Posts Tagged ‘Frank Leland’

The Pride of Chicago

February 7, 2019

Chicago American Giants logo

Although baseball as we know it begins on the East Coast, Chicago has traditional standing as one of the earliest hotbeds of the sport. William Hulbert, founder of the National League lived in Chicago. His team, the White Stockings (now the Cubs) won the first ever National League pennant. But the Windy City was also the home of a number of Black Americans who liked the game as much as their white counterparts. If the Cubs were White Chicago’s team, the American Giants were Black Chicago’s team.

In 1887 the Chicago Unions were formed by Abe Jones, a local catcher and William S. Peters, a local black business owner and first baseman. Peters managed the team. The team was successful, being one of only two black teams to survive the economic downturn in 1893 (the “Panic of ’93” to historians). In 1899, the Unions were joined by the Chicago Columbia Giants. The Columbia Giants were the lineal descendants of the Page Fence Giants (a story for a later time) and included such stars as William Patterson and Sol White (who is now a Hall of Famer). They defeated the Unions in a championship match.

Frank Leland

By 1898, Frank Leland gained control of the Unions, and in 1901 worked a merger of the two clubs which he renamed the Union Giants. They were immediately successful. In 1907, Leland renamed them after himself, the Leland Giants. They were easily the finest black team in the upper Midwest. With the name change, came a bevy of stars from Black Baseball that made the Leland’s even more formidable. Pete Hill took over in center field, “Big” Bill Gatewood was on the mound, but the greatest find was pitcher Andrew “Rube” Foster. To Leland’s dismay, Foster had big plans and wanted to found his own team.

Rube Foster (with the team logo on the uniform behind him)

By 1910, Foster made his move. He claimed control of the team (and the team name) and renamed the team the Chicago American Giants. Leland hung on to a handful of the players and continued games as the Chicago Giants. But Foster had the big names, John Henry Lloyd, Pete Hill, Bruce Petway, and Frank Wickware.

The team was as successful as ever, but Foster dreamed of creating a black league to rival the Major Leagues. In 1920, he created the Negro National League with the American Giants as a founding member. They were, for most of the period of the NNL’s existence, the best team, winning pennants in 1920, 1921, and ’22. In 1926, with Foster’s failing health, and questions of his favoritism as league president toward the American Giants, Dave Malarcher took over the team and led it to pennants in 1926 and 1927. By that point, the NNL had a rival, the Eastern Colored League. The two leagues staged the Negro World Series which the American Giants won in both 1926 and 1927. In 1928, the ECL folded.

Economic crisis once again afflicted Black Baseball in the 1930s as the Great Depression caused the folding of the NNL. The American Giants remained viable and transferred to the Negro Southern League in 1932, winning the pennant before the NSL also collapsed. That began a period of transition for both the American Giants and Black Baseball in general.

A new Negro National League was formed in 1933, which the American Giants joined. They were good, but the Pittsburgh Crawfords were an all-time team and the Giants were unable to capture a pennant. In 1936, they played as an independent team, barnstorming games as they could find them. By 1938, they’d joined the newly formed Negro American League, but were never able to compete with the Kansas City Monarchs as the NAL’s top team.

With the admission of Jackie Robinson and other players to the Major Leagues, the Negro Leagues went into decline. The American Giants hung on through 1956, when they finally folded. By that point they were hiring white players and had lost much of their Negro League identity. But early on, the American Giants were one of Black Baseball’s premier teams.


My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1919

September 3, 2015

By 1919 World War I was over. The Treaty of Versailles was signed; but the United States refused to ratify it, causing a huge split in the government. There were race riots in the streets as a combination of black Americans moving into the North and rising expectations by blacks because of their support of the war effort (both at home and in France) bumping up against an economic downturn fueled by racism led to clashes in a number of towns. A lot of Americans just wanted a “return to normalcy” as future President Warren G. Harding put it. Into all of this I drop My Own Little Hall of Fame‘s class of 1919 (with commentary to follow).

