Louisiana Weekly, Oct. 9, 1948
Editor’s Note:This post was initially started as an article I was going to submit to a local New Orleans TV station, but that seems to be on hold for the time being, and since I had already started the piece, I figured that for now I’d flesh it for a blog post.
Since it started as a draft article for a TV station — which means a wider audience that might not be schooled in the basics of the Negro Leagues in New Orleans — the piece begins with a more formal, general interest tone than what I usually post on Home Plate Don’t Move.
I’m in no way done with the subject contained herein, and I’ll continue to build on this project, but I wanted to produce something tangible at this point but that could also be a launching pad for a follow up or two down the road, as well as publication in another medium or outlet. Enjoy!
In the first half of the 20th century, New Orleans had numerous brushes with baseball fame and significant influence on the national pastime across the country. Numerous hardball legends — including greats like Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays — thrilled Big Easy baseball nuts with their Herculean diamond exploits.
Just not the way you might think, however.
World Series games, All-Star contests and attendance at national league organizational confabs were staples of local hardball, but they happened behind the curtain of the color line.
Before Jackie Robinson and other African-American stars gradually integrated so-called organized baseball, including the major leagues, beginning in 1946, the all-black Negro Leagues arose and thrived in parallel to — but always separated from — the whites-only confines of organized baseball.
For decades, luminaries like Wesley Barrow, John Bissant, Walter Wright, Herman Roth and Herb Simpson plied their talented trade — at Pelican Stadium and other landmark Big Easy ballparks — on top-quality pro teams like the Black Pelicans, Crescent Stars, Caulfield Ads and Algiers Giants. These successful hardball endeavors were funded, fueled and founded by businessmen like Allen Page, Fred Caulfield and Walter Cohen.
And it wasn’t just local players, managers and owners who shined in segregation-era New Orleans black baseball — because of its warm climate and status as a major American city, New Orleans became a hotbed of national black ball activity.
Page created the North-South All-Star game that took place for a decade beginning in 1939, and he routinely promoted exhibition and league clashes between barnstorming, championship clubs like the famed Homestead Grays and Chicago American Giants. The New Orleans-St. Louis Stars of the Negro American League became the only major-level hardball team in Big Easy history. (More on Allen Page later.)
The city and surrounding area cultivated and produced such esteemed national stars like irascible third baseman Oliver “Ghost” Marcell, player/manager “Gentleman” Dave Malarcher, pennant-winning manager Winfield Welch and pitcher John Wright, who in early 1946 signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers — just a few months after Robinson did so — making Wright only the second African-American player to ink a contract with organized baseball.
And, in 1948, New Orleans was part of one of the most significant events in the history of segregation-era black baseball — the last Negro League World Series between the champions of the Negro National League and National American League.
It was the swan song of the NLWS because, with a torrent of African-American players integrating (and subsequently starring) in the major leagues, the Negro Leagues suffered crippling drops in press coverage, fan attendance and national importance. While all eyes were now on Robinson, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Roy Campanella and other former black ball stars as they blazed trails in the majors, the Negro Leagues died a swift, painful death.
“That was the last Negro World Series,” Homestead Grays first baseman and National Baseball Hall of Famer Buck Leonard told author John Holway. “[Washington Senators owner Clark] Griffith’s prediction came true. After Negroes got in the big leagues, all the Negro fans wanted to go see the big-league teams. We’d get around 300 people to a game. We couldn’t even draw flies.”
In its own tragic way, the 1948 Negro League World Series between the NNL champion Homestead Grays and the NAL pennant-winning Birmingham Black Barons represented the last gasp of big-time African-American baseball before folding its tent, ironically the victim of civil rights and long-delayed integration of baseball and of American society as a whole. Willie Mays himself, in his autobiography, “Say Hey,” opined that black ball was dying a painful death, with words that nearly duplicated the comments Leonard gave Holway above:
“That was the last Negro World Series. After Negroes got into the big leagues, all the black fans wanted to go see the big-league teams. Ironically, blacks getting into major league baseball cost hundreds of other black players their jobs.”
In a retrospective published 40 years after the 1948 Negro World Series, a September 1988 article in the New York Times summed the situation up neatly:
“Branch Rickey changed that world overnight by bringing Robinson onto the Dodgers. No one who attended the 1948 Negro League series could have realized how fast support for black baseball was crumbling.
“In the fall of 1948, however, enough fan interest in black baseball remained for one last championship. The Grays, champions of the Negro National League were favored to beat the Birmingham (Ala.) Black Barons, winners of the Negro American League title. …”
The 1948 Negro League World Series served as such an important signpost of transition that it served as the subject of a 2018 book, “Bittersweet Goodbye: The Black Barons, the Grays, and the 1948 Negro League Series,” and as well as the focus of the first annual Southern Negro League conference, held last summer in Birmingham.
And New Orleans stood front and center in that bittersweet baseball coda when it hosted one game of the series.
Or was it two games?
With its participation in the 1948 NLWS, the Crescent City became part of, thanks to newly uncovered research, an enduring mystery that resonates with the field of historical baseball scholarship and fandom.
1948 Birmingham Black Barons
As a preface, it’s important to note that, because of a lack of a strong, decisive league administration and financial security, black baseball was chronically unstable, with dozens of teams and numerous leagues coming and going over the decades.
Players frequently bailed on their contracts with one team to play for another, and, unlike organized baseball, the economic lifeblood of Negro League team was not official league contests but instead grueling, almost non-stop barnstorming across the country in which touring clubs often played seven or eight games a week practically in a different town every night.
Such exhibitions and unofficial all-star clashes helped keep black ball afloat, and it led to constantly changing game schedules and frequent uncertainty as to where the squads were headed next. Said Negro Southern League Museum founder and Executive Director Dr. Layton Revel:
“In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, promoters would make a bigger deal [of the run-up] in the media than than the game itself. So chances are, the game was played, but you never knew because there was no coverage after the game.”
“You’d have a promoter who was negotiating with numerous people for games. Allen Page would call up the owner of the Birmingham Black Barons and ask if [Page] could host a game and have preliminary discussions about a meeting. They’d try to be honest and forthright, but for some reasons the games would just never happen.”
The Negro League World Series was no exception to this rule throughout the series lifespan over the years. Even though it was supposedly the big capper to each Negro League season, the NLWS was certainly susceptible to curious scheduling.
“One strange feature of Negro world series games is that they are often played in cities which are not the home bases of either [pennant] winning club,” wrote Atlanta Daily World columnist Marion Jackson in the paper’s Sept. 28, 1948, edition.
These conditions became a significant factor in the 1948 NLWS, especially pertaining to New Orleans role in the series, a fact that would prove both crucial and confusing during the first week of October 1948.
