Harlem's Team: The New York Lincoln Giants

Article excerpt

Centuries before they were brought to America as human cargo on ships, free Africans played a variety of games that involved hitting a ball with a stick and running.(1) On antebellum southern plantations, slaves played a form of baseball with sticks or broomsticks and balls made of cotton or boiled chicken feathers tightly wrapped with cloth.(2) After the Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves, African-American soldiers, and white soldiers played baseball together at Union Army camps as recreation between battles.(3) Although innumerable Africans and African-Americans had thus played baseball or its precursors for centuries, it is likely that none played it at a higher level of artistry than Harlem's New York Lincoln Giants did for three years beginning in 1911. During their twenty-year existence, the Lincoln Giants provided entertainment and excitement for their community, an unmistakable example that white superiority was foolish, and eventually a clearer path for Jackie Robinson and all African-Americans to integrate baseball and other important American institutions.

Though the story of the Lincoln Giants and of all African-Americans in baseball is one of eventual triumph, it is equally a tale of tragedy and treachery. The obvious tragedy is simply that people who were clearly as talented as their white counterparts in major league baseball were never recognized as such. The treachery is that, even within the framework of black baseball, white business interests often made every effort to take as much as possible from the game and the players and to make sure that black business interests, black players, and the black community received as little as possible.

The road from apparently harmonious, integrated baseball games at Civil War camps to strictly all-black teams such as the Lincoln Giants three or four decades later is perhaps the first sign that the path to triumph was not to be a smooth one. For just as the Emancipation Proclamation, Civil War, constitutional amendments, and Reconstruction did not magically obliterate slavery's legacy of white supremacy and discrimination, baseball was on its own path to Jim Crow by the turn of the century.

After the Civil War, African-Americans and whites played amateur games on the same teams or sometimes against each other. Beginning at some time between 1872 and 1878, John A. Jackson, who played under the name Bud Fowler, was the first African-American to play integrated baseball on any professional level. Fowler's experiences over twenty years of baseball provide a microcosm of black baseball in the nineteenth century. He met successively with grudging acceptance, then discrimination, then physical abuse, and ultimately exclusion. Though he was regarded as one of the best players at his level, Fowler was continually being dropped by his teams and never promoted to a higher level. Fowler was known to play second base with his shins protected by wooden guards to prevent constant spikings from white players who slid into him repeatedly and viciously. In 1887, despite an extraordinarily successful year, Fowler and all other African-Americans in the International League were advised that their contracts would not be renewed for the next season. He thus spent the rest of his career playing for black teams. Thus did the first African-American professional baseball player's career symbolize integration, discrimination, violence, and eventually Jim Crow.(4)

The first African-American to play in the major leagues met a similar fate. Moses Fleetwood Walker was born in 1857 in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. He spent his childhood in Steubenville, Ohio, one of the important stations on the so-called Underground Railroad. In 1881 Walker played baseball at Oberlin, an early hotbed of abolitionism and one of the first integrated colleges. After also attending Michigan University, Walker and his brother Welday began playing for Toledo, which thereafter joined the American Association, a league just below the National League, but a major league nonetheless.(5) In 1884 Fleet Walker and his brother thus became the first and last African-Americans to play in the white major leagues until Jackie Robinson in 1947.

Like his predecessor Bud Fowler and his successor Jackie Robinson, Fleet Walker had far from an easy time as a baseball pioneer. In 1883, Adrian "Cap" Anson, the Babe Ruth of his era and future Hall of Famer, was manager of the Chicago White Stockings. Upon arriving with his team in Toledo for an exhibition against Walker's team, Anson threatened to withdraw his team from the game rather than play against Fleet Walker. Ironically, unknown to Anson, Walker was injured and not expected to play, but Anson's racist threat prompted Toledo's manager, Charles Morton, to call his bluff Morton correctly surmised that Anson could not afford to leave Toledo without his portion of the gate receipts. Thus Walker played and Anson's threat backfired.(6) Walker's own teammates were generally supportive of him with one exception. Pitcher Tony Mallane despised Walker so viciously that he refused to take signs from catcher Walker and instead threw whatever pitch he wanted, leaving his battery mate Walker in the dark about what pitch was coming. The Toledo fans were generally supportive of Walker, but Louisville fans taunted and insulted him. When his team played in Richmond, its manager received an anonymous letter signed by four fictitious names which threatened violence against Walker by "75 determined men" if Walker attempted to play. He did not.(7)

After leaving baseball, Moses Fleetwood Walker eventually became a newspaper editor at the turn of the century. In 1908 he published a lengthy booklet, which showed him to be a forerunner of Marcus Garvey. Walker implicitly rejected the positions of both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. Walker's experiences in life and in baseball left him with the belief that only failure and disappointment awaited African-Americans in their home country. He died in 1924 without ever setting his gaze on Liberia, which he saw as the only hope for African-Americans.(8)

Fleet Walker and his brother were the only two African-American major leaguers of the nineteenth century. Though the International League had banned all African-Americans in 1887, there were still a small number of African-Americans playing professional baseball elsewhere. However by the late 1880s, the message was clear. African-Americans who wanted to play professional baseball had better start forming their own independent teams. By the turn of the century, this was no longer merely a message but a strict, though sometimes unspoken, edict. The color line in professional baseball was clearly drawn. There were no African-Americans in white professional baseball.(9)

As the curtain began to come down on integrated professional baseball in the 1880s, more and more independent all-black teams began to emerge. The most celebrated of these was the Cuban Giants. The Cuban Giants originated at the Argyle Hotel, a resort in Babylon, New York, where a team of African-American waiters began to play for their own enjoyment and that of the hotel's guests. When the summer was over, the team scheduled games against professional and college teams. The team was called "Cuban" because it was felt that they would receive a warmer reception from fans and opposing players if they hid their African-American identity. It is often said that the Cuban Giants went so far as to speak a form of gibberish to each other on the field to simulate Spanish and further their charade as something other than African-Americans, but this tale is widely discredited.(10)

The Cuban Giants were far and away the most famous black team of their era, but they were just one of many. In Louisiana, for example, the best black team was the Pinchbacks, named for P. B. S. Pinchback, an African-American who had been at varying times a governor and senator in Louisiana during Reconstruction.(11) In every state it was becoming clear that integration in baseball was on the way out and that the era of all-black teams and Jim Crow had arrived.

Clearly the end of the century found African-Americans further away from white baseball than they had ever been. They could and did play as all-black teams against all-white teams in exhibition games, but only in Latin American countries such as Cuba could they play on a team with white players. Though Jim Crow was thus firmly entrenched in baseball by 1900, this did not mean that whites would not try to help blacks break the color line if it could help improve their team.

In 1901, Baltimore Orioles manager John McGraw saw a baseball game at his spring training hotel in Arkansas and particularly noticed the talents of an African-American hotel bellboy named Charlie Grant, who had played for a black team in Chicago the year before. In the lobby of the hotel, McGraw spotted a local map, which showed a small body of water nearby called the Tokohama Creek. Grant was suddenly transformed into a full-blooded Cherokee named Charlie Tokohama and joined the Orioles for the remainder of spring training. Unfortunately for McGraw's scheme and for Charlie Grant, when the Orioles reached Chicago, knowing baseball fans spotted him and revealed his true name and race. Grant's major league career thus ended before it ever began.(12)

The color line remained firm. If African-Americans were going to play any form of professional baseball, it would have to be on all-black teams. The era of the great independent black teams such as the Chicago American Giants, Philadelphia Giants, and New York Lincoln Giants had arrived. The institution of all-black baseball had arrived, not as a result of black power or black pride, but, like the philosophy of Booker T. Washington, as the only possible response for African -- Americans who have been barred from white institutions with no other viable alternative than to establish their own.(13) Certainly a legal challenge to baseball's color line would have had no success in the era of Plessy v. Ferguson.

The rise of independent, black professional teams in northern cities owed a great deal to southern migration. Although the heaviest migration did not occur until World War I, a large movement of southern African-Americans to northern cities actually began around 1880. In New York City, the African-American population jumped from 19,663 in 1880 to 25,664 ten years later. The last ten years of the century saw it more than double to 60,666. From 1900 to 1910, the population rose by more than half to 91,709.(14)

The migration was not limited to African-Americans from the South. After 1900, blacks from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands also came in large numbers. Between 1900 and 1920, approximately 20,000 foreign-born blacks, primarily from the West Indies, left their homelands and came to New York. In 1917, The New York Times estimated that nearly one-quarter of Harlem's black residents were from foreign lands.(15)

In addition to the migration to New York from the South and from Caribbean islands, there was another significant migration taking place in New York. In 1626 eleven male slaves owned by the Dutch West India Company first arrived at the southern tip of Manhattan. The next two centuries saw an inexorable movement northward as the city expanded in that direction and blacks continued to be pushed further and further north to the less desirable outskirts. This forced northward movement passed through the infamous Five Points area, Greenwich Village, 14th Street, and eventually to the Tenderloin area in midtown, and San Juan Hill in the West Sixties.(16) After the turn of the century, an over expansion of the housing market in Harlem in response to expanded subway lines resulted in African-Americans for once being sought to fill that housing and actually seeking to live somewhere, rather than being forced to live somewhere.(17)

Certainly the expansion of New York's African-American population, and the increasing concentration of African-Americans in Harlem provided a need and a market for black institutions and entertainment. The migration not only provided a market for black entertainment such as baseball but, in many cases, provided the players themselves. With the African-American population in New York City increasing, and a continuously expanding concentration of Caribbean and American blacks residing in Harlem, the time was ripe for a black baseball team. Excellent teams had existed for years in Chicago and Philadelphia. Now it was New York's turn.

On February 16, 1911, the New York Age announced that the McMahon brothers, well-known sporting events promoters, would have, for the 1911 baseball season, "one of the strongest aggregations of colored ball players ever gotten together and Sol White will be the manager."(18) According to the article, the team was to be known as the Lincoln Giants and the McMahons were not giving a percentage to anyone to book their games. The McMahons had even secured their own field for Sunday games. While the name of the manager, the booking arrangements, and the use of a field may have seemed like inconsequential matters to the unknowing, those familiar with the workings of black baseball in 1911 would have understood the significance.

Sol White had been an outstanding African-American player and for several years, until 1909, the manager of the powerful Philadelphia Giants. White and Philadelphia owner Walter Schlichter had a major falling out in 1909, leading to White's departure from the team.(19) Since the Philadelphia Giants were one of numerous teams that powerful booking agent Nat Strong represented, White's attempt to form the Quaker Giants in 1910 met with a virtual boycott by Strong. Without Strong's help, any team run by White could get access to neither a stadium nor any quality opponents, which a crowd would pay to see. White's attempt to establish the Quaker Giants was easily thwarted by Strong. For this reason, there was little love lost between White and Strong, nor between Strong and many fans and officials involved in black baseball. Thus the small, seemingly mundane announcement in the New York Age was actually a declaration of independence by the McMahons and White against Nat Strong. Not only had the blacklisted White been hired, but the Lincoln Giants had access to their own field for the one day of the week for which crowds were largest.

If the news was bad for Strong, what followed was even worse news for the Chicago American Giants and Philadelphia Giants, the two greatest black teams of the new century. The McMahons and Sol White were raiding Rube Foster's Chicago team and taking John Henry "Pop" Lloyd and Grant "Home Run" Johnson, both of whom Foster had previously stolen away from Philadelphia. In addition they were raiding the Philadelphia team and taking "Cannonball" Dick Redding, Louis "Top" Santop, and Spotswood "Spot" Poles.(20) These five, along with "Smokey" Joe Williams, who arrived later, made up the nucleus of a team which was to dominate black baseball for the next three years and to defeat numerous white major league teams and major league all-star teams in postseason exhibitions.

