August 20th, 2014

Out at Home, Part 3

Fleet Walker (Helmar)

Fleet Walker (Helmar)

Part 2 of Jerry Malloy’s masterful essay appeared yesterday and may be viewed here: http://goo.gl/D21cuI.

July 14, 1887, would be a day Tommy Daly would never forget. Three thousand fans went to Newark’s Wright Street grounds to watch an exhibition game between the Little Giants and the most glamorous team in baseball: Adrian D. (Cap) Anson’s Chicago White Stock­ings. Daly, who was from Newark, was in his first season with the White Stockings, forerunners of today’s Cubs. Before the game he was presented with gifts from his admirers in Newark. George Stovey would remember the day, too. And for Moses Fleetwood Walker, there may have been a sense of déjà vu—for Walker had crossed paths with Anson before.

Anson, who was the first white child born among the Pottawattomie Indians in Marshalltown, Iowa, played for Rockford and the Philadelphia Athletics in all five years of the National Association and twenty-two seasons for Chicago in the National League, hitting over .300 in all but two. He also managed the Sox for nineteen years. From 1880 through 1888, Anson’s White Stockings finished first five times, and second once. Outspoken, gruff, truculent, and haughty, Anson gained the respect, if not the esteem, of his players, as well as opponents and fans throughout the nation. Cigars and candy were named after him, and little boys would treasure their Anson-model baseball bats as their most prized possessions. He was a brilliant tactician with a flair for the dramatic. In 1888, for exam­ple, he commemorated the opening of the Republican national convention in Chicago by suiting up his players in black, swallow-tailed coats.

In addition to becoming the first player to get 3,000 hits, Anson was the first to write his autobiography. A Ball Player’s Career, published in 1900, does not explicitly delineate Anson’s views on race relations. It does, how­ever, devote several pages to his stormy relationship with the White Stockings’ mascot, Clarence Duval, who despite Anson’s vehement objections was allowed to take part in the round-the-world tour following the 1888 season. An­son referred to Duval as “a little darkey,” a “coon,” and a “no account nigger.”

Clarence Duval, mascot on the World Tour of 1888-89

Clarence Duval, mascot on the World Tour of 1888-89

In 1884, when Walker was playing for Toledo, Anson brought his White Stockings into town for an exhibition. Anson threatened to pull his team off the field unless Walker was removed. But Toledo’s manager, Charley Morton, refused to comply with Anson’s demand, and Walker was allowed to play. Years later Sporting Life would write:

The joke of the affair was that up to the time Anson made his “bluff” the Toledo people had no intention of catching Walker, who was laid up with a sore hand, but when Anson said he wouldn’t play with Walker, the Toledo people made up their minds that Walker would catch or there wouldn’t be any game.

But by 1887 times had changed, and there was no backing Anson down. The Newark press had publicized that Anson’s White Stockings would face Newark’s black Stovey. But on the day of the game it was Hughes and Cantz who formed the Little Giants’ battery. “Three thou­sand souls were made glad,” glowed the Daily Journal after Newark’s surprise 9-4 victory, “while nine were made sad.” The Evening News attributed Stovey’s absence to illness, but the Toronto World got it right in reporting that “Hackett intended putting Stovey in the box against the Chicagos, but Anson objected to his playing on ac­count of his color.”

On the same day that Anson succeeded in removing the “colored battery,” the directors of the International League met in Buffalo to transfer the ailing Utica fran­chise to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It must have pleased Anson to read in the next day’s Newark Daily Journal:

THE COLOR LINE DRAWN IN BASEBALL. The International League directors held a secret meeting at the Genesee House yesterday, and the question of colored players was freely discussed. Several representatives declared that many of the best players in the league are anxious to leave on account of the colored element, and the board finally directed Secretary White to approve of no more contracts with colored men.

Cap Anson

Cap Anson

Whether or not there was a direct connection between Anson’s opposition to playing against Stovey and Walker and, on the same day, the International League’s decision to draw the color line is lost in history. For example, was the league responding to threats by Anson not to play lucrative exhibitions with teams of any league that per­mitted Negro players? Interestingly, of the six teams which voted to install a color barrier—Binghamton, Hamilton, Jersey City, Rochester, Toronto, and Utica—none had a black player; the four teams voting against it—Buffalo, Oswego, Newark, and Syracuse—each had at least one.

In 1907, Sol White excoriated Anson for possessing “all the venom of a hate which would be worthy of a Tillman or a Vardaman of the present day…”  [Sen. Benjamin R. ("Pitchfork Ben") Tillman, of South Car­olina, and Gov. James K. Vardaman, of Mississippi, were two of the most prominent white supremacists of their time.]

