The Negro Leagues in Brooklyn

Looking into the slump that our beloved Dodgers are having, local
baseball enthusiasts are calling to Branch Rickey, Dodger prexy,
to break the proverbial ice and take some of this young sepia
talent under his wing. At a time like this and with the rabidly
faithful following that the Brooklyn baseball club has, it just
can't be figured out why pigmentation of a skin should be the
reason for barring much needed talent from the hardest and most
colorful club in the major leagues today.

-- Jackie Reemes, New York Amsterdam News, August 14, 1943

The best known association of the Negro Leagues with Brooklyn is that of Jackie Robinson, but long before the Dodgers began the re-integration of pro baseball, the Negro Leagues had a presence in Brooklyn.

Records are sparse, but newspapers make mention of early teams such as the Unknown Club of Weekfield, the Monitor Club, and the Unique Club. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on a match of October 16, 1862, when the Unknowns defeated the Monitors 41 to 15. Unknown center fielder Smith was the star of the game, scoring 9 runs without making a single out.

In October 1867, the powerful Excelsior Club of Phildelphia toured cities to the north, and played two games at the Satellite Ground in Williamsburg, home of most black baseball teams in the very early days of Brooklyn baseball. In a hotly disputed result, the first game was called on account of darkness and awarded to the Excelsior team, 42 to 37 in six innings, although the Uniques had been rallying strongly in the seventh. The next day, the Monitors defeated the Philadelphia squad, but the score is not recorded.

Later that month, the Monitor and Unique Clubs played for the "championship of colored clubs" at the same ground. The Monitors won easily, 49 to 17, having scored 15 runs in the seventh inning and 17 in the eighth. In September of 1884, a similar game was played at Washington Park, between the Remsens and Alpines, two clubs with a bitter rivalry. The Alpine Club scored all its runs in the final three innings, taking the Brooklyn Championship by a score of 6 to 3. Many such championships were no doubt decided in the meantime, but records elude us. Another colored club competing in Brooklyn during that period was called, confusingly enough, the Atlantics.

For a brief time, professional baseball was not officially segregated, and a very few teams were integrated. When Toledo of the American Association visited Brooklyn in 1884, their catcher Fleet Walker became the first black player to play major league baseball in Brooklyn. He would also be the last for another 63 years. It is worth noting that many college nines were integrated throughout this entire period, however.

We don't know much of the 19th century, although we are working on that. The appalling lack of any kind of decent coverage in surviving media is summed up by this complete story from the Christian Index, in 1887: Friday, September 9th- A Negro dies in Brooklyn, N.Y., from the stroke of a base ball the day before.

John Connors, Home Run Johnson, Harry Buckner, Cyclone Joe Williams, Pop Lloyd

In 1905, the Brooklyn Royal Giants were founded by John Connors, owner of the Brooklyn Royal Cafe. They rose to prominence quickly, forming strong rivalries with the Cuban Giants and Philadelphia Giants especially. By 1907 the New York Times was already referring to Philadelphia and Brooklyn as "ancient rivals" in promoting an upcoming game at Washington Park. The club took on many semipro teams and college squads, both within the city and on tours of the northeast. The club also toured Cuba in 1908, with some success- especially a 9 to 1 thrashing of the Cincinnati Reds, also touring at the time.

Negro League players endured many battles. In 1908, for instance, three players quit the Hagerstown Club in Maryland rather than play a scheduled game against the Royal Giants. That being said, most semipro clubs, and even a fair number of minor and major league ones, while drawn along color lines themselves, were happy at least to play against anyone. The whole awful situation was summed up accurately in the Brooklyn Eagle in 1931, although the language used makes us recoil in horror:

Baseball's unwritten law bars the way to the big leagues for God's cullud chillun, but some of them play big league ball nevertheless, even if it is on semi-pro diamonds. Veteran baseball observers will tell you that more than one of the colored crackerjacks is of real big-league caliber. The dread color line keeps their names out of the headlines of the paper, however. And so it is that the Negro ballplayers must troupe hither and yon like disownd sons on baseball's byways.

Brooklyn could add one extra battle for all-black teams in its early history. Because they largely played semipro squads, many of their games were scheduled on Sundays, and that meant trouble in places with strict blue laws. In 1907, two Royal Giants players were arrested on trumped up charges of creating a disturbance at the Brighton Grounds in East New York after a foul tip went into the stands. Fortunately, the case was dismissed. On several other occasions the team would turn up on a Sunday and not get to play, or be forced to play for free in order to be allowed a Sunday game.

The Royal Giants were among the many stops during shortstop Pop Lloyd's almost endless career. Other stars on the Royal Giants included early player-manager Grant "Home Run" Johnson, who hit .350 in 1906 playing shortstop, Harry Buckner, who played both pitcher and catcher, Chino Smith, who hit .439 on a mediocre squad in 1927, home run hitting catcher Louis Santop, submariner Dizzy Dismukes, and flamethrower "Cannonball" Dick Redding, who also managed from 1927 to 1932. Hall of Fame first baseman Buck Leonard and "Cyclone" Joe Williams, maybe the greatest pitcher in Negro League history, also had brief stints in Brooklyn.


Although independent, the Royal Giants competed in the loosely organized National Association of Professional Colored Clubs. Brooklyn was proclaimed Eastern Champion in 1910 after defeating arch rival Philadelphia in the decisive series. They went on to win the Eastern Championships of 1914- losing their only World Series in a sweep against Chicago- and 1916. Western teams worked harder for their laurels- in 1916 the Royal Giants had a 13-7 record, whereas the Western Champion Chicago American Giants went 40-26, with 3 ties. In 1920 Brooklyn tied a playoff series with the Hilldale Daisies 2-2 and shared the Eastern title.