Shortstop Pop Lloyd was, at the very least, the greatest black baseball player of the first two decades of the twentieth century. Lloyd was born in Palatka, Florida, and raised by his grandmother after his father died and his mother remarried. When Lloyd left the South to seek employment in Philadelphia, he arrived with total assets of $1.50 and a pocket watch.(21) He was often compared with the major leaguer Honus Wagner, who considered it an honor to be compared to Lloyd. In the Lincolns' first year, Lloyd batted .475. Statistics for the Lincoln Giants are rendered somewhat vague due to the fact that they played a variety of teams ranging from major leaguers to small town amateur teams. When Lloyd played in Cuba in the winter, he was given the nickname El Cuchara - the Shovel - because of the way he scooped up part of the infield dirt along with ground balls hit to him. Babe Ruth once stated that Lloyd was his choice as the greatest baseball player of all time.(22) When Honus Wagner was asked who had been the greatest player ever, he said: "If you mean in all baseball, organized or unorganized, the answer would have to be a colored man named John Henry Lloyd."(23) Lloyd played professional baseball until he was forty-eight and continued to play sandlot ball until he reached sixty. When his baseball career ended, Lloyd worked as a custodian in the post office and school system in Atlantic City. In 1949, Atlantic City dedicated a community ballpark to Lloyd. At the ceremony Lloyd said:

I do not consider that I was born at the wrong time. I felt it was the right time, for I had a chance to prove the ability of our race in this sport, and because many of us did our very best to uphold the traditions of the game and of the world of sport, we have given the Negro a greater opportunity now to be accepted into the major leagues with other Americans.(24)

Pop Lloyd was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, twelve years after his death.

Another outstanding player whom the McMahons and Sol White obtained for the Lincoln Giants for the 1911 season was Grant "Home Run" Johnson. Johnson was born in 1874 in Findlay, Ohio, and is believed to have attended college. Johnson earned his nickname by hitting 60 home runs for a semipro team in 1894. Johnson spent 1905 to 1909 playing for the black-owned Brooklyn Royal Giants, but left the team when owner John W. Connor refused to give him an interest in the team. In his three years with the Lincoln Giants, he batted .374, .413, and .371, hitting cleanup behind Pop Lloyd. After leaving baseball at age fifty-eight, he worked with the New York Central Railroad Company and died at age ninety.(25)

The McMahons and Sol White stole pitcher "Cannonball" Dick Redding from White's former team, the Philadelphia Giants. Redding, who was born in Atlanta, was one of the greatest pitchers in black baseball. After joining the Lincolns in 1911, he won 17 straight games. In 1912, he posted a 43-12 season with several nohitters. In the same year, he struck out 25 of the 27 batters he faced in one game. His incredible stamina often allowed him to pitch complete games three days in a row. Redding served in World War I during 1917 and 1918, seeing combat duty in France before returning to black baseball.(26)

Another superstar with the Lincoln Giants during their three year reign as rulers of black baseball was catcher Louis "Top" Santop from Tyler, Texas. Santop could stand at home plate and throw a ball over the center field fence, but he could hit a ball even farther. Some of his home run drives went so far that after World War I he earned the nickname "Big Bertha," after the German long artillery weapon. From 1911 to 1913 Santop batted .470, .422, and .429. Santop's work ethic and toughness were personified in one particular doubleheader when he caught both games with a broken thumb, won the first with a triple, and won the second game with a home run.(27)

Speedy center fielder Spot Poles was the Lincoln Giants lead off hitter during their glory years. Poles was often referred to as the "black Ty Cobb," after the Hall of Fame player whose baseball skills Poles would probably have been happy to share, but whose racism and mental derangement nearly everyone wished to avoid. Poles was born in Florida and began playing baseball at age six, using a broomstick for a bat. Between 1911 and 1913, Poles batted .440, .398, and .414. In 1913 Poles and the Lincoln Giants faced 22 game winner and future Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander. Poles smacked three straight hits. During World War I, Poles served in the Army as a sergeant in the 369th Infantry, earning five battle stars and a Purple Heart for his combat experience while his unit was attached to the French Army. New York Giant manager John McGraw, who had tried to disguise Charlie Grant as a Cherokee in 1901, listed Poles, Pop Lloyd, "Cannonball" Dick Redding and "Smokey" Joe Williams as the four players he would most like to have in the major leagues if the color line could be broken. Paul Robeson once grouped Poles with Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, and Jack Johnson as the greatest black athletes of all time. Poles was admitted to Arlington National Cemetery for burial, but was never admitted to the white major leagues.(28)

Perhaps the greatest pitcher of any race to ever play the game was Smokey Joe Williams. A 1952 poll of former Negro League players rated him the best pitcher of all time, above even the legendary Satchel Paige.(29) Williams was born in Texas in 1885. Ty Cobb believed that Williams would have been a sure 30-game winner if he had ever been allowed to pitch in the major leagues. Williams compiled a lifetime record of 20-7 in exhibition games against major league competition. Frank Leland, owner of the Chicago Giants, for whom Williams pitched before joining the Lincolns, said of him: "If you have ever witnessed the speed of a pebble in a storm, you have not even seen the equal of the speed possessed by this wonderful Texan Giant. He is the king of all pitchers hailing from the Lone Star State and you have but to see him once to exclaim `That's a-plenty!'" Williams pitched for the Lincoln Giants from 1912 to 1923 with a few intermittent stints with other teams during that time.(30) Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999. With the exception of Williams, who joined the Lincolns in 1912, Lloyd, Johnson, Santop, Redding, and Poles were the nucleus of the team that the McMahons and Sol White had put together to play in Harlem in 1911.

The field on which the Lincoln Giants played from 1911 through 1919 was Olympic Field, just north of 135th Street between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. The Lincoln Giants were not the only team to cause excitement at Olympic Field in 1911. In that same year, a baseball game at Olympic Field between the black Moon Athletic Club and the white Silver Stars resulted in one of the earliest outbreaks of racial violence in Harlem. Apparently the Silver Stars were not that impressed with the fielding of the Moons infielder Harry Lyons, especially since his fielding was greatly enhanced by a glove that was "fully as large and plump as a good old-fashioned pillow." When the umpires ordered the black shortstop to remove the glove, he refused. Tempers flared and a fight involving the two teams, onlookers, fists, bottles, and bats ensued. More than a dozen people required medical attention, including the large-gloved Lyons, who was carried from the field unconscious. When he regained consciousness, Lyons was arrested for using a razor during the right.(31)

The New York Lincoln Giants caused a different type of excitement at Olympic Field in the spring and summer of 1911. With access to their own field, an African-American manager who had justifiable animosity toward booking agent Nat Strong, and Irish owners who were willing to outspend other owners in Chicago and Philadelphia to take away their best players, the Lincoln Giants started immediately at the very top. The McMahons had two clear, related objectives. One was to build a superior and successful team. Another was to remain independent from Nat Strong's stranglehold on black baseball in New York.

In 1911 both of these objectives were attained. The team won 105 games and lost only 17(32) as Lloyd batted .475, Santop batted 470, and Poles batted .400.(33) The Lincoln Giants literally wreaked havoc on teams they met. In July they traveled to Asbury Park to play the white local team before a large crowd. After the Lincoln Giants trounced Asbury Park 10-0, the owner of the local team was so disgusted that he immediately discharged all his players. Losing is never easy but losing to a black team was apparently much more than the local owner was capable of tolerating.(34)

During the 1911 season, the Lincoln Giants drew huge crowds to Olympic Field. There were times during the season in New York when more whites than blacks attended the games.(35) More often blacks outnumbered whites at Olympic Field. In August the Lincolns played a doubleheader against the St. Louis Giants. Ten thousand people crammed into Olympic Field. In the first game, the fielders were not always able to field their positions as the crowd spilled on to the field. The second game was halted after seven innings because it could not be played due to the excessive crowd on the field.(36)

Despite the fact that the Lincoln Giants were drawing huge crowds to Olympic Field on Sundays, professional baseball was prohibited on that day. The normal admission price was one dollar for box seats, seventy-five cents for grandstand seats, and fifty cents for admission to the bleachers.(37) Advertising announcements of the games, which appeared in newspapers, included these prices unless they were for games to be played on Sundays.(38) Due to the Sunday prohibition against charging a fee for baseball, all fans were admitted free. The catch was that programs were sold in the three various seating areas for the exact same amount that admission would have cost. While it is not clear how it was done, somehow any fan that declined to buy a program at a Sunday game found himself outside the park before the game began.(39)

Umpiring was a persistent problem in 1911 and throughout the Lincoln Giants' existence. Player Pepper Bassett once proclaimed: "There was no umpiring, only guesses."(40) In a 1911 Olympic Field game between the Lincolns and the St. Louis Giants, the umpiring was so unsatisfactory that the St. Louis team withdrew from the field until another umpire could be found. It was not unusual that umpiring errors tended to favor the home team since the home team was responsible for both hiring and firing. Since three-fourths of the attendance was often black and black teams were playing, the New York Age suggested that black umpires should be hired in the future.(41) This suggestion was resisted for many years since the owners felt that black players would be more acquiescent and obedient to the rulings of a white arbiter. Additionally, there were few experienced black umpires at first since they rarely got the chance to gain any experience.(42)

In September, Sol White resigned as manager of the Lincoln Giants and was replaced as manager by Pop Lloyd.(43) In October, a team of major league all-stars, with baseball legends Honus Wagner at shortstop and Walter Johnson pitching, paid a visit to Olympic Field and defeated the Lincoln Giants 5-3.(44) This may well have been the first time, but far from the last, that white major league baseball stars came to Harlem to play against the Lincoln Giants.

Not all interesting black baseball developments in 1911 were taking place at Olympic Field. In late August at American League Park, at 168th Street and Broadway, the phenomenal dark-skinned Cuban pitcher Jose Mendez of the Cuban Stars defeated the Lincoln Giants. New York Giants manager John McGraw said that if Mendez were white, he would pay $30,000 to get him for his team.(45) Meanwhile the Cincinnati Reds of the National League had disturbed the other white teams in their league and given new hope to African-Americans by placing two light-skinned Cubans, Armando Marsans and Rafael D. Almeida, on their team. The black New York press was excited. If light-skinned Cubans were now in the major leagues, next would come dark-skinned Cubans such as Mendez. Surely African-Americans would be next. Said Lester Walton in the New York Age: "The Negro in this country has more varied hues than even the Cubans, and the only way to distinguish him would be to hear him talk."(46)

Walton cited the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying: "There is some doubt if baseball, after all, is the great American game. We play it, to be sure, but the colored people play it so much better that the time is apparently coming when it shall be known as the great African game."(47) Apparently the Post-Dispatch writer had never been advised that colored people were actually Americans too. As further noted by Lester Walton, the Post-Dispatch reporter had a facile answer for what he seemed to view as a paradox which allowed an inferior race to actually be superior: "Less removed from the anthropoid ape, he gets down on ground balls better, springs higher for liners, has a much surer and stronger grip, and can get in and out of a base on all fours in a way that makes the higher product of evolution look like a bush leaguer."(48) With attitudes like those expressed in the Post-Dispatch prevalent and accepted in the white world, it should come as no surprise that, despite raised black hopes, no darker Cubans and no African-Americans of any hue were to follow the two lighter Cubans into the major leagues for many years.