Just why Adrian C. Anson . . . was so strongly opposed to colored players on white teams cannot be explained. His repug­nant feeling, shown at every opportunity, toward colored ball players, was a source of comment throughout every league in the country, and his opposition, with his great popularity and power in baseball circles, hastened the exclusion of the black man from the white leagues.

Subsequent historians have followed Sol White’s lead and portrayed Anson as the meistersinger of a chorus of racism who, virtually unaided, disqualified an entire race from baseball. Scapegoats are convenient, but Robert Peterson undoubtedly is correct:

Whatever its origin, Anson’s animus toward Negroes was strong and obvious. But that he had the power and popularity to force Negroes out of organized baseball almost single-handedly, as White suggests, is to credit him with more influence than he had, or for that matter, than he needed.

The International League’s written color line was not the first one drawn. In 1867 the National Association of Base Ball Players, the loosely organized body which regu­lated amateur baseball, prohibited its members from accepting blacks. The officers candidly explained their reason:

If colored clubs were admitted there would be in all probability some division of feeling, whereas, by excluding them no injury could result to anybody and the possibility of any rupture being created on political grounds would be avoided.

National Association Convention of 1867, ticket

National Association Convention of 1867, ticket

This 1867 ban shows that even if blacks were not playing baseball then, there were ample indications that they would be soon. But the NABBP would soon disap­pear, as baseball’s rapidly growing popularity fostered professionalism. Also, its measure was preventative rather than corrective: it was not intended to disqualify players who previously had been sanctioned. And, since it applied only to amateurs, it was not intended to deprive anyone of his livelihood.

Press response to the International League’s color line generally was sympathetic to the Negroes—especially in cities with teams who had employed black players. The Newark Call wrote:

If anywhere in this world the social barriers are broken down it is on the ball field. There many men of low birth and poor breeding are the idols of the rich and cultured; the best man is he who plays best. Even men of churlish dispositions and coarse hues are tolerated on the field. In view of these facts the objection to colored men is ridiculous. If social distinctions are to be made, half the players in the country will be shut out. Better make character and personal habits the test. Weed out the toughs and intemperate men first, and then it may be in order to draw the color line.

The Rochester Post-Express printed a shrewd and sym­pathetic analysis by an unidentified “old ball player, who happens to be an Irishman and a Democrat”:

We will have to stop proceedings of that kind. The fellows who want to proscribe the Negro only want a little encouragement in order to establish class distinctions between people of the white race. The blacks have so much prejudice to overcome that I sympathize with them and believe in frowning down every attempt by a public body to increase the burdens the colored people now carry. It is not possible to combat by law the prejudice against colored men, but it is possible to cultivate a healthy public opinion that will effectively prevent any such manifestation of provincialism as that of the ball association. If a negro can play better ball than a white man, I say let him have credit for his ability. Genuine Democrats must stamp on the color line in order to be consistent.

“We think,” wrote the Binghamton Daily Leader, “the International League made a monkey of itself when it undertook to draw the color line”; and later the editor wondered “if the International League proposes to ex­clude colored people from attendance at the games.” Welday Walker used a similar line of reasoning in March 1888. Having read an incorrect report that the Tri-State League, formerly the Ohio State League, of which Welday Walker was a member, had prohibited the signing of Negroes, he wrote a letter to league president W. H. McDermitt. Denouncing any color line as “a disgrace to the present age,” he argued that if Negroes were to be barred as players, then they should also be denied access to the stands.

The sporting press stated its admiration for the talents of the black players who would be excluded. “Grant, Stovey, Walker, and Higgins,” wrote Sporting Life, “all are good players and behave like gentlemen, and it is a pity that the line should have been drawn against them.” That paper’s Syracuse correspondent wrote “Dod gast the measly rules that deprives a club of as good a man as Bob Higgins. . . .” Said the Newark Daily Journal, “It is safe to say that Moses F. Walker is mentally and morally the equal of any director who voted for the resolution.”

