Untold stories of black baseball in Minnesota
By Frank White
This is the third book written about black baseball in Minnesota which might be an indication of how important this was to the history of Minnesota and the history of Baseball. Frank White, a St Paul native, is a perfect writer for this topic. His father, Louis Pud White, was an outstanding, if little remembered catcher in the baseball leagues as evidenced by Buck O’Neil, and he was a friend of Dave and Steve Winfield.
This is a thoroughly researched and well written book that really uncovers some special experiences and beyond black baseball, shows how important baseball was in all the towns of the Midwest, if not the entire country with semi-pro teams gathering both press and audiences all over. These teams were lucky in one season because Major League baseball created one of the great injustices of all time by excluding blacks from all their leagues which meant that not only are the records suspect before Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers but gave the local semi-pros and eventually the Negro Leagues some real stars.
And if you want a villain in this it would be Cap Anson, who deserves to be taken out of the Hall of Fame. If we question the veracity of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Shoeless Joe, Pete Rose, than this is the individual who committed the most grievous offense when he refused to let his White Stocking team play against the Newark Giants of the International League if their two black players played in the game – he set the town for the exclusion of black players in the majors.
In the first decade the St Paul Colored Gophers were dominate, even winning the fictitious, but still accepted championship of Black Baseball in 1909 when they defeated the Giants of Chicago. Minneapolis had a top team too with the Keystones and great players who would not be recognized without this book entertained the ticket holders.
In the 1920’s the Negro National League formed and even though the St Paul Colored Gophers were an established power Minnesota was deemed too far and too expensive and thus was left out. A second injustice, this one much more serious and reflective of the racism that still exists was The Association of Minnesota Amateur Baseball Leagues decision to ban colored players. African Americans had been part of many teams, but from 1927 – 1947 no African American was allowed to play.
The idiocy of racism was such that catcher Lee Davis was a Ho-Chunk Indian and Indians were playing MLB, but his skin was too dark, so he had to play in the black leagues. While Billy Williams, who was black, was invited by the Baltimore Orioles to play on their Montreal team as an Indian. The more I read, the madder I become with the stupidity of racism.
It is fun for me to look at players who came from my Alma Mater – Minneapolis Central, but it is also crazy to see teams in places like Pipestone, Des Moines, Bertha fielding excellent teams because racism forced these players to the outposts of baseball.
After all the struggles of Jim Crow and blatant racism it is sad to see the switch to track, basketball, and football by many top black athletes, but it makes sense. Those sports offered scholarships and new opportunities. Baseball did not exactly open the major league floodgates after signing a few top players. The book captures that demise and baseball would to well to reflect on its missed opportunities.
The story of black baseball in the 1950s shifted to three minor league teams – St Paul Saints, Minneapolis Millers, and the St Cloud Rox. With players like Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Orlando Cepeda, Ozzie Virgil, and Lou Brock among the many great stars that graced the Minnesota diamonds.
But since Dave Winfield we have seen very few African Americans from Minnesota get a chance. Thanks to the author who works for the Twins in the RBI program – reviving baseball in the Inner City – maybe the future will take us a step towards the years of great African American baseball players.
In the end, we find this most American sport is also a window into our own history and mores. This book is truly a history of African American people in Minnesota through the lens of Baseball just as baseball reflects our racial tensions, our addictions to drugs, temptations to gambling, the challenging aspects of war, and now our need for speed and quickness because of diminished attention spans.