Frank Leland

Frank Leland

After spending time as a player in late 19th Century Negro baseball, Frank Leland became an entrepreneur and formidable force in Negro baseball. His Leland Giants were one of the strongest teams in Chicago and helped set the standard for competition among black teams. He worked tirelessly to form a Negro league that could last and could showcase Negro baseball at the highest level.

Al Reach

Al Reach

After leading his team to the first American Association pennant, Albert Reach became the founder of a major sporting goods company. Later he owned the Philadelphia National League team and became a major power among the league owners. His Reach Guide is a primary source for baseball statistics and information.

Vic Willis

Vic Willis

Star pitcher for several National League teams, Vic Willis amassed 249 wins over a 13 year career, gaining over 20 wins on six occasions. He led the National League in strikeouts once, and helped is team to a World’s Championship in 1909.

And now the commentary:

  1. When and where I grew up, all public accommodations came in pairs, one marked “white” and the other “colored”. I’ve always been offended by the “colored” label, but until now have used it because it seems that it was the most common word of the day. By 1919 the word “Negro” appears to supplant it a lot. Although “negro” has its own negative connotations, it seems the newly acceptable word of the day, so I will now use it in comments on Negro League players and executives. Frankly, I’m much more comfortable with it than with “colored” and am glad to make the move.
  2. Willis has taken a while to get into the mythical 1901 Hall of Fame. His numbers aren’t bad, but the big numbers of the day (wins, strikeouts) aren’t as high as other pitchers and as mentioned in a previous article I think his loss total, especially the 2 years he led the NL in losses, would hurt him. I think that would have made it difficult for him to show up in a Deadball Era Hall of Fame. Additionally, he led the NL in losses twice and that, combined with the lack of 250 wins would have, in my opinion, hurt his chances. BTW, the 249 isn’t written in stone yet in 1919, but it appears to be taking hold as a consensus.
  3. Al Reach is, in my opinion, one of the more overlooked people in Neolithic baseball. He was a good player, not a great one. He was a successful owner, although the Phils never won while he owned them (which is true of most Phillies teams without regard to owner). His business was successful and for years he provided official baseballs. Finally the Reach Guide was the premier baseball guide for half a century (more or less). The Guide was Reach’s baby, but he didn’t actually write it (Henry Chadwick was a primary mover in the earliest years of the Guide). Nonetheless, Reach’s sponsorship of the Guide helped his case for this mythical Hall of Fame.
  4. Leland? In an era of increasing racial tension, the election of a black man to a baseball Hall of Fame is utterly unlikely. But I also think 1919 is probably the last chance to put in a leader in Negro League baseball for the next several years. There’s really no chance he gets in in a 1919 Hall of Fame, but as I’ve stipulated I’ll be willing to elect Negro League players and executives, I’m letting him in, knowing that the next time there’s even a chance of it would be about 1924 or 1925 (give or take). And as for him as a Hall of Famer, I’m quite comfortable suggesting he should be in Cooperstown (where he isn’t).
  5. Two execs and just one player? Right now a Hall of Fame in the era is in something of a trough. There’s a long lull that lasts through 1921 when the quality of players retiring, quite frankly, isn’t all that great. In 1920 Frank Chance becomes eligible, in 1921 there’s Fred Clarke, Danny Murphy, and Roger Bresnahan. Among pitchers only Clark Griffith shows up. Griffith is perhaps better looked at as a manager and owner. Bresnahan and Chance are at best people I’m going to think long and hard about. Clarke is probably a keeper and Murphy should have no chance. That’s basically it until 1922 when we find peoples with names like Mathewson, Brown, and LaJoie. So this year (and the next two) is an opportunity for me clear out some holdovers and a number of contributors. As mentioned above, I’m quite comfortable with adding Leland (despite the obvious truth that a black man wasn’t going to get into a real Hall of Fame) and Reach.
  6. The quality of the statistics available is getting better. The 1920s see the beginning of something like a consensus about which stats were important and what specific numbers specific players put up. Remember this set of statistics is the old one that most of us grew up using, not the newer information that has become available only recently. It’s important to recall that even the so called “traditional” statistics took a while to be accepted and standardized. So don’t be surprised at the opposition to the more modern ones.

And now back to the 1963 Series.