Because, as it unfolded, Game 4 was originally slated to take place in Birmingham’s Rickwood Park, but that city’s white team, the Birmingham Barons, took precedence at the stadium after advancing to the Southern Association championship series.
That sudden development left the Grays and Black Barons scrambling to find last-minute arrangements for Game 4. The solution: shift the fourth contest to New Orleans, which was halfway close geographically, featured an excellent baseball stadium and had a large, sports-loving fan base to fill the stands.
An example of the volatility of game schedules in the Negro Leagues and the spontaneous nature of the leagues occurred to Grays pitcher Wilmer Fields following Game 3, which was in Birmingham. According to the book, “Willie’s Boys,” by John Klima, Fields didn’t even know that Game 4 had been shifted to New Orleans, forcing him to drive 25 straight hours from his home in Virginia down to the Big Easy.
(In the appendices at the end of this, I have Klima’s entire recounting of the events in a larger excerpt; I decided to put it after the main essay because the passage is really long, and including it here would make this screed even more droning that it is now.)
So, on Oct. 3, the clubs took to the diamond at Pelican Stadium — which had, coincidentally, been purchased earlier in the year by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the parent team of the white New Orleans Pelicans — at what is now the southeast corner of the Carrollton Avenue-Tulane Avenue intersection to clash once again. It turned out to be a cake walk for the Grays as they pounded the Barons, 14-1, to take a commanding 3-1 league in the series.
Those facts are (generally) undisputed.
It’s that fifth game that’s suddenly become a quandary for Negro League scholars. The prevailing wisdom — including a recent book on the 1948 NLWS — has for a couple decades states that Game 5 was played two days later on Oct. 5 in Birmingham. With their 10-6 victory, the scholarship goes, the Grays — playing at the tail end of a dynastic domination of the Negro League playoffs that ran for a decade — thus garnered the World Series crown, the last in black baseball baseball.
“Not that there was any doubt about it from the beginning,” wrote Dizzy Dismukes, Chicago Defender reporter and former star pitcher and manager in black baseball, “but the Washington Homestead Grays won undisputed possession of the Negro World’s Baseball Championship title by defeating the Birmingham Black Barons 10-6 in the fifth and final game of the Negro World Series … Oct. 5.”
But newly uncovered contemporary coverage by multiple New Orleans newspapers asserted that Game 5 actually took place not in Birmingham, as previously thought, but in the Big Easy on Oct. 4. According to reports in both the Times-Picayune and the Louisiana Weekly, the Grays clinched the series on that day on Pelican Stadium, by an 8-2 count.
“The Grays won the series,” stated the Oct. 9, 1948, Weekly, “taking four of five games played between the two nines, and are the new world champions of sepia baseball.”
This “mystery game” was also promoted in the New Orleans press before in took place as the official fifth game. Stated the Oct. 4, 1948, issue of the New Orleans Item, “The Homestead Grays can put an end to the Negro World series tonight [Oct. 4] at Pelican Stadium if they can turn back the Birmingham Black Barons …”
But, because no actual box scores of any of those games have yet been uncovered — which, in theory, would go a long way toward providing answers to this enigma — there’s no way to definitively prove what happened during the series, including where the games were played and who was specifically involved.
“A box score or a line score is the most important piece,” Revel said. “If you say a guy played on a team, I want to see a box score that shows he was a player with that team.”
Birmingham World, Oct. 1, 1948
Larry Lester, a multiple-award-winning author and chairman of the Negro Leagues Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research, said the lack of box scores severely hinders the search for the truth, adding that researchers must keep digging.
“The box scores or game accounts of 1948 World Series are out there somewhere,” Lester said. “They will not be found if we assume they don’t exist.”
(A representative from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., said such box scores couldn’t be found in the archives there.)
Richard Puerzer, in the book “Bittersweet Goodbye,” detailed each game in the 1948 Negro World Series, and his account of Game 5 follows the narrative of an 10-6 victory by the Grays in Birmingham on Oct. 5.
Klima’s book recounts the 1948 NLWS game by game in detail, with his volume asserting that Game 5 took place in Birmingham — the supposed 10-6 clinching win for the Grays — and not in NOLA. (His write up of Game 4 does place that contest in New Orleans, as reported by all contemporary and modern accounts.)
Klima also notes what other historians have lamented — the lack of coverage and blow-by-blow accounts.
“Details were scant in papers around the country,” he writes, “as black newspapers dedicated their space to the major league World Series,” in which former Negro League stars Satchel Paige and Larry Doby were playing for the Cleveland Indians.
But what about those who were actually there? Would anyone who participated in the 1948 NLWS be able to offer a first-person account?
Aside from Mays, only one person involved in the 1948 series remains alive — 94-year-old and Alabama native Bill Greason, a pitcher on the Black Barons at the time. Greason, as it turns out hurled the only game an overwhelmed Birmingham won in the series, a 10-9, 11-inning nailbiter in Birmingham Sept. 30. (Greason also eventually made it to the bigs, albeit briefly, appearing on the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals for a handful of games in 1954.)
In a phone interview with me in January, Greason, now a minister in the Birmingham area, said that because the events happened more than 70 years ago, his recollection is fuzzy at best.
“I don’t remember too much,” Greason said. “It was a bit of a long time ago.”
Greason also said he doesn’t remember ever playing in New Orleans at any point during his career.
However, Greason was the guest of honor at last summer’s Southern Negro League conference in Birmingham, and in October he gave an interview to WBHM, the public radio station in Birmingham. During the interview, Greason alluded that only one game of the ’48 series was held in Birmingham. Greason said:
“Well, it was a good series. The only thing was we didn’t play all the games in one place. We went from one place to another. I don’t quite remember all of the places. They beat us four games to one, and I won the only game here in Birmingham, in relief.”
The comment seems to discount the possibility that Game 5, the clinching game for the games, was not played in Birmingham after all. However, it also doesn’t confirm that the contest was played in New Orleans, either.
Also muddying the matter are several articles that were written decades after the 1948 series asserting that both the fourth and fifth games took place in New Orleans, including a 1988 piece in the New York Times about the city of Pittsburgh celebrating the legacy of the Grays.
Another theory, now that this new information has been discovered, is that the game played on Oct. 4 at Pelican Stadium was deemed an exhibition contest, which had been decided either before or after it was played, with the Oct. 5 contest at Rickwood Field in Birmingham serving as the last official game of the series.
If this was the case, no record has been found revealing exactly when it was decided that the Oct. 4 game would be played, or when and why those involved declared it an exhibition. One possible reason for this chain of events could be that, as stated earlier, exhibition games presented a chance for additional, much needed revenue for the teams and for the league.
But what was the Birmingham media’s take on the swan song of the Negro World Series? We can look at the series chronology as presented by the city’s African-American newspaper, the Birmingham World, for glimpse at Alabama’s coverage.
