Posts Tagged ‘Harlem Globetrotters’

1946, Abe Saperstein, and the West Coast Negro Baseball League

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

While Jackie Robinson prepared to break into the major leagues by getting a year of seasoning with the Dodgers’ AAA ball club, the Montreal Royals, Abe Saperstein diversified his minority sports portfolio beyond the Harlem Globetrotters by spearheading the creation of the West Coast Negro Baseball League.  This venture consisted of six teams:  Seattle Steelheads, San Francisco Sea Lions, San Diego Tigers, Portland Roses, Oakland Larks, Los Angeles White Sox.  Fresno was the original home city for the Tigers.

The WCNBL did not endure past July 1946.

Saperstein—the Steelheads’ owner—persuaded investors, including Olympics star Jesse Owens, to participate in the first organization for black baseball on the West Coast.  Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization on October 23, 1945 inspired rather than discouraged Saperstein to construct the WCNBL; despite the beginning of the major leagues siphoning black players from the Negro Leagues, an expanding population on the West Coast after World War II offered, seemingly, a formidable fan base for Saperstein and his group.  In her 2013 book The Negro Leagues: 1869-1960, baseball historian Leslie Heaphy explained, “They founded the league not as competition to the white leagues but to provide an opportunity for blacks in the west to play baseball for money.”

With a prosperous record as the owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, Abe Saperstein represented credibility for the nascent league.  Eddie Harris of the High Marine Social Club also played a key role in organizing the league.

Finding ballparks proved to be a tricky task.  In a June 27th article, the Los Angeles Sentinel noted that the White Sox had games scheduled in Whittier after beating the Lions at Hollywood Park.  “This policy of playing games in and around Los Angeles was forced on the owner [Carlisle] Perry as Hollywood Park and Wrigley Field are virtually closed to the home team due to Pacific Coast League commitments leaving the Sox without a Home Ground,” stated the Sentinel.

Low attendance compounded the difficulties, resulting in the league’s dissolution.  Though its tenure lasted less than the projected 110-game season, the West Coast Negro Baseball League indicated Saperstein’s business approach.  In his 2013 book Abe Saperstein and the American Basketball League; 1960-1963, Murry R. Nelson wrote, “Saperstein always had contingency plans to maximize his revenue streams.  As owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, with at least two different squads, he had a team playing every day somewhere in the world.  He also was one of the key reasons that the NBA was able to pay its bills from the formation of the league in 1949 through the 1950s, as he had the Globetrotters play doubleheaders before many NBA games, often doubling or tripling the average attendance figures for those games,”

A year after the WCNBL, White Sox pitcher Nate Moreland, an Arkansas native, broke a racial barrier on the heels of Robinson’s début with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947.  A former teammate of Robinson’s at Pasadena Junior College, Moreland became the first black professional baseball player in California when he took the field in May for the El Centro Imperials in the Class C Sunset League.

In 1942, Robinson and Moreland had tried out for the Chicago White Sox at the team’s training camp in Pasadena.  Though they impressed White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes, they didn’t get any further.  Arkbaseball.com notes that the duo had a previous link in southern California—they played on a semi-pro team that won the California championship in 1939.

Moreland also played in:

  • Negro National League
  • Southwest International League
  • Arizona-Texas League
  • Arizona-Mexico League

According to baseball-reference.com, Moreland had a 152-104 record in his career.  Incomplete statistics render difficult a full evaluation of Moreland’s career.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 15, 2016.

Indianapolis, Bush Stadium, and the Clowns

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

More than the site of a world-famous automobile race, Indianapolis is a Midwestern bedrock of popular culture.  Its benchmarks include being the hometown for David Letterman, the site of Elvis Presley’s last concert, and the setting for the CBS situation comedy One Day at a Time.

Additionally, Indianapolis enjoys prominence in baseball history as the home of the Clowns, a Negro League team perhaps best known as a starting point for Hank Aaron’s career; Aaron spent a few months with the Clowns in 1952 before the Boston Braves organization signed him.  A day at Bush Stadium, the home field for the Clowns, provided entertainment beyond good baseball.  In the biography The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron, Howard Bryant wrote, “The Clowns were a legendary Negro League team, known for being the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball.  The team featured good ballplayers but also high circus-style entertainment.  Toni Stone, a woman, played second base.  King Tut, an enormous man with a round belly, served as a mascot, wearing nothing but a grass skirt.”

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson played for the Clowns; she was the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues.  In addition to Johnson and Stone, Connie Morgan also wore a Clowns uniform; with three women, the Indianapolis Clowns predated the women’s liberation movement by a decade.

With her height of 5’3″ inspiring her “Peanut” moniker, Johnson lured fans to the ballpark by being a solid ballplayer.  In the article “Breaking Gender Barriers in the Negro Leagues in the June 12, 2010 edition of the New York Times, Alan Schwarz quotes Arthur Hamilton, the Clowns catcher:  “She was a drawing card, I have to say.  She didn’t have that much of a fastball, but she could put the ball over the plate.  She’d get out of the inning.  A lot of guys hit her, but she got a lot of guys out, too.  The Kansas City Monarchs and the Birmingham Black Barons loved to play the Clowns, because we’d have a big crowd.”

Johnson’s story symbolizes perseverance, certainly, in an era that saw America take its first steps, albeit tentatively, toward equality, no matter one’s race or gender.  “In the face of ‘no,’ she pursued her passion.  You can get derailed by people who don’t believe in you.  Her legacy is not well-known because we lose our heroes.  Today, there are instant stars because short attention spans impact how information is packaged and, consequently, how we consume it.  But Mamie Johnson represented a time that gave us the heart and soul of the game,” says Yvette Miley, Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of MSNBC.

Bush Stadium stands today, decades after its prime as a Negro League fixture.  Partially, anyway.  Real estate developers demolished part of the stadium, renovated the remaining part for lofts, and preserved stadium icons, including Art Deco columns and iron turnstiles at the main entrance.  Further, the developers preserved the infield diamond, a lure for any baseball fan wanting to look out the living room window and imagine the Clowns playing one more time.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 6, 2015.

When Gilligan Got Rescued

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

RemingtonGilligan’s Island aired on CBS from 1964 to 1967, giving television viewers a weekly escape to an oasis where silliness reigned.  About 1o years after leaving prime time, Gilligan’s Island resurfaced, thanks to creator Sherwood Schwartz pondering the fates of the castaways from the S.S. Minnow.

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Double Dribble: The Story of “The White Shadow” (Part 3 of 5)

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The White Shadow depicted issues concerning Coach Reeves and his players without being preachy, moralistic, or condescending to the audience.

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Three Men On a Base

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

When Charles Ebbets died in 1925, Ebbets Field remained as an emblem of his dedication to bring high-quality baseball to Brooklyn.  The play on the field, less so.

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Where There’s a Will, There’s a Wallenda

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

The bar for awesome just got higher. By a few hundred miles.

Nik Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope last night. ABC broadcast the event as a prime time special, a logical outlet given the network has daredevil events in its DNA.

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