The Ill-Fated Dodgers and Indians World Baseball Tour of 1952

This article was written by Matthew Jacob

This article was published in Spring 2024 Baseball Research Journal

Abe Saperstein created the Harlem Globetrotters and is widely credited with pioneering the three-point shot. (Dolph Briscoe Center for American History)

Abe Saperstein created the Harlem Globetrotters and is widely credited with pioneering the three-point shot. (Dolph Briscoe Center for American History)

Abe Saperstein is best known as the founder of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, but he also was deeply involved in baseball. During the 1930s, Saperstein worked as a promoter, publicist, and agent who booked barnstorming games for Negro Leagues teams. He was also a co-owner of the Birmingham Black Barons.1 Saperstein is known by baseball historians for his role in helping Satchel Paige become the first Black pitcher in the American League in 1948.2 This article details one of Saperstein’s most ambitious but ill-fated schemes: a baseball world tour at the height of the Cold War.

In 1950, Saperstein validated his basketball team’s name by leading his squad on the first of many trips abroad. Overseas tours by the Globetrotters and other Black athletes were actively supported by the US State Department, which saw these trips as a subtle way to counter communist rhetoric that highlighted racial discrimination in the United States.3 With the State Department’s cooperation, Saperstein drafted plans for a similar tour by big-league baseball teams in 1952, but his bold idea has been largely forgotten.

Indeed, the profile of Saperstein that the Society for American Baseball Research published in 2017 does not mention his proposed tour—a trip that one sports editor called “the most ambitious barnstorming tour in the history of baseball.”4

Saperstein’s plan called for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cleveland Indians to play a series of 22 games over a 60-day schedule.5 The tour was to begin in Hawaii during the autumn of 1952 and continue in Japan, India, Egypt, Australia, and North Africa.6 Hideo Kurosaki, a Japanese baseball official, said the two-team tour “would do more to help baseball in Japan than tours by all-star groups.”7

The tour idea had been contrived in 1948 by Indians owner Bill Veeck, a longtime Saperstein pal.8 That year, while Saperstein worked for the Indians as a scout of Negro League players, he and Veeck discussed a tour abroad that would feature the Indians playing the New York Giants. Yet the Indians won the pennant and the World Series that year, and the suspense of that season distracted the duo from advancing their plan.9

Three years later, in the spring of 1951, Veeck was no longer in Cleveland. The succeeding general manager, Hank Greenberg, was interested in pursuing Saperstein’s tour, but discussions between the Indians and Giants did not bear fruit.10 By the following year, the Giants’ enthusiasm had waned. However, Saperstein learned that the Dodgers were interested.11


Bill Veeck, Hank Greenberg, and Abe Saperstein (Dolph Briscoe Center for American History)


The Indians and Dodgers emerged as the teams for the 1952 tour based largely on Saperstein’s connections. But the Globetrotters owner also knew these two teams would be welcomed by the State Department. After all, the Dodgers and Indians had been the first racially integrated teams in their respective leagues. This was the height of the Cold War, and Secretary of State Dean Acheson referred to this dynamic as a key reason why the government would back the proposed tour. Because both teams had players “of every nationality, creed, and color,” he wrote, the trip would attest to America’s democratic values.12 By the start of that season, only six teams in the American and National Leagues had integrated.13 And the Dodgers and Indians featured six of the 13 Black players who were on league rosters in 1952.14

State Department officials believed the Dodgers-Indians tour was so relevant to US foreign policy that they briefed Joseph Feeney, a close aide to President Harry Truman. In a memo to Feeney, the department wrote that the baseball tour should give foreign nations a positive impression similar to the one created by recent Globetrotters trips.15 The memo added that the tour “would contribute materially to ‘The Campaign of Truth’ campaign,” an initiative launched by Truman to counter Soviet propaganda.16

The Sporting News described Saperstein as “the leg-man on the deal, having done most of the work in setting up the itinerary.”17 He viewed sports tours as a vehicle to reduce friction during the Cold War. “It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s in this country or overseas,” he said. “Sports ease tensions.”18 Saperstein contended that a Dodgers-Indians tour “could do a lot to restore whatever prestige we have lost in foreign countries.”19

The Dodgers-Indians tour would have been the first prolonged tour abroad by two big-league teams since 1913–14, when the Giants and Chicago White Sox played a series of games that began in Tokyo and concluded in London.20

Saperstein tried to manage the teams’ expectations, stating publicly that the tour’s expenses would be too high to generate a profit. “But it will do baseball a lot of good and do the country a lot of good,” he said, adding that the trip would be a “high class” venture.21

The cost of the tour was estimated at $500,000, and the owners of the Dodgers and Indians wanted the games to generate sufficient revenue to at least cover their expenses.22 “We would like the trip to carry its own load,” said Dodgers President Walter O’Malley.23

Saperstein’s effort faced challenges from all directions. Soon after he publicly disclosed his plans, attempts were made to change the itinerary.

