Whirty: During Great Depression, Bay Area baseball experiment defied segregation

From SABR member Ryan Whirty at SF Weekly on October 7, 2014, with mention of SABR members Ron Auther and Kerry Yo Nakagawa:

All the local politicos turned out for the event. Berkeley Mayor Edward Ament rose to give the welcome address, and John Hassler and Hollis Thompson — the city managers of Oakland and Berkeley, respectively — also yakked a little bit.

But the opening ceremonies of the Berkeley International League’s 1935 baseball season weren’t just dry speeches. The event at San Pablo Park turned out to be a feast for the eyes for the 5,000 fans who crammed the ball field’s bleachers.

“Following a parade around the field, an Oriental act was staged by the members of the Wa Sung Chinese team,” read the April 23, Oakland Tribune that year. One of the oldest and best teams in the BIL, the Chinese-American Wa Sung Athletic Club was, after more than two decades of existence, a stalwart on the semipro and sandlot baseball fields.

So were the teams representing Al’s Cigars, a white team, and the Berkeley Pelicans, an African-American group, the two outfits that officially christened the BIL’s 1935 campaign at the ceremonies, with Al’s doubling up the Pels, 8-4.

The scene was representative of not only what the Berkeley International League was all about, but also why it was so important to the time. At a point in sporting history when racial segregation in “organized” baseball was rigidly endorsed, the BIL — the brainchild of one man who slipped between racial identities with ease — brought together white, black, Asian, and Latino players on a level playing field with mutual respect and vigorous competition as its foundation.

Read the full article here: http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/berkeley-international-league-baseball-byron-speed-reilly/Content?oid=3188878

Originally published: October 8, 2014. Last Updated: October 8, 2014.