Like the reportage from every other news source, the World placed the first game of the ’48 series as a win by the Grays in Kansas City, followed by two contests at Rickwood, the first won by the Grays, the second, i.e. Game 3, claimed by the Black Barons.
It should be noted that, like other black ball fans, folks in Birmingham apparently grew frustrated with the lack of information reaching the public about the 1948 series, perhaps another example of the lessening importance placed on the Negro Leagues and their season-capping title series.
In the Sept. 24, 1948, World, columnist Emory O. Jackson voiced the discontent felt by those who did still follow the Negro Leagues, especially the dedicated Black Barons fans, by zinging a critique at Barons owner Tom Hayes:
“When President Tom Hayes, Jr. returns to Birmingham he will find some of the fans burning mad at him for not rushing the playoff scores back to the franchise city. Fans had to pick up the scores from the wives and sweethearts of Birmingham players. Birmingham fans deserve better treatment than this.”
A week later, Jackson then highlighted the seat-of-the-pants nature of the planning for Negro World Series that plagued the 1948 series from the beginning. In the Oct. 1, 1948, issue of the World, after reporting on the Grays’ 5-3 win in Game 2 at Rickwood on Sept. 29, Jackson reported that there “was uncertainty Wednesday night surrounding where the fourth game of the series would be played. The [white] Dixie Series forced the cancellation of the Sunday afternoon [Oct. 3, ostensibly planned as Game 4] ] edition of the Series.”
The World did not provide detailed, direct coverage of Game 3, held at Rickwood on Sept. 30 (probably because of the paper’s production schedule and deadlines), and offered just a paragraph — a news brief, really — on Game 4 now being slated for New Orleans, not Birmingham.
Fans at Rickwood
Adding to the confusion was that, while this news blurb was, like Jackson’s column, was published in the World’s Oct. 1 issue, the two reports were presented in separate articles, with the brief stating that “[t]he Grays and Black Barons will go to New Orleans Sunday for the fourth game of the Negro World series. The two teams will return to Rickwood Field Thursday night for the fifth game The remainng [sic] games, if needed to settle the best four-of-seven series, will be played at the same spot.”
Confused yet? This bit of fuzziness reveals yet another reason for the confusion floating around the NLWS (and, indeed, the entire history of black baseball), its scheduling and its reportage — the bi-weekly or weekly nature of the African-American press at the time.
Because many black papers published only once or maybe twice a week (with a few exceptions being published daily), the media’s coverage of any given sporting event or events was often scattershot, jumpy, and poorly organized.
The journalistic murkiness was further stirred by the small staffs employed by each African-American papers, especially on the sports desk. Financial realities often limited the amount of money the papers could allot to salaries, leaving the sports departments (such as they were) to scramble to get everything covered and published in any sort of coherent way. They did the absolute best they could, and they thoroughly loved what they did, but frequently they simply couldn’t keep up with everything.
(At many black papers, sports writers or editors double or even tripled as music and entertainment columnists, news reporters, copy editors or even distribution supervisors. For example, in the 1930s, Louisiana Weekly sports editor Eddie Burbridge, in addition to writing a couple sports columns a week and also providing straight reportage on athletic events — he was particularly fond of boxing — churned out a weekly nightlife column and performed all his editing duties, a slate of responsibilities that was undoubtedly grueling. Burbridge used the experience he gained in New Orleans to move West and helped found and edit the Los Angeles Sentinel.)
So, at this point, the Birmingham World has placed Game 4 as being slated for New Orleans on Oct. 3, meaning the newspaper’s timeline matches up, if awash in some vagaries, with other chronicles of the series.
At that point, the World seems to have dropped the ball (pun possibly intended) with its coverage of the series’ final contests. I was unable to locate any actual reportage of Game 4 in New Orleans — not a box score, not a line score, no scores or simple result of any kind at all — in the World, with Emory Jackson simply stating, almost in passing, that the series had “moved to Birmingham for games last Wednesday [Sept. 29] and Thursday night [Sept. 30 ], and on to New Orleans Sunday [Oct. 3]. It will remain at Rickwood until it is finished.”
In the Oct. 5 issue of the paper, Jackson further reported that “[b]arring bad weather, the fifth game of what is labeled the Negro World Series will be played under the lights at Rickwood Field.
In the same edition (Oct. 5), the World made it clear that, according to the information it had at that time, Game 5 was slated for that night, Oct. 5, at Rickwood, not in New Orleans as had been reported by the media in New Orleans — the World placed a thin, page-wide add on the bottom of Page 1 stating such.
That’s the Birmingham World ad. I apologize for the tiny image.
But then, simply piling onto the building mountain of lingering mystery about this final Negro World Series, the World proceeded to relegate further mention of this Oct. 5 Game 5 to a passing paragraph in an article in the outlet’s Oct. 8 edition that was mostly about … the upcoming exhibition doubleheader between the Black Barons and the Indianapolis Clowns. The paper reported:
“The Black Barons lost to the Homestead Grays, 10 to 6, in ten innings, last Tuesday night [Oct. 5] at Rickwood. The lost [sic] knocked them out of the Negro World Series, giving the Grays four games to one.”
Thus ended the Birmingham World’s coverage of the 1948 Negro League World Series, with the addendum that the same article about the Barons-Clowns conflagration, the paper noted that the exhibition would be followed by a play-by-play broadcast of organized baseball’s World Series game between the Cleveland Indians and Boston Braves.
Such a staging reflects, quite directly, the fact that the attentions of black baseball fans was quickly shifting from the dying Negro Leagues, to organized baseball, where integration was accelerating at a rapid rate. The Indians featured a multiracial roster that including former Negro Leaguers and future Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Satchel Paige.
(Just as the 1948 NLWS proved to be a signpost of of black ball’s passing, the Indians’ triumph in the MLB World Series became a landmark, a watershed in American sports history — the Tribe’s triumph marked the first time an integrated athletic team had won a professional world championship in the country, in any sport. Cleveland’s ’48 crown represents the Indians’ last World Series win, setting off a seven-decades-plus title drought that currently stands as the longest current MLB dry spell.)
Just to round out the national coverage of the last NLWS, here’s the Pittsburgh Courier’s report on its hometown Grays capturing the crime. Stated the Oct. 16, 1948, issue of the Courier:
“The Homestead Grays are the new champions of Negro baseball today! Climaxing an uphill drive that saw the Homesteaders faced with disaster numerous times, the Grays, nevertheless, showed their wares at Birmingham Thursday night by coming through in the tenth inning of the fifth game of the series and scoring four runs that enabled them to be crowned once again the ‘kings of baseball.’
