of performers to raise funds to pay for new playing duds for the Giants. Reported the March 7, 1911, Morning Oregonian:
“Singing, dancing, rag-time piano playing, wrestling, boxing and pipes and tobacco for all will be the order of the evening at the smoker of the Portland Giants baseball team tonight at Eschles Hall at Second and Yamhill streets. Some of the best amateur buck and wing dancers and comedians of the Northwest are billed to appear to aid in refitting the Giants with baseball uniforms for the coming year.”
(A smokers, it seems, was a term for illicit boxing matches a century ago. That illegality will be important further down.)
Hubbard turned the bash into an annual affair, too. In January 1912, he pulled together another “smoker” fundraiser for the Giants. Several three-round bouts were fought, including one between Hubbard himself and a fighter named George Spring. There was also a singing duet, as well more buck and wing dancing.
But here’s the thing — around 1910, the boxing world was going through some sturm and drang for several reasons. One, the “Fight of the Century”: the July 4, 1910, heavyweight showdown between powerful and controversial Jack Johnson, the sport’s first black heavyweight champion, and former titlist Jim Jeffries, who was drawn out of retirement to become the “Great White Hope” to dethrone Johnson.
The fight, which was held “out West” in Reno, Nevada, ended up with Johnson pummeling the over-the-hill and woefully under-prepared Jeffries. The result spurred “race riots” across the country as numerous cities banned the film of the fight to be shown in theaters.
It was a momentous moment in both the history of sport and the development of racial relations and American society.
And two (back to Portland), the sport, which had been technically illegal for decades in the country, was in the infancy of its legality. Leading up to a monumental showdown in 1892 — here in NOLA, as it turns out — between legendary heavyweights John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett, boxing in America operated in the shadows of sporting society, knitted together by an underground system of enthusiasts (who were sometimes called “sports”) who that frequently “encouraged” law enforcement and political authorities to look the other way. (Many boxing historians view the Sullivan-Corbett clash, which saw the solidification of the Queensberry Rules as the accepted guidelines, as the beginning of the sport’s modern era.)
And, it seems, in the first couple decades, Oregon — or at least Portland — attempted to outlaw boxing despite the fact that the sport was becoming legal across much of the country. In Portland, authorities seemed to have aggressively gone after not just fighters but also promoters.
And one of the guys in the cross hairs? Our own Horace Llewelyn Hubbard.
In fact, in late April 1910, Hubbard, along with several other local boxing figures, was arrested by Portland authorities in what area media called a “test case” for the city’s crackdown on the sport. The arrests, on charges of arranging prize fights, were driven by an entity called the Municipal Association (which was also making plans to be joined by the “Ministerial Association.”)
Stated the May 1, 1910, Sunday Oregonian:
“The war which has been waged fitfully against boxing in this city … came to a climax yesterday when district attorney [George] Cameron, yielding to the pleadings of some of the members of the association, authorized the arrest[s] …
“… Lew Hubbard, a colored boxer, was taken into custody … and released after he posted a [$1,000] bond. …
“Hubbard says he that he was engaged at a salary to box and appeared for no reward set upon the result of the bout, and that neither he nor his opponent was hurt in any way. …”
But here’s the key paragraph in the article:
“The complaints … were signed by J.T. Wilson, an auctioneer and member of the Municipal Association. These boxers were selected to make test cases of boxing in this city, as their exhibitions are said to have been the most brutal of those witnessed last Winter. They occurred on January 20.”
The article added that several fight clubs existed in the city at the time, and that:“All give exhibitions. There have been few, if ant, instances of blood being brought out by the blows in these bouts, and one or two accidental knockouts have occurred, it is said.”
How you have an “accidental knockout” is unclear to me. Plus the fighters were under strict rules of the promoter: “The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club!”
Anyway, the cases were apparently remanded to the district attorney’s office, and Hubbard’s trial in front of Presiding Judge John Bryson Cleland of the circuit court was slated for Sept. 11. The Daily Journal stressed that the charges were, in fact, largely driven by the Municipal Association and one of its attorneys, C.E. Lennon, a situation that reflects just how powerful that group was.
Thankfully, though, the DA’s office decided to not prosecute the charges and continued the case indefinitely, with the expectation that the counts would eventually be dismissed, after Hubbard and another boxer, Paddy Maher, “promised to be good hereafter” (per the Daily Journal). Lennon was apparently persuaded to ease up on the pair. Stated the Journal:
“Mr. Lennon said it was not the desire of the interests he represents to inflict punishment upon Maher and Hubbard after receiving assurances that no effort will be made to pull off any more ‘scraps.’”
So Lew Hubbard was off the hook. But what was amazing was that, while his case was being digested by the legal system, Hubbard continued to manage the Giants — and retain the team’s connection to boxing despite the charges that hung over Lew’s head. Take, for example, the July 10, 1910, Sunday Oregonian:
“The Portland Giants (colored) boast of some excellent in their number. Collie Edwards, the catcher; Ellison, pitcher, and Lew Hubbard at second are all first-class performers both on the baseball field and in the ring. Hubbard and Ellison are well-known local fighters …”
So there you have it, the multi-sport tale of our Portland pal Lew Hubbard. He soldiered on for several more years as both a baseball kingpin and a boxer.
Over the years, Hubbard put together a Colored Giant squad in 1913, when he spent the spring searching for a good pitcher and eventually backed away from his managerial duties; in 1914, when he resumed the job of skipper and organized travel and home games against teams from burgs and locales like Chehalis, Wash.; the St. John’s neighborhood in Portland; Camas, Wash.; Banks, Ore.; Oswego, Ore.; St. Helens, Ore.; and Oregon City, Ore.; and in 1915, when he brought a 16-year-old prodigy, Cal Jackson, at catcher.
One more thing worth noting is that Hubbard, throughout his tenure as a team manager, continually recruited players from all over the country, from as far away as Connecticut. Naturally, just like almost every other semipro hardball team of that era, the Hubbards’ roster was a revolving door of personnel.
But, significantly, many of his baseballists also doubled as pugilists, just like Hubbard himself.
On top of that, perhaps the most intriguing and noteworthy employment coups for Hubbard was the signing, during the 1914 campaign, of a pitcher with the last name of Claxton.
That would be the famous Jimmy Claxton, arguably the best player in West Coast African-American baseball during that era. Fellow historians like Ron Auther, Gary Ashwill and John Thorn have been delving in Claxton’s still-mysterious, elusive and legendary background and career.
Thus wraps up, at least for now, our exploration of Lew Hubbard, his Portland-based baseball aggregation, his boxing career and his efforts as a promoter. And, just like many black baseball impresarios in the West in the early 20th century, those activities frequently dovetailed with each other, creating a vibrant story of a fascinating man.