This article was written by Frank Ardolino
This article was published in 2005 Baseball Research Journal
In 1946, the West Coast Negro Baseball League was organized to exhibit black baseball to the Pacific region. The teams included the Portland Rosebuds (owned by Jesse Owens), Oakland Larks, San Diego Tigers, Los Angeles White Sox, San Francisco Sea Lions, and Seattle Steelheads. The ”Steelies,” named after the salmon runs, were actually the Harlem Globetrotter baseball team, but were renamed to appeal to the local crowds. The Globetrotters were formed as a barnstorming baseball team in 1944 by Abe Saperstein, who also owned the Globetrotters basketball team and was part-owner of the Birmingham Black Barons.
The teams were to play 110 games in the Pacific Coast League parks while the white teams were traveling. The Steelheads also were scheduled to play in Tacoma, Bremerton, Spokane, and Bellingham. Washington, to expand their appeal. But a big blow was dealt to the fledging league when catcher Paul Hardy jumped from the Chicago American Giants to become the player-manager of the Steelheads, and, as a result, a ban was placed on Negro players playing in Seattle. The league folded in July, and the Steelheads again became the Globetrotters and resumed barnstorming, traveling with the Havana La Palomas throughout the Midwest. In the late fall, Saperstein created “Abe Saperstein’s Negro All-Stars,” which combined players from the Globetrotters and other Negro teams, including Dan Bankhead, Mike Berry, Sherwood Brewer, Piper Davis, Luke Easter, Paul Hardy, Herb Simpson, and Goose Tatum. They played against local teams in Hawaii, among other places, winning 13 successive games.
This trip set the stage for the barnstorming tour of the Globetrotters and the Hawaiian All-Stars in 1948. This was an important tour in a number of ways. It took place one year after Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and represented an integrated tour of black and Asian-Pacific players. For players of Japanese ancestry from Hawaii, which had been attacked in 1941 by Japan, the trip enabled them to make a statement about their ethnic acculturation and American citizenship. As Joel Franks has said, baseball “offered some Hawaiians opportunities to show, in Hawaii as well as the American mainland … , that baseball belongs to no single region, race, ethnic group, or nationality.” In addition, the multinational racial makeup of the teams provided an excellent display of Hawaiian aloha, a valuable trait to display on the mainland for the developing tourist trade and the emerging movement for statehood. Obviously, the tour was as much exhibition as competition. As the won-lost records in 1946 and 1948 attest, the Globetrotters were superior to the Hawaiian All-Stars, but the semi-pro island players acquitted themselves well and succeeded in promoting Hawaii as a unique combination of exotic and American qualities. In the pictures taken as they toured the cities where they played, they appear as smiling, barefoot young men wearing aloha shirts. happy to be given the opportunity to experience mainland America and to have its inhabitants experience them.
Nine players from the 1946 Steelies played on the 1948 barnstorming team: Paul Hardy, catcher-manager; Johnny Cogdell, rhp; Rogers Pierre, rhp; Sherwood Brewer, 2b; Ulysses Redd, ss; Herb Simpson, 1b; Eugene Hardin, utility; Zell Miles, rf; and Howard Gay, cf. Sherwood Brewer was signed by the Globetrotters after the war and played with Luke Easter and Lester Lockett for manager Paul Hardy. A fast runner, he raced against Jesse Owens in promotional exhibitions at some Negro league games. He moved to the Indianapolis Clowns in 1949 and then to the Monarchs in 1953, where he played alongside shortstop Ernie Banks and for Buck O’Neil as manager, ending his Negro league career in 1955.
Another important player was Ulysses Redd, who played for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1940. After war service, he played for the Cincinnati Crescents, Steelies, and the Globetrotters. Following his last year with the Chicago American Giants in 1952, he returned to the Globetrotters as their bus driver.