“For nine gruelling innings the Birmingham Black Barons put up the stiffest kind of battle in a desperate attempt to carry the series into another game. But in the first half of the tenth inning bedlam broke loose. The Grays, combining three walks with three timely hits, broke the game wide open and were able to coast in during the last half of the tenth inning.”
With all of this contemporary coverage of the ’48 series providing few clear-cut answers, but the consensus among pundits at the time seems to have been that Game 5 occurred in Birmingham. However, over the ensuing decades, other, more current chronicles of the last NLWS and of the two teams involved seem to support for the notion that the fifth game was, in fact, in New Orleans, not Birmingham. Here’s an excerpt from the aforementioned September 1988 New York Times article:
“Because black fans lacked the money to support a series in one city, the next two games were played in Pelican Stadium in New Orleans. Luke Easter, who later would play for the Cleveland Indians, hit a grand slam for the Grays to beat the Barons, 4-1. The Grays won the series on Oct. 5, 1948, having been unable to play a single series game before their hometown fans.”
The bolding was mine, because that phrase indicates just as it states — the final two games of the series, it says, happened in NOLA.
But then a 1990 article by Daniel Cattau recalled the score of Game 5 — a 10-6 win for the Grays, as stated by many contemporary reports — but he doesn’t explicitly say where that game took place. Cattau wrote:
“The Grays won the first game in Kansas City, and the teams split the next two games in Birmingham. Because of poor crowds, they moved to New Orleans’s Pelican Stadium, where Easter hit a grand slam in a 14-1 Grays win. On October 5, the Grays broke open a tie game with four runs in the 10th inning to take the title. Black newspapers devoted a few paragraphs to the game.”
Here’s where we come back to one important figure who seems to have been noticeably absent from the staging of the 1948 Negro World Series — New Orleans sports impresario Allen Page. The owner of the now-gone Page Hotel on Dryades Street was a linchpin in the black community for several decades as an entrepreneur and philanthropist, but Page was arguably best known for his role as New Orleans’ greatest promoter of African-American sports.
Page’s career and his success as an entrepreneur and a baseball man would also, as we’ll see, reflect on his significant impact on the national black ball seen — and also make one wonder why Page seems to have played little or no role in the 1948 NLWS.
In addition to promoting boxing matches and other athletic events, Page owned several Negro Leagues teams over the years, including incarnations of the New Orleans Black Pelicans, and as a promoter he brought dozens of star-studded, top-level Negro Leagues teams for exhibitions.
Many autumns, following the conclusion of the regular season, Page hosted touring all-star squads that included such luminaries like Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, and as a sports impresario Page became a major player on the national stage, attending several meetings of Negro National League and Negro Southern League officials over the decade.
Louisiana Weekly reporter Charles de Lay wrote of Page in 1948:
“A veteran of the national sport, Allen Page’s executive ability is in demand in baseball administrative circles. His desire to bring the best in baseball to the Crescent City has found him taking many financial TKOs, nevertheless his optimistic outlook presumes that support (attendance) deserving the superlative attractions he brings to Pelican Stadium annually will be forthcoming ‘around the corner.’”
However, even though Page was doubtlessly the most important figure in New Orleans Negro Leagues history, his name is noticeably absent from media coverage of the 1948 Negro World Series, including the games held in the Crescent City.
Rodney Page, Allen’s son, said that by the end of the 1940s, his father was approaching 60 and getting ready to call it a career; the elder Page eventually moved to Los Angeles to enjoy his retirement.
“My dad was probably in his mid-50s [by 1948],” Rodney Page said. “Things were winding down.”
The spring and summer of 1948 found Allen Page occupied with one of his latter-day clubs, the New Orleans Creoles, a late addition to the Negro Southern League (which was comparable to the upper minor-league levels in Organized Baseball). Stated the Louisiana Weekly on May 15, 1948:
“Allen Page, known to local baseball fans as a topnotch promoter in the colored baseball world, has really pulled one from his bag of baseball trick.
“Until this writing, local dopesters and typewriter jockeys of the sports fraternity were under the impression that Page would not have a team this year. But the promoter stated … that the Creoles had been having their spring training along the Florida coast for the past five weeks, and are expected to be in fine shape when the boys face the Atlanta [Black Crackers] club this week end.”
The Creoles more than held their own during the ’48 campaign — they ended up nabbing the league crown after winning both halves of the regular season (although game figures and results seem to be somewhat vague).
“I do appreciate the support that loyal fans have given me during past baseball seasons,” Page told Louisiana Weekly columnist Charles de Lay in May 1948. “And with their cooperation in the future, I am hoping that we can put the Negro Southern League on a sound footing.”
And Page, despite getting up there in age, further displayed his clout on the national stage after the NSL season wound down by arranging a series of exhibitions between his Creoles and two NAL stalwarts, the Cleveland Buckeyes and the New York Black Yankees, each of which slated its own doubleheader with the Creoles
But throughout the 1948 baseball season, Page scheduled and hosted numerous exhibitions aside from those involving the Creoles, including a double bill between the Chicago American Giants and the Indianapolis Clowns in May.
A week later by a momentous twin bill between the baseball Harlem Globetrotters and Satchel Paige’s Kansas City All Stars, led by Cool Papa Bell and, ostensibly, Satch himself. (Paige hadn’t yet made his major league debut with the Indians, which came in July.) The barnstorming blockbuster clubs ended up splitting the ’header; Satchel hurled the first three innings in the twilight contest, getting touched for five hits and a run.
Further evidence culled from the 1948 baseball season of the pull that Allen Page — and New Orleans in general — flexed on a national scale came on Sept. 26, when Page, Pelican Stadium and the Big Easy welcomed dozens of top-flight regional and national black ball stars for an annual tradition that has gone criminally overlooked by historians and Negro Leagues fan — the North-South All-Star Game.
Birthed by Page in 1939 the North-South clash became a postseason companion game to the famed East-West All-Star Game, which was generally held in Chicago and attracted the Negro Leagues’ biggest crowds of the year and a slew of media attention by gathering the best players and managers black ball had to offer.
The North-South contest also took place annually, usually after the end of the “regular season” for the Negro Leagues, and while it didn’t quite have the star power of the East-West gathering, the North-South became the highlight of the hardball season in the deep South as well as a source of pride for the Big Easy, Page and the city’s African-American sport community.
The North-South frequently featured a “North” team comprised of several top Negro National League stars facing off at Pelican Stadium against an aggregation of Negro American League and Negro Southern League luminaries. Some of the players on the teams were, after integration, either imminently headed to or just returning from a stint the majors.
But just as important for the New Orleans black society, the all-star conflagration included sponsorship, advertising, in-kind services and other financial support from the African-American business community. High profile civic organizations — such as the longshoremen’s association and other unions, and the People’s Defense League — boosted the annual game’s profile and economic impact.