If the Post-Dispatch was no friend to African-Americans, sometimes it seemed as if those who supported their desire to play in the major leagues were not exactly friends either. John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, had schemed to disguise Charlie Grant as Cherokee Charlie Tokohama in 1901. He had expressed a great interest in Cuban pitcher Jose Mendez and often expressed his admiration for the skills of the Lincoln Giants stars. Many black sportswriters had praised McGraw for his seemingly sympathetic attitude toward African-American players. In December 1911, McGraw was arrested in Cuba and fined twenty dollars for making derogatory statements about Cubans. Apparently, McGraw was at a Cuban restaurant and repeatedly was heard denouncing all Cubans in an epithet commonly hurled at African-Americans. When a Cuban policeman came to arrest him, McGraw hurled the same epithet at him.(49) It seems as if McGraw's interest in African-American ball players stemmed from concern about how they could help his team win rather than from any deep-seated sense of outrage on his part at their exclusion from the major leagues.(50)

During that same winter in Cuba, American industry's predilection for using African-Americans as strikebreakers was exported to Cuba. When the Cuban National League opened in December, a number of Cuban players refused to play because the owners wanted them to play for a fixed salary instead of their customary share of the gate receipts. With many players effectively on strike, the owners sent for African-American replacements, among them Louis Santop of the Lincoln Giants. The replacements were assigned to the Fe team and all was well. Suddenly the Cuban players gave in and accepted the owners' terms. Suddenly the African-American players, who had been promised that a strike settlement would not result in their immediately release, were immediately released.(51) Even Cuba, which generally demonstrated racial tolerance far more generously than its American neighbor, was not above using African-American labor when it was desperate and callously dismissing the laborers who had helped them out when those laborers were no longer needed.

A few months before the 1912 season was to begin, there were ominous signs that all was not well with the McMahons' financial picture. The McMahons and their team were reported to have lost their lease on Olympic Field.(52) Two weeks later, the New York Age reported that Rod McMahon was still working hard to secure the lease at Olympic Field and had indeed succeeded.(53) Although the Lincoln Giants did remain at OIympic Field in 1912, all was not well with the McMahon operation.

On the playing fields, 1912 brought the Lincolns even more spectacular success than the year before. Most of the team remained together, a rarity at a time when players moved around freely, not only between seasons but often in the middle of a season. In June, Spot Poles had an argument with manager, captain, and star player Pop Lloyd and left to join the Brooklyn Royal Giants in Detroit the next day.(54) But by July, when the Brooklyn Royal Giants met the Lincoln Giants at American League Park, Poles was back in a Lincoln Giants uniform playing against the Royal Giants, whom he had just abandoned. The New York Age wisely foresaw that this freedom which players had to move at will from one team to another if they were disgruntled or received a higher offer, had in it the seeds of destruction for black baseball.(55) Another seed of destruction was the blatant hometown umpiring, which even the rabid Lincoln Giants fans at Olympic Field openly criticized. The New York Age once again suggested that the time was ripe for African-American umpires at Olympic Field, especially since two-thirds of the fans there were often African-American.(56)

Despite distractions like Poles, the Lincolns had amazing success on the field in 1912. Cannonball Dick Redding had a record of 43-12.(57) Perhaps the highlight of the year came at the end, when the Lincoln Giants and Smokey Joe Williams shut out both of New York's major league teams in succession. On October 28, 1912, Williams stopped the New York Giants 6-0 at Olympic Field.(58) On November 5, 1912, at Olympic Field, Williams stopped the New York Yankees by the same score.(59)

The major league New York Giants had other problems with black teams during 1912. In May they visited Paterson, New Jersey, to play a black team known as Smart Set. The Giants southern pitcher, Louis Drucke, first insisted that he be called by the surname O'Brien to disguise what he believed to be the shameful fact that he was playing against a black team. He was even more ashamed in the ninth inning when it appeared that he might actually lose to a black team and he and his teammates walked off the field rather than complete the game.(60)

If beating the New York Yankees and New York Giants were highlights of the 1912 season, they were overshadowed by the success of the Lincoln Giants in 1913, their finest year ever. The season started with doubts that the team would secure use of Olympic Field for the season.(61) Eventually they did, but questions about the McMahons' financial stability were never put totally to rest.(62) During the 1913 season, the Lincoln Giants won more than 94 percent of their games. The 1913 team deserves "a place on the short list of the greatest teams in black baseball history."(63)

In July the Lincolns, the superior team in the East, were scheduled to play a thirteen game series with the best team in the west, Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants. The series was billed as the "World's Colored Championship."(64) The Lincoln Giants won this series and the championship, but the series itself was marred by controversy involving an issue, which had surfaced a number of times before -- a general lack of respect for player contracts and a system of labor that was almost too free. Jess McMahon had paid Frank Wickware of the Mohawk Giants one hundred dollars to pitch for the Lincoln Giants against the Chicago team in the big series. Just before the game that Wickware was to pitch, McMahon spotted him in a Chicago uniform instead. McMahon and Chicago's Rube Foster argued for over an hour, failed to agree, and the game was called off. A large, disappointed crowd left Olympic Field without seeing the championship game they had come to see. The next game in the series met a similar fate. McMahon tried to insert into the Lincoln Giants' lineup outfielder Charles Earle of the Brooklyn Royal Giants to replace Joe Gans, who was apparently sick. Foster objected, the game was canceled, and a large crowd again filed out of Olympic Field.(65) The Lincoln Giants did go on to win the championship but the series was marred by these cancellations.

Shortly after the Lincolns became champions, news that the McMahons were having financial problems again resurfaced. Reports were that many players had not been paid in weeks and that several legal judgments had recently been rendered against the McMahons. At the time, players' pay ranged from $40 to $105 per month.(66) By the 1920s, over $200 per month was more common.(67) Although the Lincoln Giants were drawing well and were profitable, these profits were apparently only serving to pay off heavy losses that the McMahons had sustained as fight promoters.(68)

Despite not receiving regular pay, the Lincoln Giants compiled a 4-1 record against major league competition in games played at the end of the 1913 season. Perhaps the most impressive of these four victories was on October 5, 1913, when the Lincolns and Smokey Joe Williams stopped the Philadelphia Phillies 9-2, pounding out twelve hits off Grover Cleveland Alexander, who had just completed a National League season in which he won 22 games.(69)

With the Lincoln Giants having been a dominant team for the last three years, one might have expected their dynasty to continue for many years to come. Unfortunately for the Lincolns and their fans in Harlem, black baseball did not have the kind of stability or continuity that would have spawned a dynasty. Teams changed names, owners, locations, players, and financial outlooks far too often for one team to remain dominant. Just as the Lincoln Giants had gathered excellent players from day one by raiding the Philadelphia Giants and Chicago American Giants, the same could be and was done to them.

Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants had lost the championship series to the Lincoln Giants and Foster decided to take action. With the New York team's financial picture looking gloomy and the owners not always meeting pay schedules, Foster raided their roster and took their two most outstanding players, Pop Lloyd and Smokey Joe Williams, as well as third baseman Billy Francis, and outfielder Jude Gans. Lloyd once recalled: "Wherever the money was, that's where I was." Not surprisingly, that was the motto of most players and the money in 1914 was in Chicago.(70) Lloyd and Williams were to return to the New York team in 1915 and at many times thereafter, but the heyday of the Lincoln Giants was never to return, except for a brief moment in 1930, their final year.

There were other, even more significant changes. Jess and Rod McMahon's financial troubles continued, causing them to sell the Lincoln Giants and the rights to Olympic Field to James Keenan and Charles Harvey. Oddly enough, the McMahons sold the team and the rights to its field, but did not sell the players.(71) Thus the McMahons took many of the players and formed a splinter team, the Lincoln Stars. The Lincoln Stars, who played at Lenox Oval at 145th Street and Lenox Avenue, lasted for three years before both the team and the McMahons vanished from black baseball forever.(72)

Ownership of another New York black team also changed in 1914 in ways that did not immediately affect the Lincoln Giants but would affect them greatly for the next fifteen years. John Connor's Brooklyn Royal Giants fell into the hands of white booking agent Nat Strong. John Connor was born and raised in a black section of Portsmouth, Virginia. He ran off to serve in the military and fight in the Spanish-American war. After the war, he migrated to Harlem and opened a restaurant known as the Royal Cafe. He also became one of the first African-Americans to open a nightclub in Harlem, the Connors Inn.(73)

In 1904 Connor organized the Brooklyn Royal Giants. The Royal Giants were a rarity among the upper echelon teams in black baseball in that their ownership, management, and labor force of baseball players was completely black. Since the Royal Giants had no baseball field to be their home, Connor sought Nat Strong to be his booking agent.(74) Strong was a white New Yorker, who worked as a sporting goods salesman and booking agent for independent baseball teams. He was sometimes referred to as "the Hebrew menace in colored baseball."(75) In the 1890s Strong began buying up baseball venues in the New York metropolitan area and along the East Coast.(76) When games were played at parks owned by Strong, he would take a percentage of the gate and had a policy of offering white teams a percentage of the gate but black teams only a fixed fee, which was almost always less. Because most black teams had no access to a home field, if they wanted places to play and opponents, they had to accept Strong's terms. As the booking agent for many white and black teams, Strong could deprive teams, which displeased him of games, fields, opponents, and ultimately revenue.(77)

Connor's Royal Giants flourished on the field, winning the unofficial "Colored Championship of the East" in 1909. Success on the field emboldened Connor to challenge Strong's power. In 1911, Connor secured a five-year lease on the Lenox Oval at 145th Street and Lenox.(78) Connor's rebellion against Strong was bold and courageous but ultimately unsuccessful. By 1912, despite success on the field, the Royal Giants were having a hard time booking games.(79) Strong's control over black teams pressured them to refrain from playing the Royal Giants. His control over white teams meant that the Royal Giants could have very few of these more lucrative games against white opponents. By 1913 Strong's tactics had damaged the Royal Giants so badly that Connor had little choice but to sell them.(80) In July, the New York Age reported that "the Royal Giants Baseball Club, formerly owned by John W. Connor, has been incorporated at Albany." One of the incorporators and new owners was none other than Nat Strong.(81) Black baseball teams would mount only one other serious challenge to white control until the 1930s.(82)

While blacks were failing in their efforts to challenge whites in the business end of the game, they continued to make successful challenges on the field. In 1914 Smokey Joe Williams returned from Rube Foster's Chicago team during the season and, in October at Olympic Field, pitched the Lincolns to a 10-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies of National League fame.(83) These games between black teams and major league teams were the subject of endless debate. While the black teams seem to have won a majority of the games, some felt that they played harder than the major leaguers during these exhibitions. Others believed that major league teams were superior because they carried more players, received better training, played under better conditions, and were deeper at every position than the black teams. While this debate was endless, there was no debate over the fact that the top African-American players were every bit as good as the top major leaguers.

Just a week after the Lincoln Giants defeated the Phillies, the McMahon's splinter team, the Lincoln Stars, was scheduled to play at Lenox Oval against a major league all-star team featuring five of the world champion Boston Braves. The Braves manager, George "Gentleman George" Stallings from Georgia, objected. The game was never played.(84) The reasons that Stallings was called "Gentleman George" have yet to be determined.

As was often the case, the highlights of the 1915 season for fans and players alike were games played against major league squads. In October, before a huge crowd at Olympic Field, John McGraw's New York Giants defeated the Lincoln Giants 4-2.(85) One week later, 9000 fans jammed into Olympic Field to see the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies take on the Lincolns. The Phillies had just weeks earlier played in and lost the 1915 major league World Series. The crowd spilled onto the field and ground rules had to be put in force. Smokey Joe Williams stopped the Phillies 1-0, striking out ten and allowing only five hits.(86)

During the 1916 season, the Lincoln Giants put together a twenty game winning streak. Statistics in black baseball can be somewhat untrustworthy because the caliber of opponents was extremely uneven. The Lincoln Giants at times played against opponents from the major leagues. At other times their opponents were the D. S. C., which was the Department of Street Cleaning.(87) It is important to remember that the statistics recorded by the various players were sometimes amassed against inferior opponents. It should also be noted that, on occasion, the Department of Street Cleaning beat the Lincoln Giants.(88)

During the 1916 season, the Lincoln Giants were not always the Lincoln Giants. During the week they were also a team from Dover, New Jersey, which won the pennant in the New Jersey Tri-State League.(89) It can only be imagined how Harlem fans felt about sharing their heroes with the residents of Dover, New Jersey.