Perhaps inspired by his ancestral roots, O’Malley wanted the tour to start in Brooklyn and conclude in Dublin, Ireland. During a discussion that April, Saperstein countered with a compromise itinerary, but O’Malley left the meeting sounding pessimistic about the tour, citing concerns that his players might have “other commitments” after the 1952 season.24

As the summer of 1952 began, momentum seemed to build for the tour. Commissioner Ford C. Frick expressed his support for the trip.25 And a journalist reported that President Truman had given the tour his “blessing.”26 Grandiose ideas were floated among State Department officials and with Saperstein. There was even talk of adding a game in Rome and arranging for Yankees star Joe DiMaggio to make an appearance in the Eternal City.27

Yet Italy wasn’t the only country the State Department wished to add to the itinerary. Mexico, the Philippines, and Spain were among the nations that diplomatic leaders wanted to include.28 Records from the National Archives reveal a steady stream of cables between the State Department and US diplomats abroad, exploring the potential for playing baseball games in a variety of countries where the population knew little or nothing about the sport. These documents reveal the numerous financial and logistical hurdles that complicated the tour.

US embassy staff informed the State Department that in many countries the Dodgers and Indians would not be able to convert the local currency they received into US dollars. In addition, the Dodgers and Indians would have to pay luxury taxes and other surcharges—such as Spain’s “protection of minors” tax—before departing these nations.29 Obviously, these dynamics would make it difficult for the teams to cover their expenses.

Attendance was another major concern among diplomats. For example, the US embassy in Lisbon conveyed a message of caution: “In view of fact that baseball is virtually unknown in Portugal, there are doubts [about] possible financial returns of venture.”30 Greeks were unfamiliar with baseball, prompting the US embassy in Athens to project that a local Dodgers-Indians game would produce no more than $700 of revenue.31

Adding Cuba to the tour would have given the Dodgers and Indians a baseball-loving audience, but the US embassy in Havana reported that leasing a stadium and paying other costs might leave the teams with no more than 47 percent of the box office revenue.32

While discussions continued about the itinerary, Commissioner Frick announced on the eve of the 1952 All-Star Game that baseball owners had voted to authorize the trip. They also relaxed a rule that prohibited players from participating in barnstorming tours more than 30 days after the end of the World Series.33 The owners’ unanimous vote, wrote a sports editor, was a tribute to Saperstein: “It proved the high regard and respect major league moguls have for the portly promoter.” O’Malley said he was “elated” by the vote, and the Indians’ Greenberg added: “I can hardly wait to get going.”34

However, the ballplayers had not yet weighed in. A Detroit Free Press columnist explained why the players should be enthused about the tour, using language that was common in that era. “Fact is,” he wrote, “up to right now the biggest selling point the whole deal offers the players is that they not only will be given a two-month trip around the world but will be allowed to take their wives with them to forestall any screams of loneliness which would be certain to come if the little woman were left at home.”35

Meanwhile, as the summer progressed, Saperstein and the State Department encountered several non-financial challenges, including logistics.

In one cable, embassy officials in Beirut, Lebanon, informed the State Department that “only curious wld be attracted; without traditional Amer peanuts and crackerjack environment.” More significantly, the embassy explained that no existing facility in Beirut could accommodate baseball, and a hastily built ballpark would be “costly, very inferior, and physically dangerous” for players.36 In Athens, the only suitable stadium for baseball would have provided a distance of only 210 feet down one foul line.37 A feast for hitters but a nightmare for pitchers.

Although the State Department recommended that a game be played in Singapore, US diplomats there warned that the tropical weather conditions were unpredictable year-round. The diplomats cautioned that heavy rain showers “sometimes drench parts of city [while] leaving others sunny.”38

Efforts to schedule one or more baseball games in the Philippines were undermined by a controversy surrounding the man hand-picked by Saperstein to serve as the tour’s local sponsor. The embassy in Manila disclosed that the sponsor “is well-known throughout [the Philippines] as head of notorious gambling syndicate,” and for this reason, embassy officials wanted to stop exploring the feasibility for a game to be played there.39