Four of the Globetrotters had ties with the Harlem Globetrotter basketball team. Pitcher Joe Bankhead played guard in 1947-48; outfielder Sam “Boom Boom” Wheeler played guard for the Trotters and the Harlem Magicians from 1946 to 1959; and pitcher Othello Strong played from 1949 to 1952. Third baseman Parnell Woods, who was a key member of the 1945 championship Cleveland Buckeyes and an all-star from 1939 to 1942, was also the business manager for the Trotters for 24 years.
Before the tour began on June 13, the Globetrotters had already played 53 games and won 47. In their most recent series they went 10-2 vs. Satchel Paige’s Kansas City Stars, 7-1 vs. Cincinnati Crescents (also owned by Saperstein), and 2-0 vs. the semi-pro champs Golden Coors. The Los Angeles Times claimed that they were “generally conceded to be the greatest Negro aggregation in the land.”
The tour was organized by Hawaii promoter Mackay Yanagisawa of Sports Enterprises, who had put in an unsuccessful bid to have an Hawaii team in the PCL, and Abe Saperstein. Yanagisawa was known as the “Shogun of Sports” for his many sports enterprises. He was the founder of the Hula, Pro, and Aloha Bowls, and in 1997 he was inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.
Fifteen top senior players from the semi-pro Hawaii Baseball League were chosen to participate in the barnstorming tour: Ernest “Russian” Cabral, p; Matsuo “Lefty” Higuchi, p; Jyun “Curly” Hirota, c; Larry Kamishima, 3b; Dick Kitamura, ss; Harry Kitamura, p; Kats Kojima, lf; Crispin Mancao, p; Masa Morita, p; Jun Muramoto, cf; Clarence Neves, inf; George Rodrigues, mgr-util.; Collie Souza, 1b; Jimmy “Porky” Wasa, mgr-2b; Bill Yasui, inf. After the barnstorming tour, Dick Kitamura and Cris Mancao were invited to play for the Globetrotters, respectively, in the 1949 and 1950 seasons. In addition, pitcher-outfielder “Russian” Cabral, who pitched in many of the games and got key hits in their victories, was signed by the Chicago Cubs for a tryout, which, however, did not result in a major league career.
These players were chosen from the teams of the Hawaiian League, which was formed in 1925 and organized according to a quasi-ethnic basis with the six original teams loosely representing Hawaiians, Chinese, Caucasians, Filipinos, Portuguese, and Japanese. The Japanese team was the most restrictive ethnically, and to ease wartime tensions their name, Asahis, meaning “rising sun,” was changed to the Athletics. In addition, Jimmy Wasa was paid $900 a season to switch from the Athletics to the Braves (Portuguese). He played for the Braves for seven years, and, as he observed, he provided a good example of ethnic cooperation by allowing “people to find out about the other person.” Wasa and some of the Honolulu League players had gained invaluable experience competing against major leaguers who were stationed in Honolulu during the war.
The most prominent player on the all-stars was Jyun Hirota, who was recruited for the Tokyo Giants in 1952 by Wally Yonamine, a star athlete from Hawaii who was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. As the starting catcher for the Giants, Hirota won four World Series in 1952, 1953, 1954, and 1955. When he returned to Hawaii in 1956, he coached at the University of Hawaii, and in 1970 he became the farm team manager of the Japanese Kintetsu Buffaloes, whom he led to their first championship in 23 years.
Another important player was Crispin Mancao, who, in 1998 at the age of 84, was honored as an “ageless wonder,” the oldest Super Seniors softball player in Honolulu. Despite his diminutive size, 5’5″, 140 lbs., he was known for his moving fastball, and when he was 46 he served as a relief pitcher for the PCL Hawaii Islanders in 1961, their first year in Hawaii. He also coached baseball at local high schools and at the University of Hawaii for head coach Dick Kitamura, his barnstorming teammate.
This team followed in the tradition of other squads from Hawaii, including the six-month, 130-game tour in 1935 of U.S. and Canada; and the National Baseball Congress tournaments in Cuba in 1940 and on the mainland in 1947. In addition, the Asahis, the most successful team of the Hawaii Baseball League, had traveled periodically to Asia since 1915, and the Hawaiian Chinese University baseball team had toured the mainland six years in a row starting in 1910.