The 1948 edition of the North-South took place on Sept. 26 at Pelican Stadium. The North club was packed with pitchers, including Jose Santiago, Dave “Impo” Barnhill and Pat Scantlebury (all of the New York Cubans), and Max Manning of the Newark Eagles; and a lineup studded with future major league stars Monte Irvin (then with the Newark Eagles) and Orestes Minoso (then with the New York Cubans and soon to be dubbed Minnie), as well as hard-hitting, slick-fielding Negro League stalwarts Lyman Bostock (Cubans), Tommy Sampson (Cubans) and Lester Lockett (Baltimore Elite Giants).
While the North aggregation might have carried more baseball heavyweights, it arguably was the South team that represented the effort invested in the game, as well as the influence Page and New Orleans had on black baseball below the Mason-Dixon line, especially the deep South.
While the South’s roster was to include two eventual National Baseball Hall of Famers in pitcher Hilton Smith (who was just about at the conclusion of his stellar career) and slugger Willard Brown (a Louisiana native and, briefly, a St. Louis Brown), the squad featured a cluster of Southern kids who were either from the Pelican State and/or played with Page’s Creoles, including pitchers Gene Bremer, Amos Watson and Tom Purvis, as well as shortstop Billy Horne, outfielder Buddy Armour and third sacker T.J. Brown.
Wrote de Lay in the lead-up to the game:
“The forthcoming ’48 staging of the annual North-South diamond classic by promoter Allen Page promises to eclipse all previous all-star baseball extravaganzas of the local horsehide impresario. According to Page, several of the brilliant recruits of major league clubs, who have been ‘farmed out’ for further grooming, will be among the galaxy of baseball stars to display their talents here at Pelican Stadium on September 26.”
Predictably, the stacked North squad beat the Southerners, 5-2, but thousands of fans were drawn to the Crescent City spectacle nonetheless.
Finally, as a coda on the Page story and his activities in 1948, while the dean of New Orleans black ball seems to have been absent from the machinations of the NLWS, he nonetheless proved his influence — and the city’s influence — on the national Negro League landscape when he hosted and promoted a stop in the Crescent City by the Robinson-Campanella All-Stars and Negro League All-Stars, two squads that were pursuing the common, and quite lucrative, practice of postseason barnstorming tours across the country.
Louisiana Weekly, Oct. 23, 1948
Brooklyn Dodgers standouts Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, both fresh off their second year in the majors after beginning their pro careers in the Negro Leagues, led their high-profile aggregation as it arrived in New Orleans on Oct. 17, the Negro League all-star squad in tow, for an exhibition at Pelican Stadium.
With Page orchestrating the contest and more than 13,000 fans jamming the ballpark, the Dodgers stars’ squad topped the blackball aggregation, 12-7.
(The Negro Southern-American Leagues team featured, among other stars like Scantlebury and Barnhill, catcher Pepper Bassett, a Baton Rouge native and a solid backstop known for catching games in a rocking chair. Bassett was making his second trip of the month to New Orleans — he was on the roster of the Black Barons team that played in the NLWS just a few weeks before.)
Apologies for this lengthy digression, but it’s truly key to understanding the overall Negro Leagues scene in New Orleans, its overlooked importance, and the immense role Allen Page filled in the Crescent City African-American sportive community. For at least 20 years, no black sports — from baseball to boxing — occurred in New Orleans without his involvement on some level.
Which makes his apparent absence from the 1948 World Series all the more puzzling, and which might explain why the games were so unsettled and mysterious.
Louisiana Weekly, April 3, 1948
One final piece to the 1948 puzzle, at least as far as New Orleans and the participants of the last Negro League World Series go, was the face that both the Grays and Black Barons had appeared in the Big Easy multiple times earlier that season, attesting to the popularity of the city as a spring training tour destination and as a perfect locale for profitable exhibition contests.
In mid-April, for example, the Grays confronted the defending Negro League world champions, the New York Cubans (headed by Hall of Fame owner Alex Pompez, a good friend of Allen Page and a familiar face in N’Awlins).
However, it was the Black Barons who were popular faces in New Orleans. The Birmingham boys played both a slew of exhibitions and NAL games in the Big Easy just about every year; with the cities a relatively short distance apart (roughly 350 miles, which, in the Negro Leagues-starved South, was just a hop, skip and jump), the cities’ shared a deep historical connect.
And actually, Mays himself expressed how popular a barnstorming stop the Big East was for the Black Barons. Mays wrote in his autobiography:
“New Orleans was one of our favorite stops. We could go in the back of the bus station there and eat. They had black cooks and black waitresses and they got to know us and gave us special service when we hit town. One time when a bunch of us were eating in the back, the service must have got a little slow in the front. The customers started to complain and the manager came back where we were eating and yelled at our waitress that she was taking too much time in the back and not enough in the front. She took off her apron, placed it over a chair, and walked out the door without saying a word.”
Not only did the Black Barons frequently visit New Orleans for various games, but several New Orleans and Louisiana natives got their first taste of big-time Negro League ball in Birmingham. Napoleonville, La., native Winfield Welch, for example, hopped up to the Alabama burg to manage the Barons following successful stints as a team owner and manager in the Crescent City. After leading an array of N’Awlins-based clubs, Welch went on to lead the Black Barons to consecutive NAL crowns in 1943 and ’44. (As it happened, they lost to the Grays in those seasons’ Negro World Series.)
Other Pelican State luminaries to make the jump from the diamonds of New Orleans to Birmingham included Bassett, J.B. Spencer, Ducky Davenport, Roy Parnell and Herman Roth; Spencer went on to man second base for several Grays’ teams during their dynastic run of NNL titles, while Davenport eventually became a stalwart in the outer garden for the Chicago American Giants.
Thus, given this strong history, it wasn’t a surprise that that Black Barons played no less than six games in New Orleans throughout the 1948 campaign. In late April, they shut out the Indianapolis Clowns, 3-0, in front of 5,000-plus fans at Pelican Stadium. Then, a month and a half later, the guys from the Magic City nipped the Memphis Red Sox, 3-1, at the same ballpark. In another whistle stop in the Crescent City, on June 23 the Barons split a ’header with the the American Giants at Pelican Stadium, and on Aug. 22 the Birmingham boys lost both ends of a twin bill to the defending NLWS crownholding New York Cubans.
Finally — and I know I’ve already said that word at least 729 so far in this article — New Orleans’ aptitude for attracting significant star power, in May none other than Satchel Paige brought his own band of barnstorming all stars to NOLA for an exhibition against another tirelessly touring team, the baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters.
On May 9, the Globetrotters — a top-quality aggregation that included, among others, New Orleans native (and my old buddy) Herb Simpson — topped Satch’s club, 9-7 in the front end of a doubleheader, with Charley McLarwin clubbing a game-winning grand slam in the ninth inning. Paige’s club managed to split the twin bill by claiming the second game, 3-1, in an abbreviated seven-inning match.
