African Americans, Angels, baseball, Black History Month, blacks, California Winter League, Dodgers, Homestead Grays, Jackie Robinson, Kansas City Monarchs, Los Angeles, Los Angeles White Sox, Major League Baseball, Negro Leagues, Southern California sports, Spring Training, West Coast Negro Baseball League, White Sox Park
White Sox Park in Los Angeles, home to the West Coast Negro Baseball League’s L.A. White Sox in 1946 and where other Negro League teams played during the 1920s through the 1940s. Photo courtesy of waterandpower.org
A LOOK AT THE LEGENDARY AFRICAN-AMERICAN TEAMS AND PLAYERS THAT PLIED THEIR TRADE IN LOS ANGELES DURING THE PRE-JACKIE ROBINSON/INTEGRATION ERA
In figuring out how to pay my annual homage to Black History Month on this blog, as the Dodgers and Angels’ pitchers and catchers – along with the other 28 major league baseball teams – reported to spring training and began preparing for the season this week,
And as baseball is my favorite sport and has been since I was a kid, a span of more than forty years,
I wanted to find out and write about any history that the Negro Leagues might have had in Los Angeles and Southern California during the years before Jackie Robinson made history in Brooklyn on April 15, 1947.
When I googled “Negro Leagues In California”, I hit the mother lode!
Here I was, a guy who considers myself to be a baseball connoisseur and something of an expert of the game and its history, and until today I knew nothing about how there was once a league called the West Coast Negro Baseball League, consisting of African-American ball players that had its only season in 1946 due to what I’m sure was the handwriting on the wall, Robinson playing for the Dodgers’ top farm club, the Montreal Royals, that year on his way to breaking the big league’s color line.
It’s a little embarrassing, actually, that I knew nothing about how the California Winter League opened its doors to black teams in 1910, letting clubs like black baseball pioneer Andrew “Rube” Foster’s Leland Giants play their white teams for over 35 years.
This is what the Los Angeles White Sox’ cap looked like. Photo courtesy of idealcapco.com
And it was also a tad embarrassing that I knew nothing about SoCal’s entry in the West Coast Negro Baseball League being called the Los Angeles White Sox, one of the league’s six franchises who played in South Los Angeles’ White Sox Park during the league’s only year in existence in ’46, though they existed for over twenty years before that.
The logo of L.A’s West Coast Negro Baseball League entry…
As I did my research, I found that some of black baseball’s biggest names dominated the California Winter League, guys like…
- The Homestead Grays’ star first baseman Buck Leonard, considered to be “The Black Lou Gehrig”
- James “Cool Papa” Bell, widely considered to be the fastest baseball player of all time, so much so that a common legend stated that Bell was so fast, he could turn off a bedroom light and be under the covers before the room got dark; he was also known to score from first on a sacrifice bunt numerous times during his career.
- Mule Suttles, the California Winter League’s all-time home run leader with 64, and…
- Satchel Paige, a name everyone knows, whose 56 wins and 766 strikeouts were the most in California Winter League history.
The biggest star for the L.A. White Sox, I discovered, was Dobie Moore, a shortstop who starred for the Kansas City Monarchs during the 1920s, and played winter ball in L.A. in 1920 and 1921.
Moore’s .385 batting average for those two seasons was the highest in California Winter League history.
Dobie Moore. Photo courtesy of zekebonura.blogspot.com
The stadium that the L.A. White Sox played in, White Sox Park, was located on the corner of 38th Street and Compton Ave. in South Los Angeles, having a capacity of 7,000.
Which was not bad for ballparks on the West Coast at that time.
White Sox Park opened in 1924 as a response to the all-white Pacific Coast League barring its doors to stadiums like (in L.A.’s case) Wrigley Field, located a few blocks south on 42nd Street, and Gilmore Field, where CBS Television City now stands.
Along with Negro League teams, it was also provided a place where Mexican American and Japanese American teams and players could play; it was a source of pride to those communities of color during the 1920s through the early 1940s.
By the end of World War II, White Sox Park was on its last legs, and was demolished in 1946. A housing project for veterans and the Ross Snyder Recreation Center stands at that site today.
Batting practice at White Sox Park. Photo courtesy of josemalamillo.wordpress.com
It was just as well; Jackie Robinson integrating the majors a year later would have killed the West Coast Negro Baseball League, just like it killed the Negro National and Negro American Leagues back east, as fans would ignore those black leagues in favor of seeing what Jackie – and later Larry Doby and Satchel Paige with the Cleveland Indians and guys like Jackie’s Dodger teammates Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella, plus Willie Mays and Ernie Banks – is doing in “The Show”.
Still, being an African-American with a degree in history, it was very stimulating to learn about black baseball in Southern California during the days of the infamous color barrier.
Needless to say, I’m quite glad to have learned about this; it provides yet another source of pride and accomplishment in black culture and the African-American community.
So much so that I think I’ll suit up either in my replica Homestead Grays jersey or my replica Grays cap – or both – when I play in my weekly pick-up softball game this weekend.
I hope you all enjoyed this baseball history lesson as much as I did…
Members of the Oakland Larks, one of the opponents of the Los Angeles White Sox during the West Coast Negro baseball League’s lone season. Photo courtesy of sjpl.org