Black baseball had short stay on West Coast

From SABR member Jay Berman at the Orange County Register on November 20, 2012, with mention of SABR Director Leslie Heaphy:

With two World Series championships in three years, the San Francisco Giants are on top of baseball’s world. Across the bay, the Oakland A’s also reached the playoffs this year, while – closer to home – the Angels and Dodgers were in the race until the last few days of the season.

But nearly seven decades ago, teams from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland were part of a league that came and went so quickly that few fans today know it ever existed. Those teams were the Los Angeles White Sox, San Francisco Sea Lions and Oakland Larks. Along with the Seattle Steelheads, Portland Rosebuds and Fresno Tigers, they made up the West Coast Baseball Association. It was the last of baseball’s Negro leagues, created because organized baseball had banned black players, and the only one on the West Coast.

The league was organized, began play and failed, all in 1946, and it is believed only one man, 92-year-old Herbert Simpson, who was Seattle’s first baseman, remains to recall its existence.

Leslie Heaphy, a history professor at Kent State University in Ohio, has written that the WCBA was created by Abe Saperstein, best known as founder of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. In her book, “The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960,” Heaphy says Saperstein wanted “to show that black baseball still had life” after the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson in 1945.

Saperstein knew former Olympic sprinter Jesse Owens and persuaded him to get involved. Saperstein, Owens and other investors met in Oakland, outlined a budget and prepared an 18-week, 110-game schedule. They were goals that would not be realized.

Saperstein, who owned the Seattle franchise, was named president, and Owens, who had purchased the Portland team, was vice president.

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Originally published: November 20, 2012. Last Updated: November 20, 2012.