Y’all know this guy.
(It can be noted that the ageless Paige wasn’t the slinger who gave up that blast — that ignominious “honor” went to a flinger named Butler — but also was underwhelming that day during his tenure on the mound, at least according to de Lay, who write that ol’ Satch was “the man who still packs ’em in, although merely a shadow of the once invincible slabman …” I’m uncertain if de Lay’s assessment of Satchel lasted the whole season through, given that Paige went on to join the Cleveland Indians and help the Tribe to the 1948 (MLB) World Series title by absolutely killing it on the mound for the Indians.)
All of that — the entire recap of the 1948 black ball season — hopefully provides ample evidence demonstrating why New Orleans was a more important, big-time player in Negro Leagues history, and why would those involved in the NLWS would have viewed the Big Easy as a logical place to hold at least one game of that year’s Negro League World Series.
With all that rambling mess said, we jump ahead (somewhat jarringly, I admit) to the aftermath of the Grays’ 1948 NLWS triumph over the Black Barons in October of that year.
The members of both the Barons and Grays scattered asunder for the rest of the fall and into the winter. Several players skedaddled for Mexico, Cuba Puerto Rico or other climes south to play some pro ball during the Negro Leagues off-season.
However, a handful of the Black Barons, including Mays, landed one of the sweetest black ball gigs of the postseason — a spot on a barnstorming tour with an aggregation known as Jackie Robinson’s All-Stars.
Led by Robinson and his Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Roy Campanella, the club traveled with another team, this one consisting of mostly Southern stars and talent from the NAL and NSL. Winfield Welch headed these Southern All-Stars; the Napoleonville, La., native and NAL pennant winning skipper plucked a bunch of Barons standouts — such as Jimmy Newberry, Lyman Bostock, Pepper Bassett, John Britton and Ed Steele — for the task.
Piper Davis, who succeeded Welch as Birmingham’s manager and guided the 1948 team, arranged for the teenage Mays to play one game with the Southern troupe, when the tour came to Rickwood Park on October 12, and the fresh-faced youth gave the crowd of roughly 7,000 fans a show — he clubbed a double, one of the only two hits Davis’ wards nicked that night.
Five days later, the all-star roadshow arrived in New Orleans for an exhibition at Pelican Stadium on Oct. 17. The showcase was arranged and promoted by our old friend Allen Page, who staged the game as one last hurrah for the ’48 baseball season. Wrote Louisiana Weekly columnist Charles de Lay in the Oct. 16, 1948, issue of the paper:
“All paths will lead to Pelican Stadium comes [sic] Sunday afternoon … Brooklyn’s brilliant diamond aces — Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella — are slated to cavort … with their All-Star nine in a game with the American and Southern League All-Stars.
“The two teams are presently touring the country on a post-season barnstorm, and come to New Orleans through the efforts of genial Promoter Allen Page. It is up to local baseball fans to prove to Page that the appearances of top-ranking baseball nines locally are attractions worthy of his efforts. How? Supporting the venture with a record attendance worthy of the attraction.”
And support they did — a crowd nearly twice the size as the one that turned out at Rickwood five days earlier for an energized afternoon of hardball. The match was covered for the Weekly by Clement Mac Williams, who gushed about the event. He penned:
“The largest baseball crowd — 13,100 — in many moons jammed every available seat in Pelican last Sunday to pay tribute to two of the nation’s outstanding diamond stars — Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella of the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers.
“Robinson and his teammate brought a star-studded group of ball players from the Negro National League to town to face an all-star team composed of players from the American and Southern Negro Leagues. The visitors triumphed, 12-7, and the fans who came to see their heroes perform were not disappointed as they sparkled afield and at bat.”
Of course, the barnstorming jaunt wouldn’t have happened if its backers didn’t think it would produce revenue for all involved; Klima called the tour “a racket … pure cash cow games.”
Barnstorming tours, all-star games and much-hyped exhibitions would soon become more and more of familiar events, as once-thriving Negro Leagues teams lost their league affiliations or closed up shop altogether. Those that managed to persevere needed to hit the road for months at a time, playing wherever they could to scrape up some revenue, while all-star tours also crisscrossed the country as well.
Louisiana Weekly, Oct. 16, 1948
After the 1948 Negro World Series, the inevitable was plainly evident — the proud, resilient black ball circuits were on their last legs, with collapse and a slide into irrelevance dead ahead.
In fact, the great Homestead Grays, who produced arguably the greatest dynasty in professional baseball history and featured several eventual Hall-of-Fame players, folded before 1948 had concluded. The Grays’ folded by the end of the decade, and the folding of the proud Negro National League, with several NNL teams joining the NAL, which itself died out by the end of the 1950s. The Barons’ last season was 1954.
Homestead Grays legendary first sacker Buck Leonard knew the end was nigh for the Negro Leagues, but he told author John Holway that, looking back, 1948 was special:
“When you play twenty-three years, you know, you’ve had a lot of thrills. But I think the greatest one was when we won the Negro World Series from Birmingham in 1948. That was one of our best teams — maybe our greatest team — although Josh Gibson wasn’t with us, he was dead. But we had Luke Easter, Luis Marquez and Roy Welmaker. Welmaker also went to the Cleveland Indians, and Marquez went to the Boston Braves.”
Many in the African-American media were dour and even downright cynical and gloomy, an attitude reflected not affected more stringently than by the Atlanta Daily World’s Marion Jackson. The ADW provided the most coverage,aside from the Birmingham World, to the 1948 Negro World Series, and even the Atlanta paper’s attention was largely commentary laden with criticism, led by Jackson.
In his Oct. 1 column, Jackson dismissed the NLWS as erratically produced and, as a result, practically irrelevant.
“Such messy business is the reason Negro baseball has a blackeye,” he wrote.
He elaborated in an ensuing column, pointedly noting the emergency scramble for a neutral ballpark midway through the NLWS, a harried search that brought the series to New Orleans:
“Nothing could more vividly demonstrate the futility of Negro baseball than the comedy of errors which took place at Birmingham, Ala., where the Birmingham Black Barons were scheduled to meet the Homestead Grays in the second game of the Negro World Series. The white Birmingham Barons meeting the Nashville Vols in the Southern Association playoffs were off using Rickwood Field, when the Barons and Grays arrived for the series competition. Therefore the Negro World Series has been indefinitely delayed because no other diamond is available. We can’t have organized baseball until we own parks and control their use. This should be a lesson and a warning!!!”
Wire service reporter and Birmingham World sports editor Emory Jackson piled on and was downright insulting. When writing about one of the ’48 series games, the latter Jackson snuck in a potshot, describing it as “the so-called Negro World Series.”
