From the formation of the Cuban Giants as the first professional black team in 1885 until the establishment of the Negro National League in 1920 there were many attempts to form an organized league; and numerous advocates for the idea.
Lester Aglar Walton, editor of The New York Age, believed the color line was borne solely out of “the white man’s fear in open competition,” but also understood that the situation was not likely to change.
In 1911, Walton thought the conditions for starting a league were right, were right based on a three-game series in June—the Chicago Leland Giants traveled to St. Louis for a three-game series with Charles Alexander Mills’ St. Louis Giants:
“The figures, giving the attendance at the three games played, are interesting and furnish those who have been agitating the organization of a colored baseball league much cause for jubilation. They are now enthusiastically pointing to figures to back up the assertion they have been making all along that a colored baseball league would pay; also that the fans would give it their loyal support.”
The Freeman described the atmosphere at the first game:
“The Chicago Giants entered from the south entrance, headed by Captain Pettis (William “Bill” “Zack” Pettus), and followed closely by the entire squad, clad in blue caps and white uniforms. The contrast was rich. At the site of the Chicago boys the fans cut loose, and such cheerings in respect would be fit for a king. Ten minutes later Captain (Richard Felix (Dick) Wallace and his squad emerged from the club house, all in a quick step, and when they came in view of the vast throng such clanging of bells and blowing of horns has never been equaled in Athletic Park.”
Walton noted that the opening game, played on June 21, drew 2,200 fans. On the same day in Cincinnati, just 700 attended a Reds game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The following day 2,500 hundred watched the two teams play, and about 2,600 attended on Friday. The St. Louis Browns, playing the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday and Thursday at Sportsman’s Park, drew smaller crowds both days:
“It should not be overlooked that the fans turned out in goodly numbers to see the St. Louis Giants and the Chicago Giants on week days. On Sundays it is not unusual for the St. Louis Giants to play before 5,000 people. It is, however, generally admitted that strong colored teams are good Sunday attractions, but the difference of opinion has invariably come up over the question of whether the fans would put in their appearance in sufficient numbers on week days.
“What is also considered significant by those who favor the formation of a colored baseball league is that with few exceptions the crowds were composed of colored people, which proves conclusively that members of the race will support colored clubs when they put up a good article of ball. The same can be said of white fans, and quite often, for instance, in greater New York, more whites attend baseball matches between colored clubs than colored.”
Walton said it was always understood that New York and Chicago could support a member club in an organized league, but there was “doubt as to whether devotees of the national game in St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Louisville etc…would turn out in sufficient numbers to ensure the players a nice check when payday rolled around.” The series, he said, erased some of those doubts:
“Cincinnati, Louisville, Baltimore and other cities considered can make as good a showing as St. Louis. Furthermore…these cities have but one big league team, while St. Louis has two, a condition which it is claimed, would argue in favor of the respective colored teams securing a larger white patronage.”
The St. Louis Giants swept the three-game series—winning all three in the bottom of the ninth inning; including a 2 to 1 victory behind “Steel Arm” Johnny Taylor over “Smokey Joe” Williams in game two—Taylor also won game one in relief.
Despite the enthusiasm, three excellent, well–attended games, and the resulting optimism as a result of the attendance in St. Louis during three days in June of 1911, an organized black league was still nearly a decade away.