Tag Archives: Barney Joy

“There is only one Thing against him—he is Very Dark”

13 Jul

Vernon Ayau became professional baseball’s first player of Chinese descent when he appeared briefly in the Northwest League in 1917.

But he was the not the first Chinese player a West Coast team attempted to sign.  Two years earlier, Walter McCredie of the Portland Beavers tried to bring one Ayau’s teammates with the Chinese Athletic Club of Honolulu to the Pacific Coast League.

Fong Lang Akana was born in Hawaii in 1889 to a Chinese father and Hawaiian mother.

In the winter of 1914, McCredie announced that he had signed Akana.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Akana is a big, rangy fellow and bats left-handed.  He weighs about 180 pounds, according to the dope given to Mack.”

Lang Akana

Lang Akana

The Oregon Daily Journal said he was 5’ 10” and quoted Bert Lowry, the sports editor at The Honolulu Commercial Advertiser:

“He swings from the left side and hits the ball hard at all times, Akana is well-educated, has pleasing manners and is willing to learn.”

Two former major leaguers Jack Bliss and Justin “Mike” Fitzgerald, barnstorming with Pacific Coast Leaguers in Hawaii, were impressed with Akana.  Bliss said he was a great fielder who “had eyes all over his head.”  Fitzgerald said:

“He is a good fielder and very fast.  He is by far the best player in the islands.”

One additional observation from Lowry and Fitzgerald foretold that there would be trouble ahead:

Lowery: “He is a bit dark.”

Fitzgerald: “There is only one thing against him—he is very dark.”

McCredie told The Daily Journal that Akana would likely join the club at their Fresno, California training camp in the spring, the paper noted:

“Cubans, Indians, Poles and Italians have made good in baseball, but no Chinese or Japanese has yet won his spangles.”

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

It took less than a month for the plan to bring Akana to Portland to begin to fall apart.

The San Francisco Chronicle, while getting Akana’s name and position wrong, reported that:

“Portland players won’t play with a Chinese.”

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said:

“Narrow racial prejudices, or possibly the fear that if the bars are let down someone will lose his regular job, threatens to work a grave injustice to Lang Akana.”

In late December, McCredie was ready to bend to the pressure, telling Roscoe Fawcett the sports editor of The Oregonian:

“His skin’s too dark…The Coast Leaguers who played at Honolulu on that recent barnstorming trip came back vowing boycott.  I have received a couple of letters from players telling me Akana is as dark as Jack Johnson, so I guess I will have to give him a release.”

Walter McCredie

Walter McCredie

Pitcher “Seattle” Bill James, who also played against Akana in Hawaii, disputed the account that players were refusing to play with Akana, telling The Oregonian:

“I don’t think any ballplayer will object to playing on the same team as him.  But he might have some trouble around the hotels.  He is not black like a negro, more sepia colored—and his hair is straight.”

But in January, McCredie, who was by far the most progressive PCL magnates on the issue of race, switched direction, and vowed to keep Akana when Fawcett showed him a photograph of the outfielder:

“Dark or not dark, we’ll  have Lang Akana report to us at Fresno…This photograph shows him to be extremely dark-skinned…(PCL umpire) Jack McCarthy saw him at Honolulu this winter and says Lang is just as white as most ballplayers after they have been out all summer in the sunshine.

“He doesn’t look any blacker than Barney Joy, who used to pitch for San Francisco.”

Apparently, McCredie found a way out without explicitly saying he refused to put a Chinese player on his club.  Shortly before the Beavers headed to California, The Oregonian said:

“The Hawaiian, Akana, will not be considered unless he pays his own expenses to the spring camp at Fresno.”

The paper had said earlier that it would cost $175 to bring Akana over from Hawaii.  Akana, whose father was a doctor, and whose family, according to several accounts were “wealthy,” likely could afford the cost of transportation. So, it is unknown whether he refused to pay for his own way or if the paper’s account was incorrect.