At the end of October, whether in New Jersey or Harlem, the season usually ended. Most players did not stop playing but merely changed venues. In the latter part of the 1910s, the Lincoln Giants represented a team from the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. The Chicago American Giants played for the Poinciana Hotel, also in Palm Beach.(90) The players received a modest salary from the hotel and received free room and board in segregated quarters nearby.(91) The players sometimes worked as bellhops and cooks. The most competitive baseball was usually played on Saturday in front of the vacationing guests of both hotels. President Kennedy's maternal grandfather was an avid fan: "Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald was so delighted with the Breakers team that he participated himself in their pre-game amusements of egg tosses and gunnysack races."(92)

While "Honey Fitz" was tossing eggs and gunnysack racing in Palm Beach, a war was raging in Europe. World War I brought increased migration to Harlem and sent some of Harlem's best ball players, including "Cannonball" Dick Redding and Spot Poles, to Europe. While a degree of migration from the South had started by 1880, World War I saw increasing numbers head north. World War I stopped the flow of European immigrants. It also created a heavy need for greater industrial production in the North. Many industrial workers were taken away to fight in Europe. The stage was set for African-Americans to come north to fill these positions. The fact that life in the South was filled with poverty, racism, violence, floods, and boll weevils added more incentive.

The increasing African-American population in New York City, and specifically Harlem, created a greater demand for black institutions such as churches, benevolent organizations, and social service organizations. It also created a larger market for goods and services, including amusement and entertainment. While African-Americans in Harlem were far from well off, the economic gains generated by World War I did give African-Americans greater discretionary income and leisure time than ever before.(93) Unfortunately the Great Migration and the increased economic activity that it generated had little positive impact on black baseball in New York City. Nat Strong's tight control over the New York City market assured that he would profit greatly but that the market would remain stagnant.(94)

One other way in which World War I increased the potential for black baseball was the passage of the wartime bill in 1917 authorizing daylight savings time during the summer. The later sunset permitted twilight games, which started after work and could still be completed by sundown. Sunday was no longer the only day when workers could attend games.95

There was one particular migration North that had a dramatic impact on black baseball. In 1916 Tom Jackson and Henry Tucker, two African-American aldermen from Atlantic City, happened to see the black Jacksonville Duval Giants in Florida. White Atlantic City Mayor Harry Bacharach invited the team to migrate en masse to Atlantic City. At the time, Atlantic City was a huge resort town that was sharply divided and heavily segregated. African-Americans, though kept apart, made up forty percent of the population and were an important political and economic force.

There were two versions of why the Duval Giants were brought to Atlantic City. One was that blacks had been promised a huge number of jobs in the tourist business and that the team was an additional perk. The other explanation suggested that the team was brought to Atlantic City "to keep the colored element off the Boardwalk on Sunday afternoon."(96) At any rate, the Florida team migrated to Atlantic City in 1916 and became known as the Bacharach Giants. A few years later, the Bacharachs were to have a brief but enormous impact on black baseball in New York. All wartime migration had a large impact on black baseball, but the Bacharach Giants may well be the only team that migrated together during World War I.

Baseball, both black and white, continued during the war. This did not sit well with Governor Bickett of North Carolina, who said: "The man who can play professional baseball ought to be either in a trench or in a furrow." Bickett believed that the baseball leagues should be disbanded and that the people of the towns and cities should use their idle time and idle men making food for themselves. Bickett suggested that vacant lots should be plowed and turned over free of rent with fertilizer to people who would cultivate them.(97) Apparently Bickett did not feel there was any other fertile land in North Carolina that could be used to produce food other than vacant lots and ball fields.

Those who remained on the ball fields during the war continued to make war on umpires. On August 12, 1917, in a game at Olympic Field between the Cuban Stars and Lincoln Giants, a Cuban Star player was called out at second base. He then belted the umpire and tried to attack him with a bat.(98)

Although the military in Europe and the major leagues in America were segregated as America was trying to "make the world safe for Democracy," not all sports were segregated. At Rutgers University, a young African-American student named Paul Robeson was leading his college football and baseball teams to victory after victory.(99)

The spirit of democracy did not seem to arouse any humanitarian impulses in booking agent Nat Strong during the war. In 1918, a black-owned New York team, the Grand Central Red Caps, complained that they were being boycotted by Strong. The Red Caps had signed several of Strong's Royal Giants players for the 1918 season and suddenly realized that no field would have them and no team would play them.(100) In the New York Age, Lester Walton recalled what Strong had done to John Connor a few years earlier in noting that this was not the first time that these kind of accusations had been made against Strong. While agreeing that the Red Caps' accusations against Strong, if true, were serious, Walton did not let Harlem's African-American community off lightly:

Nat Strong or no other white manager would adopt discriminatory tactics if it was thought that the colored public would strongly object. But it is well known to white amusement promoters that in Harlem and vicinity the colored people are not as keen for patronizing their own as in Chicago and other cities.(101)

At Olympic Field, Smokey Joe Williams was continuing his mastery over major league opponents. The Lincoln Giants blasted major league pitcher Rube Marquard for 16 hits and 8 runs while Williams shut out the major league all-stars 8-0.(102) Williams began the 1919 season at Olympic Field with an even better performance. On May 4, 1919, he bested former teammate Cannonball Redding as he tossed a no-hitter against Redding's Royal Giants.(103)

As World War I ended, racial tensions worsened. In the spring and summer of 1919, the worst race riots of the twentieth century took place in many American cities. Black workers were losing their wartime jobs to whites. Black soldiers who had fought in Europe were returning to violence, segregation, and discrimination. White soldiers were returning to find more and more blacks in their jobs and in their cities.(104) For the first time, blacks were routinely fighting back. When Rube Walker's Chicago American Giants arrived in Chicago after spring training in 1919, they found that their stadium was occupied by the National Guard, which had been called up to control the rioting in Chicago.(105) Foster promptly took his team on a lengthy road trip until his stadium was available.(106)

Of more significance, Foster's response to turmoil in the country and in the black baseball world was the Negro National League, which came into existence in 1920. Although Marcus Garvey was now preaching separatism and black pride, Foster's founding of a separate Negro League apart from the white major leagues scarcely made him a Garveyite. In fact his goals and impulses were far more in line with Booker T. Washington. "Washington called on blacks to build institutions that would actively benefit the race, thus contributing to the proof, supported by ever-increasing evidence, that blacks merit treatment as equals."(107) Foster's goal in creating the Negro National League was not ultimately separatism but rather integration. The Negro National League, consisting of Midwestern teams, was Rube Foster's notion of striking back.

In New York City, another African-American was about to strike back in his own way. John W. Connor, the Harlem restaurateur and nightclub owner, whose Brooklyn Royal Giants had been bankrupted and then taken over by Nat Strong in 1913, was coming back to town with a team. The impact would be felt by New York's most popular black team, the New York Lincoln Giants, and by New York's most feared and detested booking agent, Nat Strong. The return of Connor to New York with the Bacharach Giants represented a threat to the Lincoln Giants' primacy as Harlem's favorite black team and a threat to Nat Strong's primacy as a booking agent with a stranglehold on black baseball in New York.

When the Jacksonville Duval Giants came to Atlantic City en masse from Jacksonville in 1916 and became the Bacharach Giants, there were high hopes. But after two years in Atlantic City, the team was nearly bankrupt. John Connor teamed with Baron Wilkins, the leader of Harlem's underworld, to rescue the team with a large infusion of cash. Wilkins, owner of the Exclusive Club cabaret, was a backer of Jack Johnson and was believed to have won a quarter of a million dollars on Johnson's championship fight with James Jeffries in 1910. Their wealth allowed Connor and Wilkins to offer higher salaries than James Keenan of the Lincoln Giants or Nat Strong, who had succeeded Connor as owner of the Brooklyn Royal Giants. The result was that the Bacharachs were immediately able to lure several excellent players from the Royal Giants and Lincoln Giants, including Cannonball Dick Redding and Pop Lloyd.(108)

Connor's temporary victory over Nat Strong during the Red Summer of 1919 was a cause for celebration among New York City's African-Americans. When the Bacharachs established a home base in New York City for the 1920 season, they became the pride of Harlem. The New York Age often devoted at least three columns to stories about them and called them "New York's most popular colored team."(109) A Lincoln Giants doubleheader received coverage of only seven lines.(110) For the 1920 baseball season, the New York Age expanded its sports page. While sports had always shared a page with music and entertainment, it now shared that page and had its own additional page. The Lincoln Giants, community favorites since their inception in 1911, were now depicted as being afraid to play the Bacharachs.(111)

Connor had obtained control of two parks, one in Harlem and one in Atlantic City. He had a business relationship with Brooklyn Dodger owner Charles Ebbets, which gave him access to Ebbets Field for some games. He had paid to lure outstanding players to his team. Connor's return to the black baseball scene in New York had shocked Nat Strong and James Keenan. Secret meetings were reportedly held between Lincoln Giants owners James Keenan and Charles Harvey, Nat Strong, Smokey Joe Williams, and Pop Lloyd about how to keep Connor out of New York. With access to three parks, one a huge major league park, Connor scarcely needed a booking agent. Other teams would be happy to come to him and play the Bacharachs and gain a share of the proceeds at any of his parks.(112)

While Irishman James Keenan was far more respected in the African-American community than Nat Strong, neither had ever gone out of their way to make gestures of goodwill toward that community. Strong had even refused to provide Brooklyn with a home stadium where they could regularly watch the Royal Giants, despite the fact that he owned or had access to several. In contrast, immediately upon their arrival in New York for the 1920 season, Connor and the Bacharach Giants donated their old uniforms to the West 135th Street YMCA to encourage them to start up a baseball team. Said the New York Age: "This, to our way of thinking, sets a wonderful precedent in local interest for all of the baseball teams that depend for their existence upon their Harlem following."(113) If this truly was a precedent, it means that nothing like it had ever happened before.

The New York Age put its support squarely behind John Connor and the Bacharach Giants and was overtly critical of Nat Strong and James Keenan for trying to keep Connor out of New York. It accused white owners of constantly stealing players from black owners by offering a few dollars more. It repeated accusations about secret meetings by white owners designed to keep colored owners out of New York. It alleged that white owners had kept player salaries exceedingly low until Connor and Wilkins entered the picture and became strong competitors. Above all, it criticized white owners for ignoring the Harlem public on whom they were dependent for support. It also criticized white interests for letting a baseball field in the midst of Harlem slip away without making any effort to buy it.(114)

This last allegation did not mention James Keenan by name, but it surely was aimed directly at him. A valuable resource had been taken from Harlem and Keenan had done nothing to prevent it. After the close of the baseball season in 1919, Olympic Field had been sold to real estate interests so that it could be turned into a parking garage.(115) A place which had provided nine years of thrills, excitement, recreation, and a sense of community was gone. Not only was a park where Harlem's young had played and had watched grown men play now gone, but the New York Lincoln Giants were gone as well. The Lincolns were to open the 1920 season at the Catholic Protectory Oval at East Tremont Avenue and 180th Street in the Bronx. All the bleachers and grandstand seats were transported there from Olympic Field.(116)

Sadly, the move out of Harlem seems to have come at a time when a new excitement was building in the politics, music, art, literature, and entertainment of Harlem. The ball players were a major part of the entertainment world. Strong friendships developed between black ball players and black musicians. Louis Armstrong, Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway, and many members of their bands were friends and associates of the ball players.(117) Armstrong later owned a black baseball team in New Orleans in the 1930s.(118) Bill "Bojangles" Robinson also owned a team.(119) Robinson was a friend to many players and an ardent fan. It is said that Robinson's dying act was to summon Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella to his deathbed and offer a prayer for their success in the major leagues. While many Harlemites never saw the inside of cabarets and nightclubs that attracted huge crowds in the 1920s, many black ball players did.(120) Not only were ball players linked to musicians by friendship and acquaintance. They were both a part of the cultural and entertainment life that Harlem had to offer. The cultural and entertainment life of Harlem flourished in the 1920s. Whether the Lincoln Giants would have flourished along with it if they had remained in Harlem is something that can never be known.

