Sunday, July 21, 2024

HISTORIC BLACK VEGAS | Time for baseball!

July 13, 2023 by  
Filed under Conversation

Claytee D. White


With all the ambivalence surrounding the Oakland Athletics, I decided to research the history of baseball. A few weeks ago, we heard that they’re staying in Oakland and were just using Las Vegas to get a better deal in their hometown. Then we read that they were considering the property that is currently the Tropicana, no, the piece across the street from the Sahara, well no, not really because it then became the property near the Orleans and this one was a sure thing — only to learn that they really, really want to demolish the Trop and settle there. Our legislature believed them, staged a special session, and made our tax dollars available to them.

So now that the Oakland A’s are definitely (I think) moving to Las Vegas, I have baseball on the brain and have been entertaining this nagging feeling that in the beginning baseball was integrated. And yes, I know the Jackie Robinson story.

I decided to go to The Library of Congress website and do some research. I was not correct. African-Americans played baseball throughout the 1800s but not in an integrated setting. There were Black teams and white teams. “By the 1860s notable Black amateur teams such as the Colored Union Club in Brooklyn and the Pythian Club in Philadelphia had formed. By the 1880s, all Black professional teams had begun with teams like the St. Louis Black Stockings and the Cuban Giants in New York.” I thought it quite comical that in 1901, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, John McGraw, tried to hire black player, Charlie Grant, by calling him a Cherokee named Tokohama. Other White managers made similar entrees into Black teams.

It was in Cuba, Mexico, and other parts of Latin America that professional baseball was integrated. Many Blacks played there in the winter and in the U.S. in the summer. In the Las Vegas community Mr. Leon Carter, Sr. played in Canada and Mexico.

The most viable Negro League began in 1920, called the Negro National League. In 1937, the Negro American League began and soon absorbed the NNL. After 1947, white national leagues began to hire the best Black players thus integrating baseball in the U.S. Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first official Black player in a white league.

It appears that Black players were as talented as whites and that white teams wanted them well before 1947. According to ESPN, a consensus ranking of the ten best Black players includes Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, Buck Leonard, Turkey Stearnes, Mule Suttles, Ray Dandridge, Cool Papa Bell, and Willie Wells. Many other “best” followed this list. What if the Black teams had enjoyed equal financial support? I think, for one thing, the game would have been more exciting, especially, if Satchel Paige could have led the way.

After all, he was quoted as saying, “I got bloopers, loopers and droppers. I got a jump ball, a be ball, a screwball, a wobbly ball, a whipsy-dipsy-do, a hurry-up ball, a nothin’ ball and a bat dodger. My be ball is a be ball, cause it ‘be’ right where I want it, high and inside. It wiggles like a worm. Some I throw with my knuckles, some with two fingers. My whips-dipsy-do is a special fork ball I throw underhand and sidearm that slithers and sinks. I keep my thumb off the ball and use three fingers. The middle finger sticks up high, like a bent fork.”

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