What was the 25th Infantry baseball team doing in St. Louis in June, 1920, anyway? I’m not aware that they toured much (if at all) after their return to the continental United States in 1918; they were, after all, in the Army, and had military responsibilities. Phil Dixon, in his book on Bullet Rogan, quotes “Big C” Johnson on the move from Hawaii to Fort Huachuca in Arizona: “It took three trips to bring all the troops [more than 2,000] back to the states. After that, not much baseball was played” (The Monarchs 1920-1938 Featuring Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, p. 25). By 1919, there was some baseball being played, according to David Skinner, who has written on the 25th Infantry team in Arizona, but it appears to have been all local (including a fall 1919 visit by Casey Stengel’s All-Stars).
But in late June and early July, 1920, a special event took place in St. Louis, hosted by Jefferson Barracks:
(St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 23, 1920)
This places the 25th Infantry, as well as the two African-American cavalry units, in St. Louis. Had they been transferred from Arizona? Another article a few days later (Globe-Democrat, June 26, 1920) provides a fuller explanation:
At these “army championships,” athletes competed for spots in the upcoming Olympic trials, to be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in July. This means that the debut of five army veterans in the Negro National League (Rogan, Moore, Stewart, Herring, and Johnson) occurred in St. Louis just as a vast army athletic meet was being held. And interestingly, the names “Moore” and “Johnson” are listed among the athletes in the Giants’ Park exhibition.
As it turns out, the army meet was fairly big sporting news, with results going out over the wire and appearing in newspapers across the country. I didn’t grasp the meet’s significance until after I had returned the Globe-Democrat microfilm, so I didn’t check that paper for coverage of the meet itself, but I’ve since been able to find many mentions in other major papers. The lists of winners often give unit affiliations and ranks, and include, among the many representatives of the 24th and 25th Infantry and 9th and 10th Cavalry, several names of interest, such as:
Sgt. M. Herring, 25th Infantry, 1st place, running hop, step, and jump; 1st place, running broad jump (Boston Globe, July 4; Atlanta Constitution, July 6). The Atlanta Constitution gives St. Louis as his hometown.
Pvt. N. Johnson, 25th Infantry, 4th place, 56-pound weight throw (Boston Globe, July 4)
Musician D. Battles (“musician” would be his position, not his name), 24th Infantry, 2nd place, high jump (Boston Globe, July 4)
Pvt. Branch Russell, 25th Infantry, 2nd place, running hop, step, and jump (Boston Globe, July 4)
Pvt. R. Moore, 10th Cavalry, running as part of the Southern Department’s 440-yard relay team (which finished second; Boston Globe, July 4)
The black regiments from Arizona, infantry and cavalry, were competing as part of the Southern Department team, which won the meet by a large margin. A good number of Army athletes, including three African-American sprinters, were sent to the Olympic trials. One of the sprinters appeared in results as “R. Moore;” before I determined that “Moore” actually did go to the trials in Cambridge, Mass., later in July, I was briefly taken with the idea that Dobie Moore might have had a chance to go to the Olympics, but chose to play with the Monarchs instead. It turned out to be one Richard Moore of Arkansas, who in fact did go to the trials (though he didn’t make the Olympic team). Since his initial proved to be accurate, this soured my early suspicion that “N. Johnson” might be Oscar Johnson.
None of the black Army athletes made the Olympics, though one, Sgt. Ezekiel Carolina, winner of the 56-pound-weight throw at the Army meet, was said by the Chicago Defender to be “a certain selection for the Olympic team” (July 10, 1920). Instead, as the Defender put it (corroborated by several other sources), “he does not want to make the trip [to Cambridge] and would like to be excused.” In fact, the man who finished second to him in St. Louis, a Lt. E. R. Roberts, went to the trials, finished fifth, and made the Olympic team (the U.S. sent six athletes for each event). Carolina had beaten him by more than three feet in St. Louis.
Although he won both the running broad jump and the running hop, step, and jump in St. Louis, I couldn’t find any mention of “Sgt. M. Herring” at the Cambridge trials, though only the top five finishers in those events were listed in the papers I checked. If he is the St. Louis Giants’ Herring, the trials, held on July 17 and 18, would have conflicted with his appearance in Giants’ games at St. Louis on those dates. Could Herring have chosen a professional baseball career over a chance to go to the Olympics? If so, he may have regretted it, since he only played for the Giants for one year, and never appeared in a Negro League game after 1920. (His distances at the Army meet, however, were well behind the fifth-place finishers in both events at the trials.) Going back to the Army meet, it seems to have taken place on July 2, 3, and 5; the last date would conflict with Herring’s second appearance for the Giants. (Interestingly, however, he came into that game late, replacing Eddie Holtz at third base.)
Tomorrow: the final installment (for now) of my research into this possible new story about how some Army players joined the Negro Leagues.