Most of the time, at least. Our manager Luke Appling sits me down against lefties for Charlie King Kong Keller, which I can’t say I’m thrilled about, but over half the time I do get to share the outfield with Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, the best white hitters in the country if you ask me. Anyway, the little time I’ve spent with the Cleveland White Indians in these early 1940s won’t hold a candle to what we’re about to go through in the Bragging Rights League.
See, the Major League of Professional Ballplaying Athletes has been going strong for about fifty years now, and the last thing they need or want is a bunch of white vagabonds like us breaking the old Moses Walker Color Code. But that’s where President Booker T. Washington came in. Before he died in 1915, he passed on his advanced beliefs about racial equality to his son Ernest, who would succeed him in office for three terms before the great poet Langston Hughes was voted in. And Ernest always believed that if whites were allowed to fight for their country, like some of them did on Europe’s battlefields in the Great War, and just might again if this new war in Europe and Asia actually starts, then by gosh, they should be allowed to play ball with their darker countrymen.
Well, something’s finally going to be done about this. Last month, when the entire Memphis Hamptons clubhouse was stricken with a horrible stomach virus during their off-season trip to Cuba, President Hughes quickly gave Commissioner Greenlee permission to establish the Bragging Rights League, and our Chicago Dorseys were born.
Player/manager Appling searched high and low through the white hinterlands, from the Detroit Milky Tigers to the Brooklyn Honky Dodgers, before it was decided to let him pick the best players from our American Division. From what I can see, though, we ought to be able to give those professional black fellows a fair fight. As you know, they don’t stage a championship series in the MLPBA, just a fierce, six-team pennant race, and the Bragging Rights League, at only 60 games per team instead of the usual 190, should be even more heated.
Every major league club has its big stars, with Josh Gibson catching for the Newark Ellingtons, Turkey Stearnes patrolling center for the Pittsburgh Jordans, Satchel Paige throwing speedy pills for the Kansas City Basies, and so on. With Gibson’s 53 homers and 29 complete game victories by Smokey Joe Williams, the Ellingtons took the league championship in 1940 with a sterling 131-59 mark, and you can be sure they’ll be ready to defend that crown.
Us? Well, there’s Teddy Ballgame and Joltin’ Joe, who I already mentioned. I saw our first baseman Jimmie Foxx belt a ball once that went farther than most of Gibsons’. Cecil Travis from the Washington club is a torrid hitter, and Philadelphia’s Frankie Hayes and New York’s Bill Dickey are great backstops. Bob Feller, also from my Cleveland team, is a strikeout machine, and Chicago’s Thornton Lee will feel right at home pitching in his home park, as long as the field isn’t in its usual chewed-up state, which could hurt the fielders behind him.
I’m not saying this is going to be an easy league for us. Except for the home white grandstands we’ll have at Comiskey, we’ll mostly be playing in front of tough all-black crowds on the road, and it’s likely we’ll have to lodge ourselves in white hotels and poor white neighborhoods. But good golly, I think we’re up to this and who knows, it may even earn us the right to vote some day soon.
Each series will be a best-of-three affair with its own “bragging rights,” and for the first one we’ll be hosting Cool Papa Bell, Slim Jones and the Detroit Calloways. I’ll be back in a week with firsthand accounts of how our first series and the other openers went. For the time being, take a look at our league rosters, enjoy the music by the team owners, and if you feel like it, venture a guess below on what the outcome might be.
—J.G. Heath, April 1, 1941