Their commitment has spread throughout Minor League Baseball
In 2022, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) launched “The Nine” to recognize and honor numerous Black baseball pioneers in all 120 MiLB communities, including St. Paul. But the local Saints have been doing this for years, honoring Larry Doby, the first Black player in the American League, and wearing Black baseball team uniforms.
“The Nine” is designed to not only celebrate the history of Black baseball but also provide new opportunities for youth baseball and softball participation. Asked if the Saints’ efforts in honoring Black baseball players essentially became the blueprint for MiLB’s “Nine,” the team agreed.
“I certainly think we have been fortunate to have partners in this community to help share the stories and allow us to be the platform for those stories,” pointed out St. Paul Saints Vice President and General Manager Derek Sharrer. “If that translated into a greater initiative throughout Minor League Baseball, I couldn’t be more proud.”
Last Saturday, the Saints wore St. Paul Colored Gophers uniforms in a game against the Iowa Cubs. A pregame ceremony also honored William “Billy” Williams (1877-1963), who was born in St. Paul and was a standout baseball player on several integrated teams in the region in the early 20th century.
Williams, who was born in Rondo, was the only Black player on the St. Paul Amateur Baseball Association team and its team captain in 1904. That same year the Baltimore Orioles asked Williams to join their club but wanted him to pass as a Native American to avoid racist opposition.
Williams declined and instead went to work in state government, accepting a job with Minnesota Governor John A. Johnson, who he had met years before playing baseball. Williams went on to serve as an assistant to 14 Minnesota governors between 1904 and 1957.
St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard is Williams’ great-grandnephew. He and other descendants of Williams were on hand as Sharrer read Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s declaration that June 10 was Billy Williams Day in St. Paul.
“When you add the element to what Billy Williams did following his baseball career, working at the State Capitol at a time when there were no other Black leaders in the state—he worked with governors of all political views and was able to be that stabilizing voice with consistency and great compassion—it gives me a lot of pride and hope that there are Billy Williamses out there whose stories need to be told,” Gothard told the MSR.
Throughout this season, the Saints will don specialty uniforms that Black baseball teams once wore, such as last Saturday’s Gophers uniforms from 1907-10.
The Colored Gophers team was founded in 1907, by Phil “Big Daddy” Reid. It was composed of Black ballplayers from around the country and not just stocked with local amateur players. In their four years of existence, the Colored Gophers went 380-89-2, an .810 winning percentage, and won several championships.
During that stretch, the Gophers defeated the St. Paul Saints in 1907, two games to one in a three-game series for city bragging rights. The Gophers’ home field was at St. Paul’s Lexington Park, but the team entered tournaments across a five-state area in the Midwest and challenged any team willing to play them.
“The history of Black baseball, Negro League baseball, is rich in so many untold stories,” said Gothard of the Saints’ commitment to tell those stories on a regular basis.