Exactly who was to blame for Harlem's loss of Olympic Field and loss of the Lincoln Giants is unclear. The New York Age was quick to blame James Keenan for not buying the property to save it from real estate interests. Since neither Keenan's nor the Lincoln Giants' precise financial situation in 1919 is now known, judgments are difficult to make. When the team met its demise in 1930, a number of postmortems were written which presented Keenan as having made a valiant effort among African-Americans who were just not dedicated baseball fans. Regardless of who was to blame, the basic fact was that 1919 and 1920 found a powerful black-owned team that had spent money to get outstanding players, defeated Nat Strong, and taken over the hearts of New York's African-American community. While the Bacharachs were doing all this, the white-owned Lincoln Giants were spending no money to get better players, acting in collusion with Nat Strong to keep the Bacharachs out, and leaving their home field and base of fan support for a home field in the Bronx. It is not difficult to see why the Bacharach Giants were greeted by waves of enthusiasm while the Lincoln Giants were now treated by some with a certain amount of derision and scorn.

The New York Age described the Bacharach's opening day at Dyckman Oval in upper Manhattan as a virtual carnival and parade: "A goodly portion of the 110,000 souls living between 125th and 145th streets followed this popular outfit from Harlem when it made its first crusade via auto bus to upper Broadway." The article went on to describe a steady stream of fans pouring into a joyous, tumultuous ball park.(121)

In contrast, the New York Age began writing about the Lincoln Giants and James Keenan in a highly critical manner. Keenan's cheapness was blamed for the fact that "shortstop and second base are two yawning loop-holes in the Lincolns' defense."(122) Articles questioned whether the Lincolns had the courage or ability to play against the Bacharachs.(123) Even when the Lincoln Giants won a doubleheader from Rahway, the New York Age reported that the Lincolns did not win because they "were so good but rather because the Rahways were so punk."(124) When they lost a doubleheader, the New York Age said that they "floundered, fumbled and flopped."(125) A few weeks later, the Lincoln Giants were described as being poor sports for taking advantage of an umpire's poor call against their opponents to win a game.(126)

After several weeks of being chided in the press for being afraid to meet the Bacharachs, the Lincoln Giants finally agreed to a doubleheader. Although the Lincoln Giants had played in a championship series before, never had any black baseball game in New York received the attention of this clash. The New York Age carried reports of the game as the lead story on the front page. On July 11, 1920, sixteen thousand fans poured into Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to witness the spectacle. The first game featured a pitching duel between two hurlers from the Lincolns' glory days, Cannonball Dick Redding for the Bacharachs and Smokey Joe Williams for the Lincoln Giants. These two former teammates had now become bitter rivals. Redding and the Bacharachs won the first game but dropped the second to the Lincolns. Both umpires were black, a first in the history of Ebbets Field. Excitement ran high. "Pandemonium broke loose. Hats were thrown away. Women shrieked in delight. The only missing features were the half-frightened babies to add their wail to this noisy din." A band played syncopation and jazz.(127) It had been the most glorious day that black baseball had ever celebrated in New York.

Two weeks later, the Bacharachs were playing at another major league park. Ten thousand fans watched them defeat the "bewhiskered Israelite House of David team," which came from a religious sect in Benton Harbor, Michigan. All had beards and long hair, which they kept out of their way during the game by using large golf caps instead of the regulation baseball caps.(128)

The Bacharachs and the Lincoln Giants played another doubleheader at Ebbets Field at the end of August, with ten thousand fans watching the Bacharachs win a pair.(129) In retrospect, it seems almost fitting that the Bacharachs should have won this four game series with the Lincoln Giants, because the 1920 season clearly belonged to them. In August and September, the Chicago Giants and the Indianapolis ABC's, the two top midwestern teams, came to Ebbets Field and were both defeated by the Bacharachs in a series of games.(130) Paeans were written to the Bacharachs in the press:

Today we find the Bacharach Giants shining like the famous two million candlepower searchlight used so extensively in the most recent war to ferret out the whereabouts of the enemy. To those who have followed the history of ball teams owned by colored men in the East, the success of the Bacharachs must stand as a wonderful achievement in both sportsmanship and business ability of the owners.(131)

While such praise was indeed merited, it may have been less effusive if it had been known at the time that the Bacharach Giants were to return to Atlantic City for the next season.

In 1920 it was revealed that eight players on the Chicago White Sox had been paid by gamblers to deliberately lose the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Oddly enough, those players implicated in wrongdoing then became known as "the Black Sox." The New York Age asked how the major leagues could have had players of such poor character and yet be excluding black players of good character because of their race: "Are our star ball players -- despite the active part they took in the war for Democracy, despite their gentlemanly behavior on the diamond and in civil life -- to be forever confronted with this insurmountable color barrier? Is there no conscience in the white solons' hearts?"(132)

The 1921 season opened with relatively little attention being paid by the press to the Bacharach Giants. A game between the Lincoln Giants and Royal Giants was called a game between "the leading colored teams of the city."(133) When the Bacharachs played the Chicago American Giants at the end of the year for the "colored baseball championship of the world," the games were played not in Ebbets Field or Harlem, but in Harrison, New Jersey.(134) While the Bacharachs still played some games in New York, clearly they had retreated from New York after their most successful season ever. Just when Harlem had fallen in love with a team, that team had left town and abandoned them. The Lincoln Giants had left for the Bronx and now the Bacharachs had jilted New York's black community too.

Why did the Bacharachs leave New York when they seemed to have conquered the city's black baseball world? They were the champions. They were independent of Nat Strong. They were the toast of the town. One explanation that has been given for their departure is simply that there were already too many teams in New York.(135) This seems implausible in light of the fact that there were no teams of their caliber, no teams in Harlem, and no teams with such access to Ebbets Field and other ball fields. A better, though not conclusive, explanation has to do with the fact that the Bacharachs in 1920 joined Rube Foster's Negro National League as an associate member. They were not full members but, as associates, could both visit and host the teams in Foster's predominantly mid-western league. At the same time that this opened up new venues in which to play and additional teams to play, Foster's league had outlawed all of the eastern teams because they had repeatedly raided the teams in his league for players.

The result for the Bacharachs was that they could now play against the teams in Foster's midwestern league but no longer against any of the top eastern teams.(136) This did not sit well with Connor's partners, Atlantic City aldermen Tom Jackson and Henry Tucker, who had first brought the team to Atlantic City from Florida in 1916.(137) In addition, it is not likely that Jackson and Tucker were at all pleased that the Bacharachs had, in effect, abandoned Atlantic City for New York City for the 1920 season, regardless of how successful this abandonment had turned out to be for the Bacharachs or for New York's black fans.

Whatever the reason, the retreat of the Bacharachs from Harlem and New York City, coupled with the move of the Lincoln Giants to the Bronx, left no major black independent team in Harlem. There were to be no more black owners in New York in the 1920s. Nat Strong was on top again. In 1923, Connor's partner, Harlem underworld king Baron Wilkins, was shot and killed in front of his cabaret.(138) Three years later, Connor, the man who had made two bold but unsuccessful attempts to challenge the white power structure in black baseball in New York, had a stroke and died at the age of forty-eight. Pitcher Cannonball Dick Redding was a pallbearer at his funeral.(139)

Although they had left Harlem, life continued for the Lincoln Giants. In the winter of 1920, the team barnstormed in California. Baseball legend Ty Cobb was in uniform when they entered a San Diego stadium for an exhibition game. When Cobb saw that his opponents were African-American, he merely changed out of his uniform, sat in the stands of the ball park, and watched the game.(140) Cobb's bigotry was no secret. During his career, he had numerous racial incidents "including an altercation with a groundskeeper in Augusta, Georgia, in 1907; a fight with a laborer who objected to Cobb's stepping in freshly laid concrete in Detroit in 1908; and assaults on a black watchman at a Cleveland hotel in 1909, a fan in 1910, and a butcher in 1914."(141) So Cobb was surely not singling out the Lincoln Giants for his odious behavior when he refused to play against them. In fact, Cobb positively refused to play against any African-Americans after 1910.(142) This put him in the company of another baseball legend, Adrian "Cap" Anson, who had threatened not to play against Fleet Walker in 1883. The other thing that these two baseball legends have in common is that both are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. If Cobb and Anson could make their wishes known today, would they ask to be removed from the Hall of Fame rather than to be enshrined with Lincoln Giants' greats Pop Lloyd and Smokey Joe Williams? Or perhaps their removal should be demanded because of the way in which their particularly virulent strain of racism despoiled the game. Cobb's snub of the Lincoln Giants in the winter of 1920 was atypical of most major league players, but it was all too typical of him.

The 1920s found the Lincoln Giants remaining in their Bronx home field for the entire decade. While the team never returned to the glory days of 1911 through 1913 at Olympic Field in Harlem, their ball field at Catholic Protectory Oval had its own charms. The field was considered to be the most beautiful ball park in the New York area.(143) The field was located at East Tremont Avenue and 180th Street in the Bronx on the grounds of the Catholic Protectory, an orphanage run by the Christian Brothers.(144) The stadium was roofless, but shade was provided by large trees, many of which were actually in the outfield.(145) The stadium had a beautiful grass infield and outfield which players said were comparable to those at Yankee Stadium. The boys in the orphanage were assigned to take care of the field and the entire stadium and they kept it spotless.(146) The boys' band played between innings of the games and between games of the Sunday doubleheaders.(147) Tunes such as "Tell Her I Stutter" and "Dixie" were a part of their repertoire.(148) Games were sometimes accompanied by excessive and open betting, often by professional gamblers.(149) Drunkenness of fans was sometimes complained about.(150)

Many white fans continued to support the Lincolns at Catholic Protectory Oval but black support decreased. The Catholic Protectory Oval was miles away from Olympic Field and only the staunchest Harlem fans followed the Lincolns up to the Bronx. The Polo Grounds at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and Yankee Stadium, when it opened in 1923 at 161 st Street in the Bronx, were both closer to Harlem. Many Harlem fans thus turned their attention to the major league New York Giants and New York Yankees who played there.(151) The popularity of cricket among New York City's Caribbean-born blacks also led to decreased interest in baseball. Many fans turned out to see cricket at Dyckman Oval on Saturdays but support for baseball at the same location on Sundays reached a point where it no longer seemed enthusiastic.(152)

The problems that beset black baseball in the East in the early 1920s gave rise to increased clamor for a formal baseball league. Though the early 1920s was a time of great prosperity in the United States, it is sometimes forgotten that this prosperity did not reach all segments of the population. In addition to being an industry whose fans were not a part of the economic boom, black baseball was beset by other difficulties. Player raiding and player jumping from team to team continued unabated. The most notorious jumping by any player did not occur until 1937 when Satchel Paige and several other Pittsburgh Crawfords left their team in midseason to play in the Dominican Republic for dictator Rafael Trujillo's team, after Trujillo became alarmed when a political opponent's baseball team was consistently beating his own team.(153) The owners and players of the early 1920s never matched the degree of boldness of Paige and Trujillo but they did not lag far behind.

