What I’d originally intended as a couple of posts about the ballparks used by the St. Louis Giants, especially Giants Park (1919-1922), has turned into a kind of impromptu history of the Giants themselves. The most important thing I hadn’t realized in taking up this subject was just how many obstacles the team faced over the years, far more than any other northern Negro league team of the era that I’m aware of. From their beginnings in 1906 through 1918, the Giants had to contend with rapacious white financial backers, the resentment of local white semipro teams, difficulties finding a home field, hostility and outright interference from the major-league St. Louis Browns, and the vicious race riots in East St. Louis in 1917.
But Charlie Mills and the Giants persevered, and in 1919 things finally took a turn for the better. Mills was able to lure back a number of the team’s stars from previous years, and the owners put up the capital to build an entirely new field for the Giants. This new Giants Park was adjacent to the old Kuebler’s Park (itself also known as Giants Park), and stood at the corner of North Broadway and East Clarence Avenue, bounded by Prescott Avenue in left field and Holly Avenue in right, and across the street from O’Fallon Park, a public park. Here are a couple of articles from the St. Louis Argus, the first from April 25, 1919 (p. 4), the second from May 2, 1919 (p. 4).
Note that motion pictures were to be made of the first game in the new park, vs. the Mexico (Mo.) Grays, a white semipro team. As it happens, the originally scheduled date (Sunday, May 11) was rained out, but the game went on the following day, when the ballpark was dedicated. You have to wonder: does any footage of opening day 1919 in Giants Park still exist somewhere?
Here’s another piece from the Argus the following spring (May 28, 1920), discussing an expansion of the ballpark made in preparation for the first season of the Negro National League. Here we find confirmation that the grandstand was built at the corner of Clarence and Broadway, with bleachers in the outfield, and Holly Avenue as a boundary.
(Many, many thanks to Patrick Rock and Dwayne Isgrig for providing material from St. Louis newspapers for this period.)
And here’s a Sanborn fire insurance map from 1931 showing the location of Giants Park, though no ballpark is depicted (East Clarence Avenue is on the left margin; Holly Avenue runs between lot 3446, where the park was located, and lot 3445):
The dimensions noted in the Argus (400 x 560 feet) seem right for the distance between North Broadway and Prescott, which were about 400 feet; but 560 feet the other way would extend considerably beyond Holly Avenue, and seems to indicate a pretty deep right field fence. At the same time, I’ve seen a number of mentions of home runs hit over the right field fence (usually by Charlie Blackwell or, in 1921, Oscar Charleston), so it probably was not that deep.
The St. Louis Giants played their home games in this park through both their seasons in the Negro National League, including the very successful Charleston-led squad of 1921, before Mills was ousted before the 1922 season and the NNL St. Louis franchise awarded to a new group led by Richard Keys and Samuel Shepherd. They changed the team’s name to the Stars and, because Giants Park was still rather distant from the city’s major black neighborhoods, made plans for a new park at Compton and Market. This would be Stars Park, with the famous trolley car barn impinging on left field. The old Giants Park became the home of the St. Louis Tigers, a Negro Southern League Club; but because Stars Park was not ready until July, 1922, the Stars (featuring rookie southpaws Cool Papa Bell and Earl C. Gurley) played their first nine home games at the old field.
Giants Park apparently still existed for a number of years, and in 1937, when Dizzy Dismukes managed a new version of the St. Louis Stars in the Negro American League, the team used the site, now called Metropolitan Park, as its home field. By 1950, however, the space had been taken over by the McCabe and Powers Auto Body Company. Today no sign of Giants Park is left.
(Thanks to Kevin Johnson, who started the search for Giants Park and other Negro league ballparks in St. Louis.)