Tag Archives: New York Gorhams

“What Earnest, Active and Capable Team Workers those Cuban Giants are”

19 Feb

The Middle States League lasted just one season, 1889.  Not part of the National Agreement, and intended as an eight-team league, the circuit included, at various times, thirteen teams representing cities in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

The league became integrated with the inclusion of the Cuban Giants of Trenton, who had become the first salaried African-American team four years earlier, and later their biggest rivals, the New York Gorhams (the Gorhams joined the league late, and were expelled in August—they played their home games in Easton, Pennsylvania and Hoboken, New Jersey).

Despite their membership in the league, and the Gorhams’ calling Easton their part-time “home,” both black teams were refused hotel accommodations in Easton during the season.

The relationship between the Cuban Giants and the rest of the league was contentious.  In May, The Philadelphia Inquirer said the league’s board of directors charged Cuban Giants’ Manager Stanislaus Kostka (variously nicknamed Cos, S.K., Siki) Govern with violating the league’s $75 a month salary cap by using “players who have not signed regular contracts,” and not using league’s official ball in games.  The Inquirer said:

“It appears that the colored club has been running things to suit its own sweet will.”

The paper said after a two-hour meeting Govern promised “to do better in the future.”

govern

S. K. Govern

The following month the league denied rumors in The Inquirer that “the Cuban Giants were to be forced out on account of their color.”  The paper said the August league meeting “was long and mainly occupied by debates between Harrisburg and the Cuban Giants.”

Most of the teams were financially troubled from the outset—at one point  a York, Pennsylvania hotel proprietor confiscated the uniforms of the Shenandoah club after the team failed to pay their bill—Shenandoah lasted just 15 games, joining the league in mid July and disbanding August 6.

1889middlestates

Advertisement for August, 1889 games between the Lebanon Grays and the Cuban Giants, and Gorhams. The Gorhams were expelled from the league several days after these games were played.

The Harrisburg Ponies were the only team in the league that made money—the Gorhams, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, had “few paying crowds” in Easton.  On August 21 The Inquirer said their “receipts did not amount to more than $20.”  The following day they were unable to pay the Hazelton team the guarantee for a scheduled game and were expelled from the league.  The Gorhams took to the road and barnstormed for the remainder of the year.

The Cuban Giants didn’t fare much better financially.  Owner John Bright, according to The Harrisburg Telegraph, needed to schedule his team for more than 60 exhibition games in addition to the 74 league games in order to turn a profit.

No one who followed the league, including Henry Chadwick, who watched the Cubans Giants play in August, had any doubt which team was the best in the Middle States League.  In The Brooklyn Eagle, Chadwick, “The Father of Baseball,” wrote:

“What earnest, active and capable team workers those Cuban Giants are.  In fact, I would rather see them play in a game where they had work to do to win than see half the (National) League or American Association teams play.  They are well up in the points and they play with a spirit and vigor, and with a good nature withal which makes their field work very attractive.  They have very intelligent and gentlemanly young official (manager) in Mr. McGovern [sic].  That catcher of theirs—(Arthur) Thomas—is a character, and they have an excellent strategic pitcher in (William) Seldon, and as for (Frank) Grant, he is at least a second (Fred) Dunlap on the field.  In fact, did not see a weak spot in the team in this game.”

Frank Grant

Frank Grant

Despite playing more than 60 extra games over the course of the season, the Cuban Giants managed to stay neck-and-neck with the Harrisburg Ponies all year.   In mid-September, with just four games remaining on the schedule, and with the league’s future in serious doubt, the Cuban Giants, just .001 behind the Ponies chose to cancel their last four games.  The Chambersburg Repository said the cancellations allowed “the colored club an opportunity to make a trip through New York State.”

The championship was awarded to the Ponies (who added two more victories after the Cuban Giants departed for New York).

The final official standings:

Harrisburg Ponies 64-19 .771

Cuban Giants 55-17 .764

Cuban Giants owner John Bright protested the final standings and took his case to the press.  In a long letter, published in The New York Sun, and other papers, Bright said his team “justly and honestly won” the pennant.  He claimed that Harrisburg was incorrectly awarded three victories for forfeited games–one against the Gorhams, when neither team showed up for the game, and two games against Wilmington after that team had disbanded.

Bright also charged that Harrisburg also lost a September game to Lebanon, and after the fact “Harrisburg turns it in as an exhibition game.”  He said his team was stripped of two victories in games where the official league ball was not used, while there were two games  they lost while playing with the wrong ball “but much to our amazement, only one game was not counted.”  Additionally, Bright claimed the league failed to award the Cuban Giants two games won against the Hazelton team.

Bright said the league standings should have been:

Cuban Giants 57-16 .780

Harrisburg Ponies 61-20 .753

Bright concluded:

“So any fair-minded person can see at a glance that the Cuban Giants are the real champions.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer initially seemed to side with the Cuban Giants.  They printed Bright’s charges and quoted an unnamed “prominent manager of the Middle States League” who said:

“The Giants are right in a number of their claims.  I never could see upon what grounds the Harrisburg club could claim a number of the games complained of, more than by the bulldogging tactics that they always employed throughout the season.”