Yet of all the obstacles, the one that primarily doomed the tour arose in Cleveland. In late August, Indians officials presented the tour plans to their team, and several players objected.40 It isn’t known which of the team’s players said they would not participate and what reasons each of them gave, but newspaper articles offered some clues. Earlier that summer, Al Rosen, Bob Lemon, Bobby Avila, and Jim Hegan had voiced concerns about the trip. Rosen said the tour’s departure date conflicted with his wedding plans.41 A United Press journalist wrote that Lemon and Avila “expect to become fathers before long and prefer to stay in this country.”42 Press reports did not disclose why Hegan frowned on the trip.43 The Sporting News suggested that some players might have preferred the revenue that would come from a domestic barnstorming tour.44

While future Hall of Famer Bob Feller was supportive of the tour, the four known objectors on the Indians roster were key players. Rosen and Avila made up half of Cleveland’s infield and were crucial weapons for the team’s offense. Rosen had driven in over 100 runs in each of the previous two seasons, and Avila led the Indians in batting average in 1951. Lemon anchored Cleveland’s pitching staff and had won at least 20 games in three of the past four seasons.45

After his team voted, Greenberg reported that only seven of the Indians players were willing to commit to the tour.46 Even if that number had been higher, it would have been unthinkable for Cleveland to participate in the tour without Rosen, Lemon, Avila, and Hegan.

Because the players on each team had to give their approval, the Indians’ resistance created a roadblock.47 Still, Saperstein wasn’t ready to give up. O’Malley and the Dodgers remained willing to embark on the trip, so Saperstein turned his attention to finding a team to replace Cleveland on the tour. While Saperstein was a stockholder of the St. Louis Browns, he probably assumed the Dodgers would not be enthused about playing weeks of baseball against that struggling club. The Browns had averaged 98 losses over the previous four seasons.

In August, Saperstein set his sights on the Yankees to fill the Indians’ slot. If the Bronx Bombers weren’t interested in the tour, the persistent Saperstein had a backup plan. “If not [the Yanks], I think we can round up a representative group of American Leaguers and make it a Brooklyn vs. American League all-stars deal,” he suggested. Saperstein’s optimism was contagious, prompting a national sportswriter to assert that “an all-star team is sure to be recruited.”48

It isn’t known whether the Yankees owners or players ever gave the tour serious consideration. The logistical hurdles of forming an all-star squad to travel with the Dodgers were too formidable, and Saperstein’s tour plans disintegrated.

Although the original cost of the tour was estimated at $500,000, that total rose to $700,000 after Saperstein and his contacts more closely evaluated likely expenses.49 On September 3, O’Malley issued a statement to the media saying the Dodgers wouldn’t participate in the tour. Instead of citing the objections of Cleveland’s players and the inability to find a replacement team, O’Malley cited financial issues. “The many economic problems cannot be solved in the short time available,” he said.50 O’Malley told the State Department he wanted to carry out the overseas tour in 1953, but the plan never regained momentum.51

While Saperstein was disappointed that his idea died, he had no time to dwell on the bad news. When O’Malley released his statement, Saperstein was traveling with the Globetrotters abroad and seeking,52 as he once put it, to “do a job of propaganda for the American way.”53 

MATTHEW JACOB is a member of SABR’s Bob Davids Chapter and a Detroit Tigers fan. He is coauthor of Globetrotter: How Abe Saperstein Shook Up the World of Sports. The biography explores Saperstein’s formation of the basketball team as well as the many roles he played in Black baseball. Globetrotter will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2024. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.



1 Neil Lanctot, Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 114, 145.

2 Lanctot, 336.

3 Damion L. Thomas, Globetrotting: African American Athletes and Cold War Politics (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012), 45–50.

4 Norm King, “Abe Saperstein,” in Bittersweet Goodbye: The Black Barons, the Grays, and the 1948 Negro League World Series, ed. Frederick C. Bush and Bill Nowlin (Phoenix: SABR, 2017),; Joe Anzivino, “Dodgers-Indians Honolulu Series Planned for Next October,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 6, 1952, 20.

5 Red McQueen, “Why Brooks Dropped World Tour,” Honolulu Advertiser, September 10, 1952, 10.

6 Mark Langill, “Dodgers— International Baseball Overview,”,

7 Anzivino, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 6, 1952.

8 Lyall Smith, “Dodgers, Indians Set for Grand Tour of World,” Detroit Free Press, July 9, 1952, 16.

9 Jimmy Cannon, “Jimmy Cannon Says,” Newsday (Hempstead, New York), July 11, 1952, 42.

10 “Flock May Tour Australia,” Brooklyn Eagle, March 18, 1952, 15.

11 Cannon, Newsday, July 11, 1952.

12 Memorandum for Mr. Joseph Feeney: Proposed 1952 World Tour of the Cleveland Indians and Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball Clubs, May 15, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/5-1552.

