Black Baseball in New York State's Capital District, 1907-1950

Article excerpt

Black Baseball in New York State's Capital District, 1907-1950

INTRODUCTION

For more than forty years before Jackie Robinson began thrilling the nation's major league baseball crowds with his crafty batsmanship and daring baserunning, New York State's Capital District baseball fans had the privilege of watching highly skilled, entertaining black ballplayers perform on local diamonds. By 1907, Schenectady's baseball enthusiasts were turning out in record numbers to watch professional barnstorming "negro nines," whose "scientific handling of the ball and general knowledge of the game" had captured the attention of the local press, as well as the loyalty of the local fans.(2) Before long, local entrepreneurs became aware of the area's demand for black baseball and organized their own professional and semi-professional black ball clubs -- first, in Schenectady, then, in Albany. Those local black ball clubs played independent of the local white leagues for the next twenty years, yet they still competed successfully -- on the field and at the box office -- with the area's most popular professional and semi-professional white teams. Then, in 1932, still fifteen years before baseball's major leagues became integrated, black baseball teams in Schenectady and Albany joined the local, predominantly white, semiprofessional, organized leagues.

This paper will trace the development and the history of black baseball in New York State's Capital District, beginning in 1907 with the early successes of the barnstorming teams which first brought professional black baseball to the Schenectady area, and continuing through to the 1950 disbanding of the Albany Twilight League's semi-professional Black Sox. First, however, it is important to note the distinctions between the professional, semi-professional, and amateur levels of baseball, since those terms will be used frequently throughout the paper. For the professional ballplayer, who relied on a salary guaranteed by the team owner, a percentage of the team's gate receipts, or a combination of both for his major source of income, baseball was a full-time job. The semi-professional played baseball less often than the professional. Usually unable to rely solely on the money he made playing ball, the semi-professional commonly maintained a full or part-time job away from the ball field. The amateur ballplayer received no pay. He played, instead, for the love of the game, or in hopes of being considered for a position on a professional or semi-professional ball club.(3)

LATE 19th CENTURY: SEPARATION BEGINS

Following the national trend toward segregating blacks from white institutions, and, more specifically, setting a precedent for the exclusion of blacks from white organized baseball, the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), in 1867 voted "unanimously...against the admission of any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons."(4) In 1876, owners of teams in professional baseball's newly formed National League -- the forerunner to the modern major leagues -- established "no written policy regarding blacks, but precluded them nonetheless through a gentleman's agreement.(5) At least seventy black players, however, competed in the predominantly white professional major and minor leagues after the NABBP and the National League drew the baseball color line. Some black ballplayers played for white teams in the nation's major cities. Other blacks, according to author Jules Tygiel, took advantage of the "scattered opportunities to pursue baseball careers...[which existed] in the smaller towns and cities of America, where under-funded teams and fragile minor league coalitions quickly appeared and faded."(6)

But, by the late 1880s, many whites involved in the professional baseball leagues were emulating the national institutional trend toward Jim Crow by increasing racial pressure aimed at chasing and keeping blacks out of white organized baseball. …