The Beavers went to California and started the season without Akana, but there was still talk of his joining the team.  In May, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said McCredie was still considering adding Akana to the roster:

“Portland is wavering between the first and second division…’What we need here are bat artists,’ writes the sporting editor (Fawcett) of The Oregonian to a Honolulan…Naturally, Lang is watching the Portland field from a distance;  Manager Mac has not made good and Lang is playing the ‘watchful waiting’ polity to perfection.”

“Summed up, the situation now is: if Portland can gain a foothold in the Coast race within the next month or six weeks, it is probable that Akana will celebrate the Fourth of July and Christmas in Honolulu, if not then a demand for strengthening the team with a few good hitters will be forthcoming…’McCredie is silent on the Akana contract,’ (Fawcett) continued, ‘and I think that the Hawaiian-Chinese’s chances to play with the Beavers are good, unless Portland takes a sudden leap upward in the percentage column soon.”

The prediction was wrong.  Portland struggled all season, finishing in last place with a 78-116 record, but the call never went out to Hawaii for Akana to join the team.

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

McCredie finally saw Akana in person two years later when he brought the Beavers to Honolulu for spring training.  Fawcett said in The Oregonian that “Akana played left field and did not show up particularly well, owing it is said, that he had played little ball for several months.”

Akana continued to play in Honolulu—interrupted by service in the Hawaii National Guard in 1917—into the 1920s, but was “Too dark” to ever appear in a professional game.

Biographical notes: Some sources, including his Hawaii Birth and Christening (B&C) record list his name as Lan rather than Lang, the same B&C record lists his complete name as C. Fong Lan Akana.  Several sources, including the B&C record list his date of birth as April 15, 1890, several others, including his WWI and WWII Draft Registrations list the date of birth as April 15, 1889.

Sam Crane on International Baseball

30 Jul

Samuel Newhall “Sam” Crane, like Tim Murnane, turned to sports writing after his career on the field ended.  His involvement in a scandal might have contributed to his departure from the diamond—but contrary to oft-repeated stories it was not the direct result.

Sam Crane

Sam Crane

Crane was named as a respondent in a Scranton, Pennsylvania divorce in 1889—a prominent Scranton businessman named Edwin Fraunfelter (some contemporary newspapers incorrectly said “Travenfelter”) charged that Crane had stolen his wife, and $1500.  Crane had played for the Scranton Miners in 1887 and ’88 and departed the city with Fraunfelter’s wife Hattie in 1889, relocating to New York.  Crane and Hattie Fraunfelter were returned to Scranton to face trial for the theft.

In October of 1889, they were acquitted.  The Philadelphia Times said the two were released and Mr. Fraunfelter was ordered to pay the court costs, and “The congratulations which were showered on the second baseman and the woman made a scene in the courtroom.”

Despite the scandal the New York Giants (twice) and the Pittsburgh Alleghenys were happy to sign Crane in 1890.  The end of his career was more of a result of the 36-year-old’s .179 batting average and diminishing fielding skills—twelve errors in 103 total chances at second base–and, of course, he probably wouldn’t have found himself in Scranton in 1887 and ’88 had his career not already been on a downward trajectory.

Crane immediately went to work for The New York Press upon his retirement and remained one of the most respected sports writers in the country.  He edited the “Reach Guide” from 1902 until his death in 1926.

In 1905 Crane, then with The New York Journal, wrote about the boom in International baseball on the eve of the visit of the Waseda University baseball team:

“The Japanese are nothing if not progressive, and even with their country in the throes of a disastrous war (The Russo-Japanese War) they have found time to devote attention to our national game.”

Crane said the Waseda visit would:

“(M)ark a red letter day in the history of the game,  It will be a sensational era in the life of the sport, and in fact, that of all athletic sports.”

Japan was not alone in embracing the game:

“Baseball is also flourishing in South Africa.  The Transvaal Leader, a progressive newspaper, has taken up the sport and publishes full scores of the games and the records of the players.

