Smith: Ed Bolden and black baseball in Philadelphia

From SABR member Courtney Smith at Sports Talk Philly on March 26, 2018:

Over the first fifteen years of his career in black professional baseball, [Ed] Bolden established himself as the next in a long line of African American leaders in the Philadelphia area. He led Hilldale on a steady progression from a sandlot team to a World Series champion. Additionally, Bolden asserted leadership within the larger world of black professional baseball. He spearheaded the formation of an African-American corporation to support Hilldale. He also established a league, the Eastern Colored League (ECL), that brought together top eastern black professional baseball teams and that mirrored a similar organization Andrew Rube Foster established in the Midwest. Though all owners shared governance powers within the ECL, Bolden served as the league’s first chairman and represented the ECL’s public voice in the Philadelphia Tribune and other black newspapers. In the ECL’s first three seasons, Hilldale reigned as the league’s dominant team, winning three pennants on its way to its World Series victory over the Kansas City Monarchs in 1925.    

Starting in 1925 and accelerating over the next four years, Bolden faced dissent and criticism that steadily undermined his leadership and standing within black professional baseball. Most of the criticism that Bolden faced stemmed from his tendency to use white umpires, instead of black umpires, in both regular season and postseason games. Even though Bolden led an African American corporation, some people within black professional baseball and in the black press regarded his use of white umpires as a betrayal. As Bolden endured the dissent and criticism, Hilldale’s standing within the ECL dropped, and the team faced financial difficulties. The combined problems took a personal toll on Bolden, and he suffered a nervous breakdown in September 1927. Bolden’s breakdown temporarily took him away from black professional baseball. Once Bolden returned, he pursued aggressive actions designed to protect Hilldale at any cost. His actions precipitated the demise of two leagues, the ECL and the short-lived American Negro League (ANL). He also faced mounting criticism for his continued use of white umpires and his association with white businessmen.

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Originally published: March 26, 2018. Last Updated: March 26, 2018.