Thus one reason for a league was that it would operate, in theory, as a quasi non-aggression pact for the teams in it. Teams would agree not to raid other teams in the league or steal their players. Another reason for a league was to stir fan interest by having a fixed schedule and a season-long pennant race as was done in the major leagues. Although black baseball had played what it called "championships," these were sometimes merely series between two of the better teams, which were given that nomenclature to add importance, interest, and attendance. Another reason for the league would be to focus on games within one geographical region and thus reduce transportation costs.(154) Rube Foster had organized several Midwestern teams into the Negro National League in 1920. In December 1922, a meeting of eastern teams, including the Lincoln Giants, was held in Philadelphia to organize the Eastern Colored League.(155)

It had always been Rube Foster's dream to form two black leagues which would parallel the American League and National League in the major leagues, and would similarly play against each other in a World Series. But Foster's response treated the formation of the Eastern Colored League in 1923 more like a nightmare than a dream:

Why not call this Nat Strong's Booking Agency? It's useless to try and camouflage the public into the belief that such an organization, when formed, means only to perpetuate the commission of Nat Strong, who has taken 10 per cent from the gross earnings of colored ball clubs for twenty years, has never built a fence for them to use, and never will, yet he believes in organization of the white clubs and erected fine parks for them, but his "Royals" must go from day to day as a club without a home.(156)

Foster also complained that white Lincoln Giants owner, James Keenan, had been made secretary and treasurer of the new Eastern Colored League. Any validity to Foster's response was somewhat undermined by the fact that he served as booking agent for the Negro National League and that his league had whites in important positions as well.(157)

Perhaps Foster's biggest problem with the new league was that he wisely foresaw that it threatened his league and had the potential to undermine his objectives. Foster saw the formation of his Negro National League as a way to end player raids, gain independence from white booking agents, create a black parallel to the two major leagues, and eventually integrate baseball.(158) But the Eastern Colored League would certainly raid the Negro National League, be dependent on a white booking agent, and refuse to be a harmonious part of Foster's two league system.

Foster was right on target. One major advantage that the eastern owners had over the midwestern owners is that they tended to be in bigger cities and wealthier. In February and March, the Eastern Colored League teams raided Foster's Negro National League in preparation for the 1923 inaugural season. James Keenan and the Lincoln Giants plucked pitcher Dave Brown from Foster's Chicago American Giants, pitcher Bill Holland from the Detroit Stars, and first baseman Bob "Highpockets" Hudspeth from the Indianapolis ABCs.(159) The loss of southpaw hurler Brown was perhaps most galling to Foster, who had once posted a twenty thousand dollar bail bond to get Brown released from jail on a serious criminal charge.(160) The loss of Brown may have also galled Foster because Brown was one of the premier left-handers in black baseball.(161) While Bill Holland turned out to be a disappointment for the Lincoln Giants in his first years, in 1930 he went on to a phenomenal 29-2 record.(162) Hudspeth's claim to fame is that he was the tallest man in black baseball and thus one of the best fielding first basemen.(163)

Although the 1923 Lincoln Giants were now in the Eastern Colored League with five other teams, in a number of ways there were no dramatic changes from years past. Since no black team could survive playing only against other black teams, many games were still scheduled against both white and black teams who were not in the league. The Lincolns' first two games of the season were against the Paterson Silk Sox and the Hoboken Nine, neither one a league member.(164) When their first Eastern Colored League game did come about, it was a huge success. Ten thousand fans, equally divided between black and white, jammed into Catholic Protectory Oval and saw the Lincolns lose in extra innings to Hilldale of Philadelphia.(165) Later in May, before a crowd described as "two-thirds colored," the Lincoln Giants split a doubleheader with Nat Strong's Brooklyn Royal Giants.(166)

There were times during the 1923 season when the Lincoln Giants seemed to fight harder amongst themselves than against their baseball opponents. In June, before 10,000 fans at the Catholic Protectory Oval, the Lincolns dropped a pair of games to Hilldale and pitcher Dave Brown tried to drop outfielder Spot Poles with a punch. A run had scored when Poles refused Brown's request to play in shallower and a ball dropped in front of Poles for a hit and a run. Fisticuffs took place as soon as the team reached the dugout.(167)

At the end of June, the six owners of the Eastern Colored League met in Philadelphia for the first time since the league's season had begun. All six owners, who also considered themselves league commissioners, expressed happiness with their fan attendance. The team standings released by the league constituted the proverbial fly in the ointment. While they showed Hilldale comfortably in first place, they also showed that Hilldale was quite far ahead in league games played compared to a number of teams. In fact, Hilldale had played twenty-four league games while the Cuban Stars, over whom Nat Strong had control, had played only thirteen and the Brooklyn Royal Giants, owned by Strong, had played only eight.

The commissioners felt that they knew how to balance the schedule and make sure that each team played the same amount of games.(168) What five of the commissioners may not have understood immediately is that the sixth, Nat Strong, was deliberately disregarding the schedule and booking games for his teams that would take in the most revenue. If playing these more lucrative games meant disregarding the league schedule, so be it. In short, Strong, as he had always done, was looking out for himself and disregarding the welfare of black baseball, its fans, and its teams. Scheduling a multitude of games was important to every team. Sometimes the Lincolns scheduled and won three in one day -- one in Newark in the morning and a doubleheader at the Protectory Oval in the afternoon.(169) But by far, the teams that scheduled the most games in lieu of their scheduled Eastern Colored League games were the teams owned or controlled by Nat Strong.

The Eastern Colored League's inaugural season ended with Hilldale of Philadelphia winning the pennant.(170) The Lincoln Giants finished near the bottom in the pennant race, but their games had a higher attendance than any other team in the league. Still the vastly unequal number of league games played by each team marred not only the legitimacy of the pennant race but the future financial stability of the league as well.(171) Due to the obvious animosity between the Eastern Colored League and Rube Foster's Negro National League, there was no 1923 Colored World Series played between the respective league champions.(172)

The apparent success of the 1923 Eastern Colored League season led to an expansion from six to eight teams in 1924 with the addition of the Washington Potomacs and Harrisburg Giants. The Hilldale Club of Philadelphia, Cuban Stars, Baltimore Black Sox, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Bacharach Giants, and Lincoln Giants all returned for a second year in the league.(173) Attendance continued to be good for the Lincoln Giants as twelve thousand fans set an Eastern Colored League and Protectory Oval attendance record in June as they watched the Lincolns and Hilldale split a doubleheader.(174)

Though attendance soared, even the addition of recent Harvard University pitcher Earl Brown did not help the Lincolns challenge Hilldale for the pennant.(175) In September, peace talks between the Negro National League and the Eastern Colored League reached a tentative agreement about player raiding and player jumping. This tentative accord permitted the first Colored World Series to be held between the eventual champions, the Kansas City Monarchs, and the Hilldale Club.(176)

While the Lincolns did not get to play in the 1924 World Series, they did play before a large Protectory Oval crowd in what was billed as the Bronx Championship against a white Bronx all-star team, which included New York Yankee and Columbia University great, Lou Gehrig.(177) While Gehrig and other white major league players would continue to play against black baseball teams for many years, no complete major league team would do so in 1924 or thereafter. Judge Keenesaw Mountain Landis, who was brought in to clean up major league baseball after the 1919 Chicago White Sox scandal, decreed that after 1923 no major league team could wear their uniforms or play as a complete unit against any black team. It is widely believed that Landis had grown tired of seeing black teams defeating the best major league teams. After this ruling, only all-star major league teams could play black teams.(178) The doctrine of white supremacy could still hang by a very slim thread on a technicality. Landis and others could tell themselves that African-American teams were technically not beating major league teams. They were only beating teams composed of various major leaguers. A very slim thread indeed.

In the winter before its 1925 season, the Eastern Colored League tried to address its three most significant problems. It decreed that each team had to play at least forty games on its schedule to be eligible for the championship. It ordered that no team could sign a player from another league or another team unless that player's team had formally released him. Any payer who violated this provision would have to sit out for a year.(179) The league also signaled its intention to end the problem caused by umpires hired by the home team persistently making decisions on the field favoring that team.(180) Umpires were now to be assigned to each game by the league.(181)

The 1925 season looked promising for the Lincoln Giants. The league seemed to be addressing its problems. The Lincolns were making improvements to their home grounds. In 1924 they had built a new clubhouse for the players.(182) Prior to the 1925 season, they cut down the large trees in right field that often got in the way of players trying to field balls hit out there.(183) If they had known in advance how horrendous their pitching would be, perhaps they would have decided to move back the outfield fences instead. The 1925 season was to be the worst through which the Lincoln Giants would ever suffer.

The season started well enough. On Sunday, April 26, 1925, the Lincoln Giants won a pair as lefty Dave Brown stopped the Bacharach Giants in the league opener before a huge crowd at the Catholic Protectory Oval.(184) The Lincolns were so sure of Brown's ability to anchor their pitching staff that they had sent the aging Smokey Joe Williams to the Homestead Grays just two weeks earlier.(185) Early Tuesday morning, on April 28, 1925, a young man was shot and killed in front of 69 West 135th Street, not far from the old Olympic Field. The assailants jumped in a cab and sped away.(186) Sought in the murder were third baseman Oliver Marcelle, pitcher Frank Wickware, and pitcher Dave Brown, all Lincoln Giants. None of the three attended the Tuesday afternoon practice.(187) Eventually, Marcelle and Wickware were brought in for questioning and released. Brown, who had apparently committed the drug-related shooting, was wanted by the FBI but never seen again. Later that summer, a crafty southpaw going by the name of Lefty Wilson began pitching for semipro teams in the Midwest and continued to do so for about five years. That crafty southpaw may well have been Brown.(188)

After this incident, the Lincoln Giants began to lose heavily. The loss of Dave Brown and injuries to key players left their pitching staff in complete disarray. A request for pitchers was even carried in the press: "Any local player who thinks he can make the team will be given a tryout by reporting to Mr. Keenan at the grounds or writing him at his home, 505 West 135th Street."(189)

The Lincoln Giants were severely challenged not only by teams in the Eastern Colored League but by a team in the Bronx that tried to take away their home field. An effort was made by certain residents of the Bronx to have the Catholic Diocese take the Protectory Oval from the Lincoln Giants and give it to the Bronx Hebrews, a local white team. The complaint against the Lincoln Giants was that they were no longer a good team and that their presence had caused some racial clashes in the neighborhood. As a means of solving this dispute, the Lincoln Giants and the Bronx Hebrews clashed on the ball field with the Lincolns earning an 8-3 victory. The effort to take the Catholic Protectory Oval from the Lincoln Giants seemed to run out of steam after that game.(190) The Bronx Hebrews were one of the few teams beaten by the Lincoln Giants in 1925. The Lincolns finished in the basement of the Eastern Colored League with a record of 7-39.(191) In addition to losing a large number of games in 1925, the Lincoln Giants also lost $13,000.(192)

Although the Eastern Colored League had met with some measure of success in its first two years, and had generated a degree of optimism among its owners, in 1925 and 1926 it became more and more apparent that the problems that beset it were not going away. Nat Strong still owned the Brooklyn Royal Giants, controlled the Cuban Stars, and was booking agent for Hilldale and the Bacharach Giants. Although he owned and had access to many ballparks, he continued to give white teams access to home parks while denying these to even his own black team. As a constantly visiting team, he could thus take gate receipts from other teams but never have to give gate receipts to them. Nor did he see any reason to adhere to the Eastern Colored League schedule if he had the opportunity to book a more lucrative game for his team on a scheduled league date. Strong's methods created such hostility between Lincoln Giants owner James Keenan and himself that an exasperated Keenan finally refused to permit his Lincoln Giants to play games against Strong's Royal Giants in 1926.(193)

Whatever moral judgments might be made about Nat Strong's selfishness and racism, from a strictly business point of view, the real problem was that baseball owners were both competitors and partners. As with any industry, each competitor might seek to maximize their own profits, but cutthroat competition, without a certain degree of cooperation or collusion within an industry, could lead to chaos and ruin.(194) Maximizing profits on a daily basis may have seemed like a proper business objective, but if it resulted in the destruction of the industry, it did not seem like a wise policy over the long run. Since Strong was a dominant force in the Eastern Colored League, the league had little power to force him to change his ways.