13 Bill Ladson, “These players integrated each MLB team,”, August 14, 2020,

14 Peter Dreier, “The Real Story of Baseball’s Integration That You Won’t See in 42,” The Atlantic, April 11, 2013, Dreier states that only six big-league teams had any Black players by 1952: the Dodgers, Giants, Braves, White Sox, Browns, and Indians. Although a total of 20 players had crossed the color line by then, only 13 were active that season, with some having left/retired by then, while others were in military service.

15 Memorandum for Mr. Joseph Feeney, National Archives.

16 Memorandum for Mr. Joseph Feeney, National Archives; Harry S. Truman, Address on foreign policy at a luncheon of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 20, 1950, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum, foreign-policy-luncheon-american-society-newspaper-editors.

17 Oscar Ruhl, “From the Ruhl Book,” The Sporting News, July 23, 1952, 16.

18 Cannon, Newsday, July 11, 1952.

19 Smith, “Dodgers, Indians Set for Grand Tour of World.”

20 Tom Clavin, “The Inside Story of Baseball’s Grand World Tour of 1914,” Smithsonian, March 21, 2014,

21 Cannon, Newsday, July 11, 1952.

22 Cable from US State Department to US embassies, July 19, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/7-1952.

23 Langill, “Dodgers— International Baseball Overview.”

24 Oscar Ruhl, “From the Ruhl Book,” The Sporting News, April 2, 1952, 14.

25 Associated Press, “Majors Plan Bonus Study,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 8, 1952, 29.

26 Jim Schlemmer, “Leagues OK Indian-Dodger World Tour,” Akron Beacon Journal, July 8, 1952, 50.

27 Cable from US embassy in Rome, Italy, to the US Secretary of State, July 18, 1952, National Archives, VR-351.

28 Airgram from Dean Acheson to American Legation, Beirut, Lebanon, July 31, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/7-3152.

29 Cable from the US Embassy in Madrid, Spain, to the US State Department, July 30, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/7-1952.

30 Cable from US embassy in Lisbon, Portugal, to US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, July 30, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/7-2452.

31 Cable from the US Embassy in Athens, Greece, to the US State Department, July 29, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/7-1952.

32 Dispatch from US embassy in Havana, Cuba, to US State Department, July 29, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/7-2952.

33 Langill, “Dodgers—International Baseball Overview.”

34 Joe Anzivino, “Dodger-Indian World Tour Approved; Plans Include 3-Game Honolulu Stand,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 22, 1952, 14.

35 Smith, “Dodgers, Indians Set for Grand Tour of World.”

36 Cable from the US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, to the US State Department, August 16, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/7-1952.

37 Cable from the US Embassy in Athens, Greece, to the US State Department, July 29, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/7-1952.

38 Cable from US embassy in Singapore to US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, August 13, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/7-1952.

39 Cable from US embassy in Manila, Philippines, to US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, September 4, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/032511.96.

40 Tom Siler, “Mama Likes Football—If Junior Doesn’t Get Hurt; Faust Scouts Tide Again,” Knoxville News-Sentinel, August 27, 1952, 16.

41 United Press, “World Tour for Two Clubs,” Greenville (Ohio) Daily Advocate, July 8, 1952, 9.

42 United Press.

43 Schlemmer, “Leagues OK Indian-Dodger World Tour.”

44 “State Department Clears Dodgers’ Proposed Tour,” The Sporting News, August 27, 1952, 2.

45 “Cleveland Guardians Team History and Encyclopedia,” Baseball Reference,

46 Jack McDonald, “Yanks Now Sought for Globe Tour,” The Sporting News, August 27, 1952, 1.

47 International News Service, “Indians-Brooklyn World Tour OK’d by Commissioner,” Sandusky Register Star News, July 8, 1952, 12.

48 Jack McDonald, “Yanks Now Sought for Globe Tour,” The Sporting News, August 27, 1952, 1.

49 Red McQueen, “Why Brooks Dropped World Tour,” Honolulu Advertiser, September 10, 1952, 10.

50 Memorandum from Marilyn C. Jones to Files, US State Department, September 4, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/9-452.

51 Memorandum from Marilyn C. Jones to Files, US State Department, September 4, 1952, National Archives, 811.4533/9-452.

52 Don Doane, Associated Press, “Globetrotters Spread Gospel of Basketball on World Tour,” Standard Star (New Rochelle, New York), September 4, 1952, 24.

53 John Mooney, “Pioneered Hawaii Junket,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 27, 1953, 19.