(I included a long excerpt from one of Emory Jackson’s columns in the appendices in which he rails at length against the lack of black-owned ballparks and how the problem was crippling Negro League baseball.)
But it wasn’t all bad. Black baseball’s imminent decline, however, proved to realize the important of the 1948 NLWS and to appreciate that they were part of something special.
“The 1948 Black Barons was the best team I ever played on,” Greason told the Birmingham News in 1995. “We won the [NAL] championship and played the Homestead [Grays] in the Negro World Series. We didn’t win the Series, but that was one of the finest groups of men I ever played with.”
Other Black Barons agreed. Former Black Baron Wiley Griggs said in a 1995 interview for the Birmingham Public Library that taking part in the 1948 NLWS was a thrill of a lifetime, despite their 4-1 loss in games.
“My favorite memory was when we were playing the World Series in ’48,” Griggs said. “Those were the best games.”
It was the whole Negro Leagues experience that allowed former players, managers and owners to look back with fondness, as Black Barons pitcher Sam Williams, who was on the 1948 Birmingham squad, later told author Brent Kelley:
“One thing that I liked about it, we were a very close group of fellas. There was no animosity or nothin’. We were just like a bunch of brothers. I always tell people that was the best team I ever played on, as far as personnel. We all got along just like brothers. We were a close-knit group and that meant a lot to me. Under the conditions we were travelin’ — busses and changin’ clothes in busses at the ballpark — everybody pitched in, nobody grumbled. All we wanted to do was play ball. That was the highlight of my career, them bus rides.
“We look back on it and we say that was real tough, but, you know, we got to where we was enjoyin’ it. We would look forward to it because we knew we had to play and pack our bags and get on the bus and ride to the next city. That became a routine.”
For Mays, Klima wrote, the 1948 World Series represented arguably his best experience as part of a team, around friends and mentors. Klima stated:
“When Mays grew up in the next few years, he understood more than he showed. He knew that the men he loved, his 1948 Black Barons, the players who treated him like a little brother and an only child, had watched their careers slip into oblivion. Mays became a businessman after the 1948 season, and though he was still maturing, he knew he had to get out of the Negro Leagues if he wanted to survive. He seemed never to have found such camaraderie again.”
Which brings us, at long, overdue last, to the question of exactly how the chronology of the 1948 Negro League World Series down, and where the events took place. Were there two games played in NOLA (Games 4 and 5), or was it just one? Where did the Grays clinch the crown — New Orleans or Birmingham? And when did they clinch it — Oct. 4, 1948, or Oct. 5?
At this point, I’m tentatively ready to say that Game 5 did, in fact, occur on Oct. 5 at Rickwood Field. However, the fact is that two games were indeed played by the Black Barons and Grays in New Orleans — the official Game 4, a 14-1 shellacking of the Barons by Homestead, plus a contest on Oct. 4, an 8-2 Grays triumph at Pelican Stadium.
I have no doubt that the Oct. 4 game did take place — both the daily white papers and the weekly African-American paper in New Orleans — reported the result, while the dailies also previewed the affair in their coverage of Game 4.
And for some unclear reasons, the Big Easy media were informed that the Oct. 4 clash was, in fact, the official, clinching Game 5, while newspapers elsewhere around the nation agreed that Game 5 took place in Birmingham Oct. 5. Almost none of those publications outside of New Orleans even mentioned the Oct. 4, 8-2, win by the Grays.
The New Orleans papers surely didn’t just completely fabricate a game on Oct. 4. As the NOLA newspapers went to press on Oct. 3, they were clearly under the impression that the official Game 5 of the NLWS was scheduled for the next day — not later on in Birmingham.
But why? Why did Crescent City reporters believe as such? Were they erroneously told, during or immediately after Game 4 had ended, by someone involved in the series that Game 5 would take place in New Orleans? And who would have given them that information, and why? Were the people feeding that info to the local newspapers themselves mistaken when they leaked the status of Game 5?
Or, perhaps, sometime on Oct. 4 — either before or quickly after the “mystery game” had concluded — those involved, decided (quite at the spur of the moment) to make that contest an exhibition between the clubs, not Game 5. As part of that decision, the powers that be declared that Game 5 would take place at Rickwood Oct. 5.
Given the need for Negro Leagues teams to generate as much revenue as possible in order to survive, let alone thrive, by the time 1948 rolled around and as the integration of organized baseball continued unabated, did the owners/promoters of the Grays and the Black Barons chose to make the Oct. 4 contest an exhibition, not an official NLWS game, in an effort to bring in an additional take at the gate? Perhaps they were encouraged enough by the turnout at Pelican Stadium on Oct. 3 that they brainstormed a second New Orleans game to milk that Big Easy success a little more by staging the match on Oct. 4.
These are questions to which I don’t immediately have answers, and all the folks I’ve talked to for this piece are stumped as well. This, though, is why we love history — the conundrums it presents and the challenges it places before is to find the answers.
“There are a lot of mysteries out there,” said Dr. Revel of the Negro Southern Museum. “To this day, that’s why all this research is done. That is why we need to continue to do the research. This is why we have to keep researching.”
I hope to do a follow up on this piece as more information and input comes in, but for now, we might just need to abide by Dr. Revel’s succinct thought.
“The truth is out there somewhere,” he said, “it’s just that we don’t know where it is.”
An excerpt from Birmingham World writer Emory Jackson’s Oct. 5, 1948, column:
“This series spotlights the plight of Negro baseball which is an orphan of white parks. With Negro players in the majors has slipped into the hands of one who is not officially connected with organized Negro baseball.
“Parks, players, promotions these are the three things stabbing Negro baseball players in the face. It is going to have to do something to overcome the lack of parts, to the competition made by Negro players in the majors, the scouting and recommending players to the white majors in which Abe Saperstein seems to realize more out of the sales than either players or club owner.
“The N.W.S. has been played in three different cities of which neither is the home of the Negro National League club. The Homestead Grays, by the way, apparently has [sic] two homes, Homestead, Pa., and Washington, D.C.
“Negro baseball may eventually have to fall back on the south Atlanta with its two Negro fields — Harper Field and Herndon Stadium, is without a first-class baseball team. The Gate City is probably the most abused baseball-worthy city in America. A well-run club placed in that city placed in one of the so-called sepia national leagues would be a boom to baseball. The future of Negro baseball lies in the ownership of club parks.
“SHAME ON BIRMINGHAM: The shame of Birmingham is that there is not a stadium, athletic field or enclosure where a Negro football or baseball team may rent at its convenience. …
“There has been no legal action by Negro citizens to bring the city-owned athletics field within equal use to Negro citizens.