1888 St. Louis Browns, cabinet vard by Guerin.

1888 St. Louis Browns, cabinet vard by Guerin.

Color line or no color line, the season wore on. Buffalo and Newark remained in contention until late in the season. Newark fell victim to injuries, including one to Fleet Walker. Grant’s play deteriorated, although he fin­ished the year leading the league in hitting. Toronto, which overcame internal strife of its own, came from the back of the pack, winning twenty-two of its last twenty-six games; they may have been aided by manager Charley Cushman’s innovative device of having his inflelders wear gloves on their left hands. On September 17, Toronto swept a doubleheader from Newark at home before 8,000 fans to take first place. One week later they clinched their first International League title. To commemorate the triumphant season, the Canadian Pacific Railway shipped a 160-foot tall pine, “the second tallest in America,” across the continent. Atop this pole would fly the 1887 International League pennant.

Before the season ended there was one further flareup of racial prejudice that received national, attention. On Sunday, September 11, Chris Von der Ahe, owner of the St. Louis Browns, canceled an exhibition game that was scheduled for that day in West Farms, New York, against the Cuban Giants. Led by its colorful and eccentric owner, and its multitalented manager-first baseman, Charles Comiskey, the Browns were the Chicago White Stockings of the American Association. At ten o’clock in the morn­ing Von der Ahe notified a crowd of 7,000 disappointed fans that his team was too crippled by injuries to compete. The real reason, though, was a letter Von der Ahe had received the night before, signed by all but two of his players (Comiskey was one of the two):

Dear Sir: We, the undersigned members of the St. Louis Base Ball Club, do not agree to play against negroes tomorrow. We will cheerfully play against white people at any time, and think by refusing to play, we are only doing what is right, taking every­thing into consideration and the shape the team is in at present.

Cuban Giants of Trenton and New York, "Colored Champions of 1887 and 1888."

Cuban Giants of Trenton and New York, “Colored Champions of 1887 and 1888.”

The Cuban Giants played, instead, a team from Danbury, New York, as Cuban Giant manager Jim Bright angrily threatened to sue the Browns. Von der Ahe tried to mollify Bright with a promise to reschedule the exhi­bition, a promise that would be unfulfilled. The Browns’ owner singled out his star third baseman, Arlie Latham, for a $100 fine. Von der Ahe did not object to his players’ racial prejudice. In fact, he was critical of them not for their clearly stated motive for refusing to play, but for their perceived lack of sincerity in pursuing their objective:

The failure to play the game with the Cuban Giants cost me $1000. If it was a question of principle with any of my players, I would not say a word, but it isn’t. Two or three of them had made arrangements to spend Sunday in Philadelphia, and this scheme was devised so that they would not be disappointed.

VI

There was considerable speculation throughout the offseason that the International League would rescind its color line, or at least modify it to allow each club one Negro. At a meeting at the Rossin House in Toronto on November 16,1887, the league dissolved itself and reorgan­ized under the title International Association (IA). Buffalo and Syracuse, anxious to retain Grant and Higgins, led the fight to eliminate the color line. Syracuse was particularly forceful in its leadership. The Stars’ representatives at the Toronto meeting “received a letter of thanks from the colored citizens of [Syracuse] for their efforts in behalf of the colored players,” reported Sporting Life. A week ear­lier, under the headline “Rough on the Colored Players,” it had declared:

At the meeting of the new International Association, the matter of rescinding the rule forbidding the employment of colored players was forgotten. This is unfortunate, as the Syracuse delegation had Buffalo, London, and Hamilton, making four in favor and two [i.e., Rochester and Toronto] against it.

1888 Syracuse with Walker and Higgins

1888 Syracuse with Walker and Higgins

While the subject of the color line was not included in the minutes of the proceedings, the issue apparently was not quite “forgotten.” An informal agreement among the owners provided a cautious retreat. By the end of the month, Grant was signed by Buffalo, and Higgins was retained by Syracuse for 1888. Fleet Walker, who was working in a Newark factory crating sewing machines for the export trade, remained uncommitted on an offer by Worcester, as he waited “until he finds whether colored players are wanted in the International League [sic]. He is very much a gentleman and is unwilling to force himself in where he is not wanted.” His doubts assuaged, he signed, by the end of November, with Syracuse, where, in 1888 he would once again join a black pitcher. The Syracuse directors had fired manager Joe Simmons, and replaced him with Charley Hackett. Thus, Walker would be playing for his third team with Hackett as manager. He looked forward to the next season, exercising his throwing arm by tossing a claw hammer in the air and catching it. After a meeting in Buffalo in January 1888, Sporting Life summarized the IA’s ambivalent position on the question of black players:

At the recent International Association meeting there was some informal talk regarding the right of clubs to sign colored players, and the general understanding seemed to be that no city should be allowed more than one colored man. Syracuse has signed two whom she will undoubtedly be allowed to keep. Buffalo has signed Grant, but outside of these men there will probably be no colored men in the league.