“There is a South African baseball association and the players of the different teams can hit the ball, even if they have not yet attained the accuracy and agility in fielding their American cousins have reached.  According to The Leader, out of thirty-seven batsmen who figure in the official  record from July 1 to October 8, twenty-three of them batted over .300…A batter named Suter of the Wanderers was the Lajoie of the league, and he made our own ‘Larruping Larry’s’ record of .381 look like a bush league mark.  Suter’s batting percentage was .535.

“The second batter to Suter was Hotchkiss, also of the Wanderers, who walloped out a base hit every other time at bat, making his average .500…Wonder what the Africans would do with ‘Rube’ Waddell and the Chesbro ‘spit ball?’”

As evidence that the South Africans had “grasped the American style of reporting games” Crane gave an example from a recent edition of The Leader:

“’The diamond was very hard, and, as a consequence, the ball frequently wore whiskers, as some infielders can testify.’”

Crane expressed surprise that baseball had taken such a “stronghold” in an “English possession”  like South Africa:

“Britons, wherever found, look upon the great American game as a direct infringement on the sporting rights as established by cricket.

“’It is only an offshoot of our rounders,’ they are wont to say, and that ancient game is about on the level of ‘one old cat’ and ‘barnball.’

“Englishmen are extremely conservative about their sports, especially of cricket, which is considered their national game, and in their own stanch little island they have always pooh-poohed baseball.  But when the Briton gets away from home influences he becomes an ardent admirer of the American game and is loud in his praise of the sharp fielding it develops.

“In Canada, South Africa and Australia, where there is more hustling, and time is more valuable than in the staid old mother country, the quick action, liveliness and all around hustling of baseball that give a result in a couple of hours, is fast becoming more popular with the colonials than cricket, that requires as many days to arrive at a decision.

“Great strides have been made in baseball in the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands.  Honolulu is the headquarters just now, but the game is fast spreading to other localities.  The game has been played in the Sandwich Islands for many years, but it was not until the United States was given possession that it flourished.”

Crane mentioned that his late brother Charles–who died in 1900, and incidentally, married his brother Sam’s ex-wife who Sam divorced before leaving Scranton with Mrs. Fraunfelter) had been the catcher on the team representing the naval vessel the USS Vandalia and frequently played games against teams in Hawaii and Samoa during the 1880s:

“The natives took to the game very quickly and soon learned to enjoy it.  They welcomed every arrival of the Vandalia with loud demonstrations of joy, and there was a general holiday whenever a game was to be played.”

Crane predicted that baseball would continue to flourish in the islands, and throughout Asia, noting that a Chinese player “plays third base on the leading club, and has the reputation of being the best player in the whole league.”

He was likely referring to 20-year-old Charles En Sue Pung, a teammate of Barney Joy’s on the Honolulu Athletic Club team who was also one of Hawaii’s best track athletes.  Pung was rumored to be joining Joy when the pitcher signed with the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League in 1907, and in 1908 there were brief rumors in the press that Chicago Cubs Manager Frank Chance wanted to sign the Chinese third baseman—neither materialized, and he remained in Hawaii.

Charles En Sue Pung

Charles En Sue Pung

Crane said the growth of the game internationally would be endless; he said the introduction of the game in the Philippines was a prime example:

“(T)here are several enclosed grounds in Manila to which are attracted big crowds…I know they can learn to play the game, for when the (New York) Giants were in Savannah (Georgia) for practice last spring a team of soldiers from a nearby fort played an exhibition game with the Giants.”

Crane said the team was accompanied by “a young Filipino, who, while he did not play on the soldier team, practiced with them and showed surprising proficiency… (The) youth knew all the points of the game as well as Henry Chadwick.”

For Crane, that was enough to declare that “in short order” the Philippines would adopt the game as had, and would, “all people that are blessed with real red blood and progressive.”