Samuel H. “Sam” Apperious (incorrectly identified as William Apperious on Baseball Reference and other sources) led two separate boycotts that contributed to keeping William Clarence Matthews out of organized baseball—four decades before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
Apperious was born in Montgomery, Alabama; fellow Alabamian Matthews was born in Selma (some contemporaneous accounts wrongly claimed both were born in Selma).
The wealthy Apperious attended Georgetown University. Matthews, after studying, and playing baseball and football, at Tuskegee Institute and Phillips Andover, enrolled at Harvard University.
Apperious was part of Georgetown teams (1900-1904) that sent several players to the big leagues, including Leon “Doc” Martell, James “Hub” Hart, Charles Moran, and Art Devlin. Apperious, who was first a catcher and later a center fielder, was considered one of the team’s best prospects.
In 1903, the Boston press reported that Boston Americans manager Jimmy Collins, in need of a second catcher, “tried to get Sam Apperious, of Georgetown, but he declined to enter the professional ranks.” The following year The Sporting Life said among college players, Apperious was “the hardest-hitting outfielder of them all.”
Matthews played shortstop at Harvard and received equally as glowing reports. Samuel McClure’s “Outing” magazine, a monthly sports publication, said Matthews was the best shortstop in college baseball each year from 1903 through 1905. The Boston Post said he was “the best infielder” in Harvard’s history—this included teammate Eddie Grant who went on to a 10-year big league career.
Apperious and Matthews met for the first time on April 18, 1903. When the Harvard team arrived in Washington D.C. for a game, Apperious, the Georgetown captain, refused to play. The Associated Press said in addition to Apperious’ boycott “There were some wild demonstrations of displeasure at the Negros’ appearance in the field but Matthews won the crowd by his brilliant plays.”
The Colored American said:
“Mr. Apperious is no doubt feeling pretty mean, that is, if he is capable of such a sensation. His want of hospitality, his conspicuous rudeness and their absolute futility must be subjects of unpleasant recollections to him.”
The paper noted that Apperious’ name “indicates his un-American traits,” and said after Matthews demonstrated his talent, several of the other Georgetown players “grew ashamed of their conduct and acclaimed Matthews as heartily as they had sneered at him, but this foreign importation was not sure enough of his own status to imperil it in a contest of brawn and skill with a colored gentleman.”
Harvard won the game 8 to 0. Apperious would also choose to sit out two additional games against Harvard (one later that season and one in 1904) which led to a short rift between the schools, and a suspension of scheduled games.
In 1905, Apperious was appointed Graduate Coach of the Georgetown team. He summed up his coaching philosophy to The Washington Times:
“In short the choice of men must be wholly on the man’s worth for the position for which he is trying.”
Later that year Apperious failed to apply his philosophy to Matthews.
In the summer of 1905 Apperious went to Vermont, as he had the previous summer, to play in the state’s “outlaw” Northern League—the league was notorious for having multiple college players performing under assumed names to retain their eligibility. Apperious played both seasons for the Montpelier-Barre club (known in the local press as the Inter-Cities or Hyphens).
During his first summer in Vermont, Apperious had raised some eyebrows on July 21, 1904, when he did not participate in an exhibition game between the Inter-Cities and the barnstorming Cuban X Giants. The Bennington Evening Banner said the “Southerner refused to play against the colored team.”
Matthews joined the Burlington club at the end of June 1905 to immediate controversy. The Montpelier Argus said a pitcher named Smith “from the south” had left the team as a result, and Apperious made it known he would not play on the same field as Matthews. When the Burlington club arrived in Barre for a July game with the Inter-Cities, Apperious made good on his threat and watched the game from the bleachers.
Apperious was condemned in the Vermont press:
The Newport Express and Standard:
“(Matthews) may be his equal in every respect: not only in intelligence, but in performing the part of a gentleman as well. Certainly so in this instance, so far as Mr. Apperious is concerned, the much aggrieved white individual in this case…Mr. Apperious had better retire to those places where peonage is still in practice—where he can still vent his spite on the Negro as his little, narrow-minded, measly soul desires.”
The St. Albans Messenger:
“If Apperious wants to show his loyalty to and affection for his native Southland, which is a commendable thing in any man, he could do it better by helping his generation t forget some rank nonsense that used to pass for ultra-refinement and chivalry.”
The Poultney Journal:
“(Apperious) Hails from a state where the best citizens” burn people alive…Good chap. Too good to play ball with a graduate of Harvard college. If he goes to heaven will want a box stall all to himself. Scat! Vermont has no use for him—believes in the doctrine “all men were created free and equal.” Apperious is as good as a colored man—if he behaves himself as well. Better wash and go South.”
The Wilmington Times:
“Vermonters like to see good, clean ball, and they are not fussy as to the color of the player who can deliver.”
One of the few exceptions in Vermont was The Montpelier Argus which said Apperious was simply following his “traditions, sentiments and interests,” and “it is rank foolishness to expect everyone to bend to our ideas.”
Apperious also found support from The Washington Post which said: “The college players in the Vermont League (sic) are following the lead of Sam Apperious in ‘cutting’ Negro Matthews.”
The paper also repeated an allegation that Matthews “had played (professional) summer ball every year since he entered Harvard.” While Matthews had played four seasons on the baseball team and graduated from Harvard, The Post, with no evidence, alleged Harvard “dropped Matthews,” because of the allegations.
Despite Apperious’ refusal to play against him, and reports throughout the season that, as The Boston Globe said, some opponents were “laying for “ Matthews and he “had been spiked several times,” he completed the season with Burlington. But after a quick start (.314 through 14 games) his average dropped off to .248.
There were rumors in the Boston press that summer that Matthews might become a member of the National League’s Boston Beaneaters, but he never played professional baseball after his controversial season in Vermont and his second run-in with Sam Apperious.
Matthews became an attorney, was actively involved in politics and served as legal counsel for Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. He died in 1928.
The rest of Apperious’ story on Wednesday.