Since the league was run by its owners and not by an independent commissioner, it had little ability or desire to discipline owners who violated player raiding rules or players who openly assaulted umpires or challenged their decisions. On June 27, 1926, in a game between the Lincoln Giants and the Harrisburg Giants, Harrisburg's Walter "Rev" Cannady was called out on the base paths. He slugged the umpire whose call displeased him and was continuing to assault him when Lincoln's manager Pop Lloyd physically stopped him.(195) When a special policeman ran out onto the field to arrest Cannady, his teammates ran out onto the field to prevent it. Lloyd again intervened to stop the arrest and prevent a near riot.(196) A month later, in a game at Hilldale Park, Cannady assaulted an umpire, was ejected from the game, and smashed the window of the umpire's car with a bat. He was never disciplined. A small number of players in the white major leagues and in the Eastern Colored League were abusive to umpires. The major leagues, with an independent commissioner, fined and suspended such players. The Eastern Colored League, with owners serving as the commissioners, did not.(197)

How could the owners impose any respect among players for the authority of umpires when, at times, they displayed their own lack of respect? In a game against the Bacharachs, Lincoln Giants infielder Oliver Marcelle became abusive to an umpire and was ejected from the game. When Marcelle refused to leave, the umpire ordered the game forfeited to the Bacharachs. Lincoln's owner James Keenan immediately intervened in his position as league commissioner to overrule the forfeit and direct the game to continue. The umpire objected and refused to return to the game. Keenan found an alternate umpire and the game continued.(198)

Although Keenan was thus sometimes a part of the league's problem, more often his opposition to Nat Strong won him admiration for his efforts to deal with what was ailing the Eastern Colored League. Near the end of 1926, Keenan even resigned from the league in protest over Strong's continuing abuses.(199) While the Lincoln Giants did return to the league for the beginning of the 1927 season, their stay turned out to be brief. A battle between Keenan and other Eastern Colored League owners over a player from the Negro National League precipitated an early departure from the league by the Lincolns.

Cuban Alonzo Montalvo had been a member of the Cuban Stars of the Negro National League. When the Stars denied him a pay raise for the 1926 season, he sat out that season in order to win his release. He then signed with the Lincoln Giants for 1927. The Cuban Stars claimed that he still belonged to them because he was protected by a reserve clause and had not been officially released. Unfortunately for the Cuban Stars, they had inadvertently left his name off their reserve list and thus, technically, he did not need a release to be free to sign with the Lincoln Giants.(200)

Although this appeared to be a battle between the Eastern Colored League and the Negro National League, what especially rankled Keenan is that two of his league's owners, Nat Strong and Alex Pompez, opposed him on this issue. Strong's opposition to Keenan on any issue was hardly surprising. The opposition of Pompez seemed to have a racial component. As owner of the Cuban Stars of the Eastern Colored League (not Montalvo's former Negro National League team of the same name), Pompez believed that the Cuban players belonged only on Cuban teams and resented the fact that an African-American team, with all of its access to African-American players, should attempt to sign Cuban players as well.(201)

When even his own league ruled against Keenan, he refused to drop Montalvo and the Lincoln Giants were banned from the Eastern Colored League. In effect, Keenan decided to resign from the league rather than give up Montalvo because he could have easily avoided suspension by relinquishing his rights to the Cuban player.(202) For Keenan, leaving the league was not a drastic loss, as he had come close to doing so over the winter. In addition, it was actually a greater loss for the league's other teams than for the Lincoln Giants since Sunday games at the Protectory Oval often earned the visiting team a nice payday of between five hundred and one thousand dollars.(203) In short, the league seemed to need Keenan and his team more than his team really needed the league.

Although Keenan could not have known it for certain at the time, another reason why leaving the league was not a drastic measure is that the league was actually on its last legs. James Keenan actually decided to return to the Eastern Colored League for the 1928 season and agreed to relinquish his rights to Alonzo Montalvo.(204) But before the league's season began, the Harrisburg franchise announced that it was folding.(205) Hilldale and Nat Strong's Royal Giants did the same. The breaking point for Strong was that the league insisted that all teams have a home field for 1928, something which Strong, despite his access to many fields, had always refused to do for his black teams.(206)

Despite the absence of these teams, the Eastern Colored League actually began its 1928 season at the end of April. But the Cuban Stars and Lincoln Giants soon dropped out and by June the league went out of existence.(207) The teams continued to play as independents as they had before the league started in 1923. In fact, the teams' reluctance to ever give up their independence while playing in the league, along with the darkening economic picture for the league's market of potential fans, doomed the Eastern Colored League to eventual failure. The league resurfaced in 1929 as the American Negro League and included the New York Lincoln Giants.(208) The American Negro League lasted only one season before disbanding after the 1929 season.(209)

Though the American Negro League did not survive to see 1930, the New York Lincoln Giants did. In what was to be their final year, they gave their fans one last reminder of what they had once been at Olympic Field in Harlem between 1911 and 1913:

The Lincoln Giants playing has caught the fancy of local fans, and their reputation is spreading throughout the country. Before the season ends there will be one of the greatest revivals of interest in the old game that was ever known. [...] And now we have Keenan's Lincoln Giants, who are creating an interest that bids fair to cause a revivification of the old enthusiasm of other years. A bunch of star players working as a team is the greatest asset ever to the advancement of the game.(210)

The belief that a great team could, by itself, resurrect interest in the game was overly optimistic, but the belief that the Lincoln Giants were a great team was not. With pitcher Bill Holland's 29-2 record, shortstop Bill Yancey's defense and Pop Lloyd's .312 batting average at age 46, the Lincolns were considered the best team in the East for most of the season.

In July, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees, donated the use of Yankee Stadium for a doubleheader between the Lincoln Giants and Baltimore Black Sox for the benefit of A. Philip Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.(211) On July 5, 1930, a crowd estimated as high as twenty thousand poured into the stadium to witness the spectacle. Races were run before the game. Between innings of the second game, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson ran a race 75 yards backwards against a group of youths from the West 135th Street YMCA who ran 100 yards the correct way. The 369th Infantry band paraded up Seventh Avenue before the games and furnished music throughout the afternoon.(212)

There were many firsts that day. It was the first time that two black teams had even been allowed to play in Yankee Stadium. Bill Holland of the Lincoln Giants became the first black pitcher to ever pitch in Yankee Stadium. It was the first time that two black umpires ever officiated a game at Yankee Stadium.(213) Lincoln shortstop Bill Yancey had the distinction of being the first black player to set foot on the field at Yankee Stadium. His excitement was such that he ran out on the field early, pretended to catch fly balls in right field like Babe Ruth, and stood alone at home plate pretending to hit home runs into the right field stands like the Babe. Yancey counted playing in Yankee Stadium as one of his biggest thrills.(214) It seems of little significance to add that the two teams split the doubleheader. A total of $3500 was raised for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.(215) Another first may have been recorded that day. In the final year of their twenty-year existence, the Brotherhood benefit may have been the first time that the Lincoln Giants made a significant effort to give something concrete to the black community that was their fan base.

In their final year, the Lincoln Giants did give their fans much to cheer about. After a season in which they were the dominant team in the East, they squared off against the other dominant team, the Homestead Grays, who were rising on the back of their outstanding rookie catcher, Josh Gibson. The two teams collided in a championship series with games played at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, Philadelphia's Bigler Field, and New York's Yankee Stadium. The Lincoln Giants invited any African-American soldiers from the 369th Infantry who appeared in uniform at Yankee Stadium to attend one game free of charge.(216) The series was hotly contested with the Grays finally winning six of the ten games.(217) Perhaps the highlight of the series was a monstrous Yankee Stadium home run hit by the Grays Josh Gibson, which hit the top tier of the park 500 feet from the plate. Some who were there claim that the ball went out of Yankee Stadium, which, if true, would mark the first and last time for such an occurrence.(218)

Although the championship series was a great display of baseball, it was a huge financial failure for Lincolns' owner James Keenan. Within six months, the team would lose its grounds at the Catholic Protectory Oval and disband.(219) James Keenan, suffering from rheumatism and financial difficulty, quit the game. The Catholic Protectory was torn down in 1938 to make way for the Parkchester housing development.(220)

The remnants of the Lincoln Giants were taken over by Marty Forkins, the booking agent for tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.(221) The new team went through many name changes in its first year, being called at various times Bill Robinson's New York Stars, Bill Robinson's Brown Buddies, the Harlem Stars, and eventually the New York Black Yankees. The plan was for the new team to play most of its games at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds but it seldom did, due to low fan turnout and exorbitant rents charged by these two major league ball parks. The Black Yankees did play a benefit for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters at Yankee Stadium in 1931, but Yankee Stadium was not donated free of charge and the benefit actually lost money for the Brotherhood.(222) Eventually the Black Yankees were rescued from dissolution by African-American nightclub owner M.E. Goodson, his associate James Semler, and the ubiquitous Nat Strong, the team's New York booking agent.(223) In the 1930s, the New York Black Yankees were the doormats of the Negro National League, usually finishing at the bottom and never higher than fifth in the six-team league.(224)

The story of the New York Lincoln Giants is a glimpse into black life in the midst of intense segregation and senseless discrimination. Whites considered themselves too superior to play the pastime of the land of the free with blacks. And yet a white manager connived to try to find a way to secretly use blacks to help him win. Blacks were not allowed in the major leagues because of their skin color, yet Cubans with skin as dark as some blacks were allowed. Players such as Cap Anson and Ty Cobb, whose skills and racism were both unparalleled, are now roommates at the Hall of Fame with African-Americans Pop Lloyd and Smokey Joe Williams. Players such as Cannonball Redding and Spot Poles were good enough to defeat major league teams but never good enough to play on one. They were courageous enough to risk their lives to serve their country and fight for its ideals in World War I, but were never deemed worthy of benefiting from those same ideals so that they could be allowed to play major league baseball.

It has never been difficult to see the foibles and contradictions of segregation and discrimination. The history of the Lincoln Giants shows us these in abundance. But what it also shows us is the difficult and not always successful effort to create and sustain an alternative to the major leagues. Though the players were quite skilled and exceptional and their labor was thus much in demand, the free labor system, with its frequent player raids and player jumping, provided little more long-term stability than did certain less free systems of labor.

The players had the skills, but most often white owners and booking agents controlled access to baseball fields, white opponents, and even profits. Teams such as the New York Lincoln Giants owed their success to their legendary players. But they owed their legendary players to the white money that purchased and paid that talent. When John Connor and other black owners made sporadic attempts to challenge the white baseball entrepreneurs by lining up their own players, ball parks, and opponents, the white powers in black baseball tried to shut the door on them almost as tightly as major league baseball had shut the door on black players.

The New York Lincoln Giants and other black baseball teams were certainly vital, valuable, and exciting additions to their communities. But like many other white-owned businesses, the emphasis seemed to be far more on what could be extracted from the community than what could be added. When African-American John Connor and his Bacharach Giants came to Harlem in 1920, their girl of uniforms to the local YMCA was considered unprecedented. While the Bacharachs were donating uniforms to Harlem's youths, James Keenan and the Lincoln Giants were holding secret meetings to keep the Bacharachs out of New York. At the same time, the Lincolns were abandoning Olympic Field in Harlem for the Catholic Protectory Oval in the Bronx. Not until the final year of their existence did the Lincoln Giants perform any major civic deed. Even then, it must be emphasized that the 1930 benefit for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was largely the inspiration of Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the Yankee owner, and not of James Keenan.

