This article was written by Bill Plott
This article was published in 1974 Baseball Research Journal
The first attempt to organize a Negro professional baseball league appears to have been made, surprisingly, in the south in the spring of 1886. In March of that year a number of newspapers in major southern cities carried the following brief item in their sporting news columns:
“A call has been issued for the captains of all colored base ball clubs of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee that have a fair record and desire to enter the Southern League of Colored Base Ballists to send name and address at once to The Manager, lock box 298, Jacksonville, Florida.”
The Charleston (S.C.) News & Courier reported April 8 that it had received a circular outlining the basic plan for the league, which was being organized with a “board of twelve directors representing a capital of nearly $100,000.” Opening games were scheduled for May 10 in Memphis, Atlanta, Charleston, Savannah, Montgomery, and Jacksonville. The circular also reported that:
“Upon receipt of this notice by you, you must forth with remit your club’s entrance fee to the manager of the league, at Jacksonville, Fla., by post office money order; the amount is $5. This money will be expended for printing, advertising, telegraphing, postal cards, stamps, etc. A statement of receipts and expenditures will be furnished monthly to each club in the league.
“The umpires chosen to umpire a game must be such a man that be acceptable by both clubs. No ‘cooked and dried’ umpire will be considered favorable by the league.”
“What can you do in the way of good board and lodging? Answer.
“Is your club backed by a stock company or a party of one or two? If so, to about what extent? If not, secure good backers at once.
“The club that visits your city must have a guarantee from you to the effect that enough money will be realized to cover expenses such as board, lodging and car fare.
“The Southern Leader, of Jacksonville, Fla., will be the official organ of the league, to which all clubs that enter the league shall subscribe on or before May 10 at $1.50 per year.
“Clubs will be suspended for repeated disorderly conduct, cursing, fighting, drunkeness, etc.”
In Charleston a local club, the Fultons, was quickly organized under the guidance of Col. J.J. Young. The News & Courier reported that the club was headquartered at 444 King Street and was negotiating for the use of the city baseball park for a series of exhibition games with the Cuban Giants of Philadelphia.
The league did not get its season launched May 10 as planned. On May 22 a meeting was held in Jacksonville to draw up a schedule and finalize plans for the 1886 season. The result was a season scheduled to open June 7 and close August 25. The following clubs were listed as members of the league: Eclipse of Memphis, Georgia Champions of Atlanta, Broads of Savannah, Eurekas of Memphis, Lafayettes of Savannah, Fultons of Charleston, Athletics of Jacksonville, Unions of New Orleans, Florida Clippers of Jacksonville and Macedonias of Jacksonville.
Some of these clubs played in games reported in various southern newspapers. Further mention of others could not be located, but the Jerseys of Savannah, Roman Cities of Jacksonville and Montgomery Blues were all mentioned later in the season as being in the league. The Negro clubs received coverage ranging from good in the Memphis Appeal-Avalanche to very poor in the Atlanta Constitution. None of the league city newspapers surveyed reported any standings and box scores were located in no paper except the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
The first game played in New Orleans was scheduled June 14 but was rained out and rescheduled June 16. The Times-Picayune published the following starting lineup for the Union nine: James Arnold, p.; P. Johnson, c; W.J. Turner, 1b; J. Recasner, 2b; W. Davis, 3b; G. Irwin, ss; J. Walker, rf; T. Walker, cf; C. Noise, lf; and C. Ogden, substitute.
The game between the Unions and the Eclipse club of Memphis got a favorable review the following day:
“…. Judging from the first game, the colored clubs will furnish good sport, and the teams can play ball,” the Times-Picayune reporter wrote, adding that “The Eclipse boys all fielded well and threw the ball like the best professionals.” The Memphis club won the game, 3-1, scoring all of its runs in the first inning “on missed third strikes, … wild throws by the catchers and two passed balls.”
It appeared that the wrong New Orleans club was in the league. After the Unions and Eclipse club completed their series, the visitors from Memphis were issued a challenge by another New Orleans Negro club, the Cohens, “to settle the question of supremacy and show that there was more than one first class colored club in New Orleans.” Price, the Cohens’ pitcher, threw a two-hitter as the Cohens defeated Memphis.
The Fultons of Charleston played a series of exhibition games before actually getting into league play. In their quest for suitable exhibition opponents they listed the following requirements in a notice in the Charleston paper:
“1st, That the club must be properly uniformed. 2nd, That they are men, not boys. The Fultons are unwilling to play under any other regulations than those published by Spaulding for professionals. The ball to be Peck & Snyder’s dead red, as required by the Southern Colored League. No betting or pool selling will be allowed on the grounds and any persons found so doing will be ejected.”
The Fultons quickly lined up an exhibition against the Resolutes, a Charleston Negro amateur club, and announced that “the phenomenon, ‘Babe’ Smith” would throw for the professionals.
“Babe” did not have a good day. He “was batted out of the box by the middle of the game and his place supplied by a pitcher who was pounded all over the field. Those who expected to witness an interesting game of base ball between two of the best colored clubs in Charleston at the Base Ball Park yesterday were very much disappointed in their expectations,” the Charleston News & Courier reported. “The much talked-of Fultons appeared on the feld in rather showy uniforms, which consisted of dark blue shirts, white belts, light blue pants, red stockings and white caps with a double horizontal red bar.”
“There was nothing that could be called even good amateur playing throughout the whole game. The Resolutes, which are only a picked nine recently organized for the purpose of playing the professional Fultons, won the game by a score of 28 to 17… The Fultons ascribe their defeat to the want of practice.”
The Fultons did not fare much better in their league debut in Charleston. On June 19 they were defeated by the Georgia Champions of Atlanta, 8-5, and the phenomenal Babe Smith was again batted freely.
Two of the players in the league were reported to have had some connections with white clubs of that era. The aforementioned B.B.H. (Babe) Smith, the Charleston hurler, was said to have pitched and played first base for the Manhattans of New York in 1884. “He played against the Philadeiphias and he is said to be a host in himself,” the News & Courier reported.
Pointter, pitcher-third baseman for the Eclipse of Memphis, apparently played some with white clubs later.
Southern League city newspapers the following year made no mention of a Negro league, but the New Orleans Times Picayune of April 25, 1887, reported that Pointter was playing with Binghamton and that the well known Negro star Bud Fowler was on the same club. Pointter was among a number of good players on the Eclipse club, which appears to have been the best in the league.
“The Eclipse (colored) club returned to the city yesterday. During their trip they have won eight out of twelve games, as follows: two at Chattanooga, two at Atlanta, one at Montgomery, one at Mobile, two at New Orleans,” The Memphis Appeal reported in its June 24 issue.
“Renfroe, their crack pitcher, has won every game he pitched but one, averaging twelve strikeouts a game for nine games. In his first game against Chattanooga he struck out the first nine men who came to bat. He has great speed and a very deceptive down-shoot,” the story added.
The Appeal in late August referred to the Eclipse and Eureka clubs of Memphis as the champion colored clubs of the South. Substantiating the Memphis pennant claim will be difficult unless more results can be unearthed in other league city newspapers. The best possibility appears to be in locating files of the Jacksonville Leader since it is identified as the official league organ.