The Occidentals

14 May

Billed as the “Colored World Champions” during their barnstorming tours of the West, The Salt Lake City-based Occidentals were also members of the otherwise all-white Utah State League.  Despite being forced to play additional road games, the team was very competitive.  In 1908 The Deseret News said:

“The colored boys have paid no attention to handicaps under which they had to enter the league; they have played good, earnest ball and provide the fans with their money’s worth every time they play.”

The paper acknowledged that the team’s manager Frank Black was correct when he said the team could “make more money by traveling throughout the inter-mountain region on a pick-up schedule than he will make in the league,” and made a “plea for fair play to all men, no matter who they may be.”

In 1909, the Occidentals won the Utah State League and then headed west.

The team arrived in Los Angeles in late October.  The Los Angeles Herald said:

“The Occidentals are a colored team, and after cleaning up everything in sight in the Mormon state decided that Southern California would afford new fields to conquer.”

Among the players on the Occidentals’ roster were second baseman/manager Black and pitcher/outfielder Louis “Ad” Lankford (contemporaneous accounts, including coverage of his brief boxing career in Salt Lake City, usually call him “Langford”)—in December catcher/first baseman Bill Pettus joined the team.

The Occidentals--Frank Black is standing far left, Ad Lankford is seated second from left.

The Occidentals–Frank Black is standing far left, Ad Lankford is seated second from left.

The team opened their tour with a series with the Los Angeles Giants billed as the “Colored Championship of the Pacific Coast.”  The Occidentals swept the best of five series with 9 to 2, 7 to 1 and 4 to 2 victories.

After winning the series, the team from Salt Lake City played a team dubbed as the “Japanese All-Stars of Los Angeles,” organized by Los Angeles Angels catcher Jesse Orndorff—the team was all Japanese except for the battery which consisted of Orndorff and Angels’ pitcher Bill TozerThe Herald said, “The game was fast and witnessed by a crowd of 1500.” The Occidentals won 7 to 3.

Jesse Orndorff

Jesse Orndorff

Two days later the barnstormers lost 6 to 1 to the Angels (the team was billed as the Los Angeles Angels, but was more accurately a current and former Pacific Coast League all-star team), with St. Louis Cardinals pitcher John Raleigh on the mound.

The Occidentals spent another six weeks in Los Angeles and had three well-publicized games with  McCormick’s Shamrocks, managed by local pool hall operator and promoter Jim McCormick.  The teams met for the first time on Thanksgiving and were tied 0-0 after five innings when the game was called.  The two teams met again at Chutes Park on Christmas.

The two managers tried to build attendance with quotes in The Herald, and The Los Angeles Times.  Black said:

“If you want to be a few beans ahead when the sun goes down on Christmas day, put a few cartwheels on the colored boys to win from the Winter League aggregation.”

McCormick countered:

“Nothing to it but shouting, and we will win in a walk.”

McCormick promised to get the “Occidental’s goat.”

When the sun set on Christmas The Herald said: And Manager Black’s goat is still grazing unmolested at Chutes Park.”  The Occidentals won 3 to 2.

Frank Black poses at Chutes Park with Jim McCormick's "goat" after the victory.

Frank Black poses at Chutes Park with Jim McCormick’s “goat” after the victory.

After a New Year’s Day rain out, the teams met again on January 8.  The McCormick’s recruited Tozer from the Angels to pitch; the game was tied 1 to 1 when called after twelve innings.

The following day the Occidentals played another twelve inning game, this one a 0-0 tie against an all-star team composed of Pacific Coast League, California League and major league players, including William “Brick” Devereaux, Eli Cates, Ed McDonough, Charles “Truck” Eagan and Elmer Rieger.

According to The Herald the team was 14-2-2 on the California tour when they departed for San Diego on January 22, where they lost 1-0 in 10 innings.

The final game of the trip was played against the Santa Ana Winter League Team—the Yellow Sox– which was made up of Pacific Coast League players including Arnold “Chick” Gandil—then a second baseman, as well as St. Louis Cardinals outfielder George “Rube” Ellis and future Hall of Famer Walter Johnson on the mound.

Johnson shut out the Occidentals 2 to 0, striking out 15 (The Times said he finished the winter league season 9-0—with nine complete games, giving up just 21 hits and 5 runs in 81 innings) The Herald said the team “did not take very lovingly to the slants of the mighty Walter, who had them well in hand throughout the contest.”

The team was generally well received by fans on the coast—notwithstanding The Herald’s habit of referring to them as “the dinges.”

Black and the Occidentals returned to Salt Lake City and rejoined the Utah State League for the 1910 season, finishing in second place.

The following year Frank Leland’s Chicago Giants entered the California Winter League, posting a 10-7-2 record.

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