The Philadelphia Press was squarely in the Harrisburg camp.  The paper referred to Bright’s “several foolish claims for the pennant,” and provided a forum for league president William Voltz-who was also the paper’s baseball editor–to respond.  Voltz called Bright’s charges “unwarranted and untrue.”  The league president/baseball editor also claimed the Cuban Giants still owed the league money and that the proper time for bright to protest the championship would be at the league meeting in December.

Newspaper reports of the December meeting make no mention of any representative of the Cuban Giants appealing the championship.

Harrisburg remains the official champion of the 1889 Middle States League

The league was reconstituted as the Eastern Interstate League for 1890.  The nucleus of the Cuban Giants jumped from Bright’s club and joined the league as the York Colored Monarchs—Frank Grant and Clarence Williams joined the previously all white Harrisburg Ponies.  The six-team league struggled, quickly became a four-team league, and folded all together in July.

Clarence Williams

Clarence Williams

York was leading the Eastern Interstate League when it disbanded.

Charles Mills and the St. Louis Giants

25 Mar

The origin of the Negro League St. Louis Giants, one of the Western Independent Clubs, has become clouded by conflicting histories –some say Charles Alexander Mills started the team in 1909, others say he started it earlier; contemporaneous accounts in the Black press differ, but seem to indicate that Conrad Kuebler, a white businessman (and ballpark owner) operated the team beginning in 1906 or ’07, with Mills becoming involved with the club later (the team was almost universally referred to as Kuebler’s Giants before 1909, when Mill’s became involved, and references as late as 1915 confirm  that Kuebler still had an ownership stake in the team).

Mills’ background is equally as murky, born around 1879; some sources call him “a bank messenger,” others “a tavern owner.”  He did for a time own a bar, the Keystone Cafe and Cabaret at the corner of Compton and Lawton in St. Louis which he opened in 1915—The Freeman said “Hours of good entertainment and high-class wines…can always be found at the Keystone.”

In any case, Mills operated the team on a shoestring in 1909; The Freeman said in 1911:

“Two years ago, when baseball was emerging from the field of darkness into the dim light of athletic fame, the present St. Louis Giants baseball team sprang into existence.  At that time baseball was something new to the Negroes of St. Louis and hardly 100 patrons attended the games.  Players would receive about .50 or .60 each for their share of the gate receipts.

“Their baseball uniform consisted of different colors, cheap material—every man wearing a different suit and stockings of a different type, therefore presenting a grotesque appearance.”

Charles Alexander Mills

Charles Alexander Mills

Within a year, Mills had transformed the Giants.

David Wyatt, a former Chicago Union Giants player turned sportswriter wrote about the opening of the 1910 season at Kuebler’s Field at the corner of Broadway and Pope:

“The St. Louis Giants pulled off a demonstrative honor of Negro baseball, the like of which has never been equaled in the history of the game.

“A monstrous street parade in which automobiles, landaus, coupes and traps played a conspicuous part, started promptly from in front of the Missouri Negro Republican League quarters at 12 o’clock and passed over a route which included all the principal thoroughfares inhabited by the Negro in St. Louis.”

Wyatt praised Mills “the genial and hustling business manager” of the Giants, who “proved conclusively that he is a type of young business- man who is not only endowed with spirit and proclivities of the up-and-doing variety, but he is putting the same into circulation and getting results.”

As for the game, Giants pitcher Bill Gatewood pitched a no-hitter against the Louisville Stars; an 11-0 victory in front of “an assemblage of about five thousand fans.”

By 1911, Mills had signed some of the best players in the country to join Gatewood, including team captain Dick Wallace and three of the Taylor Brothers; Ben, “Candy” Jim and “Steel Arm” Johnny.  The Giants, according to The Freeman now had “as good athletes as ever trod American soil.”

Giant Captain Wallace

Giant Captain Dick Wallace

Mills’ Giants won the St. Louis City League in 1912 and ’13 but were generally a .500 team in games against other Western Independent Clubs. Mills aggressively solicited opponents and filled the Giants schedule with games against all comers between league games.

A 1910 ad for Mills' St' Louis Giants soliciting games.

A 1910 ad soliciting games for Mills’ St. Louis Giants

Despite maintaining a fairly strong following in the African-American community, the Giants were something of a nomadic club–according to reports of games in The Freeman, The Chicago Defender and The St. Louis Argus the team played “home” games in no less than seven ballparks during Mills’ tenure.

The Giants continued operating as an independent team (although they seemed to have disbanded for most of 1917 and ’18— tensions stemming from the East St. Louis race riots in May and July of 1917 were probably a contributing factor).

In 1920, Mills was present at the YMCA on 18th and Vine in Kansas City for Rube Foster‘s meeting to form the Negro National League; his Giants finished 6th in 1920 and 3rd in 1921 (Giants’ center fielder Oscar Charleston hit–depending on the source– .433 or .444 that season).

Mills was either ousted or sold his interest in the team (depending on the source) after the 1921 season, and new owners Dr. Sam Sheppard (variously spelled Shepard, Sheperd, and Sheppard) who had played for the New York Gorhams in 1887 and Dick Kent renamed the team the St. Louis Stars.

Mills died in St. Louis in 1944; his role as a pioneer of black baseball so forgotten that as late as 1994, James A Riley in The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues refers to Mills as “A white businessman.”