In short, what emerges from this look at the New York Lincoln Giants is a picture of extraordinary athletic excellence on the baseball field by the players coupled with very ordinary and common exploitation of black communities by white business interests. One of the endearing qualities about baseball is its ability to constantly shift the focus away from the business aspects and back toward the game. To focus on the business aspects of black baseball is to see discrimination and treachery. To focus on baseball as purely a game is to see how the great skills of the Lincoln Giants and all black players inexorably destroyed the myth of white superiority, opened the door to major league baseball's color line, and allowed Jackie Robinson to walk through it over fifty years ago.

(1) Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick McKissack Jr., Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball League (New York: Scholastic Inc., 1994) 3.

(2) William Brashler, The Story of Negro League Baseball (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1994) 9.

(3) Bruce Chadwick, When the Game Was Black and White: The Illustrated History of Baseball's Negro Leagues (New York: Abbeville Press, 1992) 19.

(4) Jules Tygiel, Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (New York: Oxford UP, 1983) 11-12.

(5) Robert Peterson, Only the Ball Was White (New York: Oxford UP, 1970) 21-22.

(6) Peterson 29.

(7) Peterson 24.

(8) Peterson 46.

(9) Peterson 51.

(10) Leslie Heaphy, "Shadowed Diamond: The Growth and Decline of the Negro Leagues," diss., U. of Toledo, 1995, 20-21.

(11) Peterson 38.

(12) Peterson 54-57.

(13) McKissack 36.

(14) Michael Lomax, "Black Baseball, Black Entrepreneurs, Black Community," diss. Ohio State U., 1996, 164-65.

(15) Seth Scheiner, Negro Mecca: A History of the Negro in New York City. 1865-1920 (New York: NYU Press, 1965) 9.

(16) Scheiner 16-22.

(17) Gilbert Osofsky, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto: Negro New York. 1890-1920. 2nd ed. (New York: Elephant, 1996) 87-91.

(18) New York Age, 2/16/11 p. 6.

(19) Lomax 226.

(20) Mark Ribowsky, A Complete History of the Negro Leagues: 1884-1995. (New York: Birch Lane, 1995) 20-21.

(21) Peterson 78.

(22) James Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues. (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1994) 486-89.

(23) Brashler 29.

(24) Peterson 79.

(25) Riley 434-36.

(26) Riley 654-55

(27) Riley 695-97.

(28) Riley 631-32.

(29) Arthur Ashe, Jr., A Hard Road to Glory: Baseball. (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1981) 19.

(30) Riley 854-56.

(31) Jervis Anderson, This Was Harlem: A Cultural Portrait, 1900-1950. (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1981) 69-70.

(32) New York Age 10/19/11 p.6.

(33) Henry Metcalfe, A Game for All Races: An Illustrated History of the Negro Leagues. (New York: MetroBooks, 2000) 39.

(34) New York Age 8/03/11 p. 6.

(35) New York Age 6/29/11 p. 6.

(36) New York Age 8/10/11 p. 6.

(37) New York Age 9/7/11 p. 6.

(38) New York Age 8/01/12 p. 6.

(39) Peterson 70.

(40) Ashe 25.

(41) New York Age 8/17/11 p. 6.

(42) Neil Lanctot, Fair Dealing and Clean Playing: The Hilldale Club and the Development of Black Professional Baseball, 1910-1922. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1994.) 42.

(43) New York Age 9/14/11 p. 6.

(44) New York Age 10/19/11 p. 6.

(45) New York Age 8/24/11 p. 6.

(46) New York Age 9/28/11 p. 6.

(47) New York Age 8/28/11 p. 6.

(48) New York Age 9/28/11 p. 6.

(49) New York Age 12/07/11 p. 6.

(50) Lanctot 169.

(51) New York Age 2/15/12 p. 6.

(52) New York Age 3/28/12 p. 6.

(53) New York Age 4/11/12 p. 6.

(54) New York Age 6/13/12 p. 6.

(55) New York Age 8/15/12 p. 6.

(56) New York Age 8/15/12 p. 6.

(57) Brashler 33.

(58) New York Age 10/31/12 p. 6.

(59) New York Age 11/07/12 p. 6.

(60) New York Age 5/30/12 p. 6.

(61) New York Age 6/12/13 p. 6.

(62) New York Age 6/19/13 p. 6.

(63) Metcalfe 40.

(64) Lomax 275.

(65) New York Age 7/24/13 p. 6.

(66) Ashe 19.

(67) Robert Gardner and Dennis Shortelle, The Forgotten Players: The Story of Black Baseball in America. (New York: Walker and Company, 1933) 45.

(68) New York Age 8/21/13 p. 6.

(69) New York Age 10/09/13 p. 6.

(70) Peterson 77.

(71) New York Age 4/09/14 p. 6.

(72) Lancetot 40.

(73) Lomax 221.

(74) Lomax 222.

(75) Lanctot 95-96.

(76) Metcalfe 38.

(77) Lomax 227.

(78) Lomax 232.

(79) New York Age 5/02/12 p. 6.

(80) Lomax 236.

(81) New York Age 7/17/13 p. 6.

(82) Lomax 23.

(83) New York Age 10/15/14 p. 6.

(84) New York Age 10/22/14 p. 6.

(85) New York Age 10/14/15 p. 6.

(86) New York Age 10/21/15 p. 6.

(87) New York Age 8/03/16 p. 6.

(88) New York Age 4/20/18 p. 6.

(89) New York Age 9/14/16 p. 6.

(90) New York Age 2/17/16 p. 6.

(91) Gardner 60-61.

(92) Donn Rogosin, Invisible Men: Life in Baseball's Negro Leagues. (New York: Atheneum, 1985) 28.

(93) Lomax 15.

(94) Lomax 311.

(95) Lanctot 55.

(96) Chadwick 50-51.

(97) New York Age 5/17/17 p. 6.

(98) New York Age 8/16/17 p. 6.

(99) New York Age 11/01/17 p. 6.

(100) Lanctot 74.

(101) New York Age 6/08/18 p. 6.

(102) New York Age 9/21/18 p. 6.

(103) New York Age 5/10/19 p. 6.

(104) Metcalfe 45.

(105) Metcalfe 45.

(106) Lanctot 76.

(107) Metcalfe 45.

(108) Lanctot 108.

(109) New York Age 4/10/20 p. 6.

(110) New York Age 5/8/20 p. 7.

(111) New York Age 5/22/20 p. 7.

(112) Lomax 316-17.

(113) New York Age 5/15/20 p. 6.

(114) New York Age 5/15/20 p. 6.

(115) Chicago Defender 3/13/20 p. 9.

(116) New York Age 4/10/20 p. 6.

(117) Rogosin 102.

(118) Chadwick 54.

(119) Leslie Heaphy, "Shadowed Diamond: The Growth and Decline of the Negro Leagues." diss U. of Toledo, 1955. 135.

(120) Rogosin 102-03.

(121) New York Age 5/8/20 p. 7.

(122) New York Age 6/12/20 p. 7.

(123) New York Age 6/19/20 p. 6.

(124) New York Age 6/19/20 p. 7.

(125) New York Age 6/26/20 p. 7.

(126) New York Age 7/03/20 p. 7.

(127) New York Age 7/17/20 pp. 1,7.

(128) New York Age 7/31/20 p. 6.

(129) New York Age 9/04/20 p. 7.

(130) Lomax 319.

(131) New York Age 9/11/20 p. 7.

(132) New York Age 10/09/20 p. 6.

(133) New York Age 9/24/21 p. 6.

(134) New York Age 10/08/21 p. 6.

(135) Heaphy 93.

(136) New York Age 2/16/24 p. 6.

(137) Lomax 354.

(138) Lomax 354-55.

(139) Riley 189.

(140) Rogosin 29.

(141) Lanctot 170.

(142) Lanctot 171.

(143) New York Age 9/23/22 p. 6.

(144) Chadwick 53.

(145) Chadwick 32.

(146) Chadwick 53.

(147) Lloyd Ultan, The Beautiful Bronx (1920-1950). (New York: Arlington House, 1994) p. 161.

(148) Amsterdam News, 7/25/23 p. 5.

(149) New York Age 10/07/22 p. 7.

(150) Amsterdam News 5/16/23 p. 12.

(151) Lanctot 256.

(152) Amsterdam News 3/09/32 p. 12.

(153) Chadwick 145.

(154) Heaphy 80.

(155) New York Age 12/23/22 p. 6.

(156) Amsterdam News 1/17/23 p. 4.

(157) Amsterdam News 1/17/23 p. 4.

(158) Lanctot 82.

(159) New York Age 3/17/23 p. 6.

(160) Lanctot 98.

(161) Riley 117.

(162) Riley 387.

(163) Riley 399.

(164) New York Age 4/07/23 p. 6.

(165) New York Age 5/05/23 p. 6.

(166) New York Age 6/0223 p. 6.

(167) New York Age 06/30/23 p. 6.

(168) New York Age 7/07/23 p. 6.

(169) New York Age 7/21/23 p. 6.

(170) New York Age 10/06/23 p. 6.

(171) New York Age 9/15/23 p. 6.

(172) Metcalfe 63-64.

(173) New York Age 3/08/24 p. 6.

(174) New York Age 6/21/24 p. 6.

(175) New York Age 7/12/24 p. 6.

(176) New York Age 9/13/24 p. 6.

(177) New York Age 10/25/24 p. 6.

(178) Brashler 40.

(179) New York Age 12/13/24 p. 6.

(180) New York Age 1/31/25 p. 6.

(181) New York Age 4/11/25 p. 6.

(182) New York Age 3/15/24 p. 6.

(183) New York Age 4/04/25 p. 6.

(184) New York Age 4/29/25 p. 4.

(185) New York Age 4/18/25 p. 6.

(186) Amsterdam News 4/29/25 p. 1.

(187) New York Age 5/02/25 p. 1.

(188) Metcalfe 74.

(189) Amsterdam News 7/15/25 p. 4.

(190) New York Age 8/01/25 p. 6.

(191) New York Age 9/26/25 p. 1.

(192) Lanctot 142.

(193) New York Age 8/07/26 p. 6.

(194) Lomax 329.

(195) Amsterdam News 6/30/26 p. 4.

(196) New York Age 7/03/26 p. 6.

(197) Lanctot 145.

(198) New York Age 8/07/26 p. 6.

(199) Amsterdam News 12/22/26 p. 9.

(200) Lanctot 156.

(201) New York Age 5/21/27 p. 6.

(202) New York Age 7/02/27 p. 6.

(203) Amsterdam News 6/29/27 p. 10.

(204) New York Age 3/03/28 p. 6.

(205) New York Age 3/03/28 p. 6.

(206) New York Age 3/17/28 p. 6.

(207) Lanctot 162.

(208) New York Age 1/26/29 p. 6.

(209) New York Age 2/22/30 p. 6.

(210) Amsterdam News 6/04/30 p. 12.

(211) Amsterdam News 6/18/30 p. 17.

(212) New York Age 7/12/30 pp. 1,6.

(213) New York Age 7/12/30 pp. 1,6.

(214) Riley 888-89.

(215) New York Age 7/19/30 p. 6.

(216) New York Age 9/20/30 p. 6.

(217) New York Age 10/04/30 p. 6.

(218) Ribowsky 152.

(219) Lanctot 206.

(220) Ultan 161.

(221) New York Age 3/28/31 p. 6.

(222) Amsterdam News 8/19/31 p. 12.

(223) Lanctot 212-13.

(224) Riley 579-80.


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