According to Mr. Wasa’s records, the Hawaii All-Stars played 79 games, both scheduled and unscheduled, in two months, in 16 states: California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, South Dakota, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, West Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, and British Columbia. They won 45 games, compiling a record of 20-30 against the Globetrotters and 25-4 against local teams. They played before crowds generally ranging from 500 to 5,000 and at four major league stadiums: Wrigley Field, Shibe Park, Forbes Field, and Yankee Stadium. Their biggest thrill was playing in Yankee Stadium before 20,000 fans and touching the lockers of Gehrig and Ruth. Their final game on August 11 at the Polo Grounds was rained out after three innings of a scoreless game w1th the San Juan All Stars.
The squad left for Los Angeles by Pan American clipper at 4:30 p.m. Friday on June 11 and played their first game on June 13 at Riverside, CA, which they lost 8-5. In the second game on June 14 at Wrigley Field, CA, the Globetrotters won 10-6 before 5,000 fans. Dick Kitamura, the Hawaii shortstop, was injured in a race around the bases against Jesse Owens, which also involved one of his teammates and two Globetrotters. He fell down rounding second and was spiked in the hand by Owens, who was too close to avoid him. Kitamura was unable to play for the rest of the tour, but he served as scorekeeper. As a result, the All-Stars were forced to use manager George Rodrigues as a utility player. After the game, Rodrigues promised his team would get better once they lost their nervousness about playing on the mainland against the Globetrotters. On June 20, in Oakland, they split a doubleheader, losing 18-2 and winning the second game 7-6. In the fourth inning of the first game, Herb Simpson broke his leg sliding into third base. Between games Jesse Owens made an appeal – which netted $365 – to the crowd for donations to send Ollie Matson, San Francisco high school runner and future NFL great, to the Olympic tryouts.
On July 13 in Yakima, Washington, the All-Stars won their most lopsided victory, 16-7, over the Trotters. Three days later in Spokane at Ferris Field, in the most exciting game of the tour, they beat the Globetrotters, 10-8, on a two-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth after the Trotters had tied it in the top of the inning with two runs. On August 6, at Forbes Field, the Globetrotters won, 15-7, before a crowd of 1,736. Before the game, Jesse Owens raced against a horse and lost at the tape. At Yankee Stadium on August 8, they lost to the Globetrotters, 7-4, in the first game of a doubleheader. In the second game, the Philadelphia Stars topped the N.Y. Cubans, 4-3. Jesse Owens in another exhibition ran around the bases in 0:13.2. Their final game on August 11 at the Polo Grounds was rained out after three innings of a scoreless game with the San Juan All Stars.
The Hawaii players considered this trip to be a dream come through. They got to play baseball across the U.S. and in Canada against the Globetroners. They enjoyed touring the cities they played in and welcomed the attention of fans, who were very receptive to them. At the same time, they found the grind of playing so many games in succession exhausting. The Globetrotters provided them with a bus and a driver, and they slept on the bus most of the time, staying at hotels only when they had to wash their uniforms. They were not paid for playing such an exhausting schedule, and received a minimal allowance for food. In addition, a major disappointment occurred after the tour was over. The team expected to play in the National Baseball Congress tournament in Wichita, Kansas, but the Hawaii commissioner of baseball did not support their entry. This was particularly galling because many of the local teams they beat handily on the tour were scheduled to play. Nevertheless, as Jimmy Wasa has told me, the All-Stars were young and withstood the rigors of the tour, and, although he would not repeat the experience without a salary if he had the opportunity to do so today, he and his teammates were very proud to represent Hawaii in this unique barnstorming experience with a celebrated professional team.
FRANK ARDOLINO is a professor of English at the University of Hawaii who has written a number of articles on Hawaiian baseball history. He is currently working on the presentation of the Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino in films.
The author would like to thank Jimmy Wasa for providing memories and materials which were invaluable in writing this article.