Frank Grant would have a typical season in Buffalo in 1888, where he was moved to the outfield to avoid spike wounds. For the third straight year his batting average (.346) was the highest on the team. Bob Higgins, the agent and victim of too much history, would, according to Sporting Life, “give up his $200 a month, and return to his barbershop in Memphis, Tennessee,” despite com­piling a 20-7 record.

Fleet Walker, catching 76 games and stealing 30 bases, became a member of a second championship team, the first since Toledo in 1883. But his season was blighted by a third distasteful encounter with Anson. In an exhibition game at Syracuse on September 27, 1888, Walker was not permitted to play against the White Stockings. Anson’s policy of refusing to allow blacks on the same field with him had become so well-known and accepted that the incident was not even reported in the white press. The Indianapolis World noted the incident, which by now apparently was of interest only to black readers.

Fowler, Grant, and Stovey played many more seasons, some with integrated teams, some on all-Negro teams in white leagues in organized baseball, some on inde­pendent Negro teams. Fowler and Grant stayed one step ahead of the color line as it proceeded westward.

Fleet Walker continued to play for Syracuse in 1889, where he would be the last black in the International League until Jackie Robinson. Walker’s career as a pro­fessional ballplayer ended in the relative obscurity of Terre Haute, Indiana (1890) and Oconto, Wisconsin (1891).

Syracuse Stars 1889 with Walker

Syracuse Stars 1889 with Walker

In the spring of 1891 Walker was accused of murdering a convicted burglar by the name of Patrick Murphy out­side a bar in Syracuse. When he was found not guilty “immediately a shout of approval, accompanied by clap­ping of hands and stamping of feet, rose from the spec­tators,” according to Sporting Life. His baseball career over, he returned to Ohio and embarked on various ca­reers. He owned or operated the Cadiz, Ohio, opera house, and several motion picture houses, during which time he claimed several inventions in the motion picture industry. He was also the editor of a newspaper, The Equator, with the assistance of his brother Welday.

In 1908 he published a 47-page booklet entitled Our Home Colony; A Treatise on the Past, Present and Future of the Negro Race in America. According to the former catcher, “The only practical and permanent solution of the present and future race troubles in the United States is entire separation by emigration of the Negro from Amer­ica.” Following the example of Liberia, “the Negro race can find superior advantages, and better opportunities . . . among people of their own race, for developing the innate powers of mind and body. . . .” The achievement of racial equality “is contrary to everything in the nature of man, and [it is] almost criminal to attempt to harmonize these two diverse peoples while living under the same government.” The past forty years, he wrote, have shown “that instead of improving we are experiencing the de­velopment of a real caste spirit in the United States.”

Fleet Walker died of pneumonia in Cleveland at age 66 on May 11, 1924, and was buried in Union Cemetery in Steubenville, Ohio. His brother Welday died in Steubenville thirteen years later at the age of 77.

VII

In The Strange Career of Jim Crow, historian C. Vann Woodward identifies the late 1880s as a “twilight zone that lies between living memory and written history,” when “for a time old and new rubbed shoulders—and so did black and white—in a manner that differed sig­nificantly from Jim Crow of the future or slavery of the past.” He continued:

… a great deal of variety and inconsistency prevailed in race relations from state to state and within a state. It was a time of experiment, testing, and uncertainty—quite different from the time of repression and rigid uniformity that was to come toward the end of the century. Alternatives were still open and real choices had to be made.

Sol White and his contemporaries lived through such a transition period, and he identified the turning point at 1887. Twenty years later he noted the deterioration of the black ballplayer’s situation. Although White could hope that one day the black would be able to “walk hand-in-hand with the opposite race in the greatest of all Amer­ican games—base ball,” he was not optimistic:

As it is, the field for the colored professional is limited to a very narrow scope in the base ball world. When he looks into the future he sees no place for him. . . . Consequently he loses interest. He knows that, so far shall I go, and no farther, and, as it is with the profession, so it is with his ability.

The “strange careers” of Moses Walker, George Stovey, Frank Grant, Bud Fowler, Robert Higgins, Sol White, et al., provide a microcosmic view of the development of race relations in the society at large, as outlined by Wood­ward. The events of 1887 offer further evidence of the old saw that sport does not develop character—it reveals it.

Tomorrow, a postscript, as SABR’s minor-league expert Vern Luse disputes a fine point with Jerry Malloy, one year after first publication of “Out at Home.”


 


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