Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball's Color Line
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
When baseball swept America in the years after the Civil War, independent, semipro, and municipal leagues sprouted up everywhere. With civic pride on the line, rivalries were fierce and teams often signed ringers to play alongside the town dentist, insurance salesman, and teen prodigy. In drought-stricken Bismarck, North Dakota during the Great Depression, one of the most improbable teams in the history of baseball was assembled by one of the sport’s most unlikely champions. A decade before Jackie Robinson broke into the Major Leagues, car dealer Neil Churchill signed the best players he could find, regardless of race, and fielded an integrated squad that took on all comers in spectacular fashion.
Color Blind immerses the reader in the wild and wonderful world of early independent baseball, with its tough competition and its novelty. Dunkel traces the rise of the Bismarck squad, focusing on the 1935 season and the first National Semipro Tournament. This is an entertaining, must-read for anyone interested in the history of baseball.
“A tale as fantastic as it is true.”—Boston Globe
But so did Neil Churchill, who weighed more and knew Saperstein since the Trotters’ earliest scuffling days. Gil Olson, a forward on the Phantoms, happened to be in Churchill’s office at the car dealership one day when the phone rang. “Abe, how are you?” Churchill answered cheerily. “OK . . . we have open dates that weekend.” The Globetrotters were making a California swing and Saperstein wanted to break up the trip with a Bismarck stop. He offered Churchill 40 percent of the ticket gross.
away. Churchill told Bobby to go find the ball. Off he went on his bicycle, soon to return with the baseball bearing the visitor’s signature. “I’ll be damned!” exclaimed Mr. Seersucker. He took out his wallet, counted off some bills, and handed them to Churchill. Easiest $100 he ever made. Churchill’s machinations and hustles weren’t nearly enough to push the team into the black. It wasn’t because he enjoyed the scenic drive that he booked so many exhibitions and tournaments in Winnipeg. Canada
50 cents for reserved grandstand seats and 25 cents for general admission. The goal was to sell 3,000. The Bismarck Capital did its part with a pom-pom-waving editorial that said Bismarck would have been saddled with a team “fit only to engage in play of the alley and pasture league type” if Churchill and a small coterie of patrons had not breathed life back into town baseball. “If there should be a sudden slacking of support, the backers of the team would not only be out their time and energy,”
with issues of race was a Jayhawk tradition. Kansans fought what amounted to a guerrilla war (with wild-eyed John Brown emerging as the most notorious provocateur) over whether to enter the Union in 1861 as a slave or free state. The Free Staters prevailed, but that didn’t end discrimination. In 1906 Wichita implemented a segregated school system, adopting a kind of reverse busing policy: black children from majority-white neighborhoods were transported to all-black schools to prevent
extreme-right column in big, look-at-me, boldface type: “Bismarck Battles Duncan for National Crown Tonight.” The front page of the paper had a news flash outlined in black. The insatiably curious could relax: Ballgame updates again would be available at State Recreation Parlor starting at 8 p.m. and “D. E. Shipley will be announcing the plays which will be received direct, from Lawrence Stadium [in] Wichita, Kan., over a special leased wire.” That wasn’t the only option for fans. A Good