February 18th, 2013
By 1920 the best black players were not barnstormers but men who played in a real league, with regular schedules, rules, and umpires. Former pitcher and highly successful manager Rube Foster was the founding father of the Negro National League. Using his own money and superb organizational abilities, he made sure the league was strong. He was the sole boss, yet because he continued managing, other teams thought Foster’s men got the better of the umpires’ decisions. And why not? Foster wrote the umps’ checks.
This is the program from the first interleague World’s Colored Championship, in 1924. Foster’s counterpart and founder of the Eastern Colored League was Ed “Chief” Bolden, a retiring and dapper little man who worked for the post office. His quiet style was the opposite of Foster’s bulk and bluster. Bolden ran the Hilldale team when they were just semipros and built them into professionals, before joining with other owners to create the new league in 1923. But Bolden had a nervous breakdown in 1927, and, without his keen organizational skills, the league collapsed. Six years later he recovered and founded the Philadelphia Stars, who became members of the Negro National League. Meanwhile Foster, who had been confined to an asylum for the mentally ill since 1926, had died in 1930.
Hilldale’s opponents in this Series were the Kansas City Monarchs, who went on to become a perennial powerhouse with stars like Bullet Joe Rogan, Newt Allen, Chet Brewer, and of course, Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige. But the star of this Series for the victorious Monarchs was an old-timer, José Mendez, who in postseason exhibitions in Cuba in 1911 had defeated Christy Mathewson. Mendez’s brilliance in a one-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds three years earlier, followed by his handcuffing of Ty Cobb in a series in 1909, had prompted John McGraw to say he would pay $50,000 for him if only he were white.
But Mendez was not, so he was available to star in the 1924 Negro League World Series. At age 37, he appeared in four games, with a 2–0 record including a shutout in the ninth and deciding game.