Thursday, July 27, 2006

"He's From Barcelona..."

This is pretty cool:
In 1886, the Buffalo Bisons, a top minor league baseball team, signed a versatile infielder from Massachusetts named Frank Grant. The next day, a local newspaper announced Grant’s arrival by describing him as “a Spaniard.”

Grant was in fact one of five African-Americans playing in the otherwise all-white minor leagues that year, on teams from Kansas to Connecticut. Their presence was accepted if not widely acknowledged in the 1880’s, passed off with a wink and a nod, a dodge that labeled players like Grant as Spaniards, Portuguese or Arabs.

The ruse did not hide what historians now concede, that some 60 years before Jackie Robinson famously broke organized baseball’s color barrier, integrated teams of white and black athletes played hundreds of professional games. African-Americans even played in the major leagues.


The recently documented life stories of Grant and White, 19th-century pioneers who dared not be recognized as such, have helped complete the chronicle of the African-American baseball experience. Theirs are the forgotten tales of men rushing to play at the highest professional tier, aware that their immediate offspring would probably be prohibited such an opportunity.

“They are the players who just vanished from baseball’s narrative, like a secret no one talks about,” said the baseball historian Jim Overmyer, who specializes in black baseball. “But it is important to know that they are the beginning of baseball desegregation. Somebody had to do the early heavy lifting, and even if few people know it, these guys were there first.”


“It complicates our understanding of race relations in sports to realize that the color barrier was not a natural outcome of mixing races after the Civil War,” [baseball historian Greg] Bond said. “The fact is there were a lot of blacks on mostly white teams. The color barrier became a choice people made at the expense of people like Grant and White, who then disappeared.”
More good stuff than I can quote, so read the whole thing. Also be sure to check out the slide show. My votes:

Best Photo: Jose Mendez, Louis Santop.

Best Face: Cristobal Torriente.

Best Name: Mule Suttles.

Worst Name: Cum Posey.


Lefty said...

Eli.... as a kid, I remember people telling me that Roberto Clement was Puerto Rican - not black and it was okay to root for him! That was in the 1960's!!!!

I liked him because he could play - not because of his race!

Eli said...

He was a little before my time, but he was one of the all-time class acts in baseball. And he could play.

karmic_jay said...

I think NPR did a piece on this a while back too. I can't match up with you when it comes to baseball trivia, but follow baseball and it's always interesting to see how it evolved over time.

That being said I have never quite understood the racism behind some fo the red sox fans? It's supposedly changing now.

Eli said...

I absolutely loved Eight Men Out, and that Ken Burns Baseball documentary, Olberstam's Summer Of '49, and I also have a great book of baseball quotes. Old-time baseball history fascinates me, much more so than any other sport. There's just something about it that lends itself to lore and mythology.

Andy, Unzapped said...

Can I add to the "worst name" list??

Boof Bonser, fmr. starter for the Twins, now in their farm system. Got him w/ Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan in the A.J. Pirzynski trade to the Giants.

Eli said...

Oh, absolutely - I was just voting on players in that particular slide show. I think my personal favorite unfortunate name might be Bumpus Jones, who pitched a no-hitter or one-hitter or something impressive in his debut, and never did much of anything after that.

Eli said...

Yep, it was a no-hitter - his first major-league start, on the last day of the season.

Bumpus Jones.

djhlights said...

One of my favorite charecters in baseball is Moe Berg?

He was a backup catcher and shortstop for the Re Sox and other teams that was also a spy for the OSS on barnstorming trips in Japan in the 30's.

Eli said...

Oh yes, I remember Moe Berg. Didn't he commit suicide? Slashed his wrists, or maybe his throat?