Excerpt from John Klima’s book, “Willie’s Boys,” regarding the 1948 Negro League World Series:
“The Black Barons were an emotionally drained team by the time they arrived in New Orleans. They had beaten the [Kansas City] Monarchs in a grueling series and played the Grays close for three consecutive games. With the Black Barons’ major goals fulfilled, the Grays hammered Birmingham, 14-1, in New Orleans in Game 4. The demoralizing moment came when Jehosie Heard threw a pitch that was never seen again. ‘I didn’t see Luke Easter’s ball land,’ Piper said of the grand slam Easter hit in the fourth inning. Grays pitcher Wilmer Fields had to drive twenty-five straight hours to get to the game because he didn’t learn the location had been changed until he returned home to Virginia. He drove to New Orleans, carefully watching his back in Mississippi, where he stopped to nap on the side of the road. When he arrived, ‘I was in such bad shape I was shaking,’ he said.
“The teams drove back to Birmingham for Game 5. The Black Barons tied the score, 6-6, midway through the game, but, ‘not that there was any doubt it from the beginning,’ Dismukes insisted, the Grays pulled away for a 10-6 victory. Details were scant in papers around the country, as black newspapers dedicated their space to the major league World Series, where the Larry Doby- and Satchel Paige-led Cleveland Indians were playing the Boston Braves, a team that had quietly started encouraging its scout to turn in the names of promising young black players in the South. But when the final out was recorded in Birmingham, the Homestead Grays were the last Negro League World Series champions.
“The loss held mixed emotions for the Black Barons. ‘I remember when it was over,’ Sammy C. Williams said, ‘Jimmy Newberry said, “Josh Gibson is dead and we still can’t beat these guys.”’ Wiley Griggs called the Grays a team that ‘could play anyone in the majors and beat them.’ Yet the Black Barons took great pride in their accomplishments. They had defeated the Monarchs and started Willie Mays on his baseball career. ‘We didn’t feel too bad,’ Bill Greason said. ‘We had a great season. We had a great series against the Monarchs and played three real close games with the Grays. Everyone had a great year.’
“Leonard always remembered the 1948 Negro League World Series, when he saw the end of one era and the start of another. The Negro Leagues as he had known them were over. He was a bridge between Josh Gibson and Willie Mays. Never did a more famous player with the first name of Buck play in the Negro Leagues, but Buck Leonard felt privileged to have witnessed Buck Duck play center field for the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons. ‘I think Birmingham had their best team that year,’ he wrote.”
An excerpt from Louisiana Weekly sports editor Charles de Lay’s May 15, 1948, column about local baseball executive Allen Page:
“New Orleans Fans Fortunate
“Local baseball and boxing fans are fortunate in having two of America’s outstanding sports promoters in their midst. These two astute devotees of top-notch sports are Allen Page, the South’s premier impresario of diamond excellence, and Louis Messina, Dixie’s own version of the immortal [boxing promoter] Tex Rickard. Page’s interest in Messina’s forte is manifest in his attempts to bring Mobile’s (Ala.) Eddie Coleman to A-1 performance through the tutelage of one of New Orleans’ most famous sons — Larry Amadee, the nation’s foremost trainer, as exemplified by his position in Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis’s camp.
“A veteran of the national sport, Allen Page’s executive ability is in demand in baseball administrative circles. His desire to bring the best in baseball to the Crescent City has found him taking many financial TKO’s, nevertheless his optimistic outlook presumes that support (attendance) deserving the superlative attractions he brings to Pelican Stadium annually will be forthcoming ‘around the corner.’ The obligation of bringing financial success to Page rests solely in the fans who claim that they want the best and only the best.
“Fans throughout the nation, and certainly here, claim that they want more opportunities for Negroes in organized baseball’s elite — the major leagues. Support of Page’s effort here in New Orleans will make possible the initial opportunity for success for the many Jackie Robinsons and Larry Dobys who cavort on America’s collegiate and sandlot diamonds.
“‘Under the new set-up in Southern Association parks, admission prices for gentlemen were raised to $1,’ Mr. Page told this corner on Monday. ‘Since all teams or clubs that play in the Southern Association parks must be in line with their regulations, it was necessary to raise admission prices for gentlemen to games which I have promoted and will promote here,’ Mr. Page continued.
“‘And, too, since all the teams in the Negro Southern League are playing in Southern Association parks, they must be in line with the parks also. Due to my handling of all Negro American and National League, as well as Southern League, teams, all of which are organized clubs, I had to comply with the league rules,’ Mr. Page stated.
“‘This occurred just like the price of coca-cola was raised from five cents to a dime here. I had to do likewise. As you know, cokes were sold all over the country for ten cents in baseball parks but here in New Orleans it was sold for five cents. Now the local concessions are in line with all other parks,’ said Mr. Page.
“‘I do appreciate the support that loyal fans have given me during past baseball seasons. And with their cooperation in the future, I am hoping that we can put the Negro Southern League on a sound footing,’ genial promoter Page concluded.”
Note: Lengthy digression about Coke aside, Page’s comments here about the hike in the price of admission at Southern Association ballparks (including Pelican Stadium) reflect the absolute dependence on organized baseball that many Negro League teams faced, especially in terms of finding a play to play black ball games. This situation was also highlighted by Emory Jackson’s commentary above.
Essentially, most Negro teams didn’t own their own stadium — there were a few exceptions, such as Greenlee Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Crawfords — which forced them to rent out the stadiums that housed a city’s major league or minor league club. And, as shown with the erratic game scheduling for the 1948 Negro World Series, black teams played at the whim of white teams’s schedules.
Thus, Negro teams often didn’t control their own fate on many levels, a level of uncertainty and disappointment that was felt by the black executives, managers, players and fans and that proved quite disheartening at times.
However, there’s a twist of irony here — just as black teams started out as dependents to white franchises, after 1946, those same white teams in organized baseball had to increasingly depend on the black players that were flooding organized baseball post-Jackie. If an MLB or minor league team wanted to find success, they simply had to integrate or be left in the dust by already integrated clubs and leagues.
And it wasn’t just in the standings that recalcitrant, racist white franchises were rightly punished for their bigotry — fans of all colors, who always (quite naturally) want to see the best baseball they could find, now only wanted to see integrated teams that melded the best white and black (and later Latino) talent on now-powerful rosters.
As such, white teams and leagues that refused to accept the march of progress and equality, saw their attendances plummet, crippling their financial bottom line and eventually, well, forcing them out of business.
Nowhere was that displayed than the Southern Association, which stubbornly refused to integrate for its entire existence. The result? The Southern Association — and all its few remaining teams — folded completely after the 1961. Their death was inevitable.
Thus, the same white league and teams that formerly held the fates of black baseball in the palm of their hands completely collapsed because of integration. It was now the white community that was dependent on black baseball, and the Southern Association was the poster child for the change.