Chino Smith, Dick Redding, Louis Santop

In 1923, now under the ownership of white sports promoter Nat Strong, the Royal Giants joined the Eastern Colored League, but played poorly for the most part, never finishing better than .500 until the league folded early in the 1928 season. The Royal Giants' most memorable single game from this era was the spectacularly unlucky performance of Joe Williams in 1924, when he struck out 25 Bushwicks in relief only to lose in the 12th inning.

In October of 1927, the Royal Giants played two exhibitions in two days in New Jersey against teams featuring Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The two Yankee stars hit six home runs in all, partly because pitcher-manager Redding knew what the people had come to see, and pitched accordingly. Neither game was able to be finished due to the riotous interference of the fans.

As an independent team again, apart from one season in the Negro National League in 1933, the club never regained its old form, declining steadily through the 1930s. The Royal Giants slipped to minor league and then to semipro standard, often tangling on an even basis with the Bushwicks and Bay Parkways, until the club finally disbanded in 1942.

1906 Royal Giants, 1935 Eagles
Photos courtesy Mark Rucker (Transcendental Graphics)

The Royal Giants played in many different parks all over New York. Dexter Park was their main home from 1905 to 1913, but they also played home games at Washington Park, Olympic Field in Harlem, the Bronx Oval, the Polo Grounds, Meyerrose Park, and Wallace's Ridgewood Grounds before settling back into Dexter Park from 1923 to 1927. After that, they returned to having no true home field.

Brooklyn All-Stars regulars: 1B/Manager "Big Bill" Smith,
2B Bill Kindle, LF Wallace Gordon, SS Chick Meade.

The Brooklyn All-Stars existed only in 1914. Sources differ as to the team's overall record, but it was most likely 2-11-1, against such opponents as the Indianapolis ABC's and Chicago American Giants - all in July, all on the road. We are unsure if they played any other games, although the All-Stars roster has ten players in common with the 1914 New York Stars- a mystery to be explored. Third baseman Henry Williams was a Brooklyn Royal Giant alumnus, and several other players had long careers in New York and elsewhere, but no big stars were on the squad, despite the name. B. Brown, with a 3.73 earned run average, was the All-Stars' leading pitcher, while 45 year old player manager "Big Bill" Smith, second baseman Bill Kindle, and catcher "Handsome" Pannell were the pick of the hitters.

Eagles owner Effa Manley, and stars Leon Day,
Rap Dixon, George Giles, and Fats Jenkins.

The Brooklyn Eagles, owned by Abe and Effa Manley, and entirely run by Effa, played just one season in the Negro National League, at Ebbets Field in 1935. In spring training at Jacksonville, Florida, the Eagles impressed everyone, and pennants were openly spoken of. Thumping Newark 11 to 6 and 10 to 1 in an opening day double header in New Jersey did little to dampen enthusiasm. They were less brilliant as the season wore on, however, especially when traveling to play the western clubs. The Eagles apparently had trouble finding good reserves, using 47 players over the course of the season. They eventually finished 28-31 with pitcher Leon Day winning nine games and outfielder Rap Dixon hitting .395. Day, Fats Jenkins, George Giles, and Ed Stone were all selected for the 1935 East All-Stars.

The Brooklyn Eagles at Ebbets Field

After the 1935 season, the Newark Dodger club was purchased by the Manleys and merged with the Brooklyn Eagles to form the famed and successful Newark Eagles, where such notables as Don Newcombe, Larry Doby, and Monte Irvin would play. All three, of course, went on to the majors. The Manleys received some compensation from the Indians and Giants for Doby and Irvin, but the Dodgers took Newcombe for free. This remained a bitter sore point with Effa Manley for the rest of her life.

Brown Dodgers manager Oscar Charleston, team mastermind Branch Rickey,
and all around athlete Joe Lillard as a Chicago Cardinal.

Finally, there were the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. This club, and the chaotic United States Negro Baseball League to which it belonged, played two full seasons, 1945 and 1946. The team was initially a ruse of Branch Rickey's- he persuaded Joe Hall to bring his Hilldale franchise to Brooklyn, and subsidised the operation. This enabled Rickey to take the first steps toward integrating the Brooklyn Dodger organization without attracting early attention. Negro League legend Oscar Charleston was appointed manager of the Brown Dodgers, meaning he could join Dodger scouts in scouring the Negro Leagues for suitable talent. Charleston and his scouts watched such players as Jackie Robinson (recommended to Rickey by Pittsburgh journalist and activist Wendell Smith), Roy Campanella, and Don Newcombe, but the Dodgers they eventually played for were not the Brown ones.

The Brown Dodgers' home was at Ebbets Field, where they played midding baseball and typically drew crowds of around 2,000 for double headers. In midsummer of 1945, his scouting mission complete, Rickey lost interest in the team, and Hall defaulted on obligations to the U.S. League. George Armstrong took over the team, more or less as a front for the league. With the help of league vice president Gus Greenlee, the Brown Dodgers effectively became a new franchise, which in 1946 was bolstered with players first from St. Louis, then Cleveland, by buying up entire franchises. New manager Webster McDonald, a famed pitcher in previous years, piloted the Brown Dodgers to the end. The Brown Dodgers were the final stop for Joe "Midnight Express" Lillard, whose amazing sporting career took him through pro basketball and the NFL, as well as numerous Negro League baseball clubs.

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