New book revives lost stories of Black baseball in MN

 

SOECharlesHallmansquareRecently, I inadvertently overheard two White sportswriters discussing baseball players from the 1940s. They couldn’t name a single Black ball player. When told this, Frank White, the Minnesota Twins’ RBI program coordinator, could only feel somewhat sorry for the two uninformed men.

1909 St. Paul Colored Gophers, NBHF
1909 St. Paul Colored Gophers, NBHF. From the book ‘They Played for the Love of the Game ‘

“They may not all have been stars, but many of them were stars and signed by major league teams. They were offered tryouts, and nobody knows about it because it has been a missing piece of our history,” he points out.

Long before the Twins made Minnesota a major league stop, the state was home to countless talented Black baseball players, yet few of them are known to today’s fans, including the aforementioned two men. They Played for the Love of the Game (Minnesota Historical Society Press), about Black baseball players in Minnesota from the 1870s to the 1960s, falls right in line with previously published baseball books and goes far toward correcting this blind spot.

White will launch his new book Tuesday, February 23, 6 pm at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. Along with the Ramsey County Historical Society, he assembled a Black baseball exhibit in 2010 and has displayed it around the Twin Cities, including last summer at downtown’s St. Paul Landmark Center, and at the MLB All-Star Fan Fest two summers ago in Minneapolis.

Minnehaha-Lake-Motor-Company
Minnehaha-Lake-Motor-Company. From the book ‘They Played for the Love of the Game.’

White’s “untold stories” also feature his late father, who was one of the top catchers in the Twin Cities in his day, although his son didn’t find this out until after he was grown. “My father in the ’40s was recruited by the [Kansas City] Monarchs. He had an offer from the New York Yankees. He would’ve been before Elston Howard [as the team’s first Black player]. His [high school] batting average for the St. Paul City Conference is still a record even though it was made way back in 1946,” notes Frank proudly.

Louis White was inducted into Minnesota’s softball hall of fame. “In talking with people who knew my father, he was first of all an outstanding athlete, and he was an outstanding baseball player and later a fast-pitch softball player,” says Frank.

The book highlights Black players, even those who played in the ’30s and ’40s — the ones the White writers couldn’t think of. White shines a light on their on-field exploits through photos, artifacts, and spoken histories.

“There were so many multi-sport guys who played America’s pastime, but because of segregated baseball, no one was looking at these guys or even attempted to recruit them,” says White. “They were invisible to organized baseball. This book is an attempt to place in the equation that African Americans could play the game of baseball and deserve to be recognized.”

908-St.-Paul-Colored-Gophers, MNHS
908-St.-Paul-Colored-Gophers, MNHS. From the book ‘They Played for the Love of the Game.’

The author also credits the local Black newspapers, including the Minneapolis Spokesman, now the MSR. “Without the Black press, this story is not even possible,” says White. “I am so thankful to guys like Harry Davis — not the civil rights pioneer, but he was the brother of John Davis, who was a good pitcher — Jimmy Lee, Jim Griffin and others. Without the documentation of our Black press, going all the way back before 1900, the book wouldn’t have been possible.”

A Minnesota Historical Society spokesperson says that White’s personal artifacts also will be on display next Tuesday at his book launch at the History Center. To the aforementioned White reporters and baseball fans everywhere, we recommend you get the book.

“My plan is to continue to research. The story is not complete,” concludes White.

They Played for the Love of the Game book launch celebration and White’s presentation is scheduled for Tuesday, February 23, 6 pm at the Minnesota History Center, 345 Kellogg Blvd. W., St. Paul. It is free and open to the public; on-site parking is $6.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.