A couple of years ago Pete Gorton sent me the following half of a panoramic photograph, dating from the 1910s or early 1920s, showing an unidentified black team in an unknown ballpark.
Pete had gotten a request from Hake’s to identify the black team, and showed images of that part of the photo to me and some other historians. The lettering on their jerseys reads “AG,” so among the possibilities were the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, the Chicago American Giants, and the Peerless American Giants of Philadelphia. The last was a minor 1917 team run by a promoter named George Victory (who, much later, earned some fame as an artist). After complaints from fans that he had just stolen the name of Rube Foster’s team, Victory changed it to Pennsylvania Giants, and continued to operate the club for several years.
The lack of any well-known faces among the players on the mysterious AGs pretty much ruled out the Bacharachs and American Giants—no Rube Foster, Dick Redding, John Henry Lloyd, Pete Hill, Oliver Marcell, etc. Moreover, neither team is known to have sported uniforms anything like the ones shown here.
Pete raised the possibility of the Alexander Giants, a team in Los Angeles in the early 1920s. This seemed to make a lot of sense, especially considering the other half of the photograph, which showed the white team the AG’s were facing. Their jerseys read “S.O. Co. of El Segundo”—that is, the Standard Oil Company of El Segundo, California.
As it happens, the Alexander Giants and the Standard Oils of El Segundo played each other a number of times in 1920 and 1921, so that would seem to confirm the ID of the AG’s as the Alexander Giants, as well as narrow down the possible dates of this game in particular.
Looking at the roster of the 1921 Alexanders, there were several pretty well-known players: Harry Blackmon, the Indianapolis ABCs third baseman, who spent the summer of 1921 in California rather than in the Negro National League; the catcher O’Neal Pullen, who was the Alexander Giants’ captain in 1921; and Jimmy Claxton, the Canadian pitcher who played briefly for the Oakland Oaks of the PCL in 1916. I have photos of all three:
Looking at the AGs, I think it’s pretty clear that Pullen, who caught all three of the El Segundo/Alexanders games in 1921 and was a very large man, is NOT the player in catcher’s garb in the photo. Blackmon and Meaddows, on the other hand, are harder to identify; Blackmon, for instance, could be the (rather blurry) player on the far right (in the second picture below), but it’s impossible to say for sure.
Meanwhile, the umpire for all three Standard Oil/Alexander Giants games in 1921 was Billy Donaldson, a well-known African American arbiter whose picture appeared a number of times in the black press over the years:
He is clearly not either of the umpires in the photo:
Given that we can’t find either the Alexanders’ team captain and catcher (Pullen) or the umpire who worked all three of the games in question (Donaldson) in the photo, I’d say it’s pretty clear it was not taken in 1921.
That leaves 1920.
As it happens, on July 4, 1920, the Alexander Giants played the "El Segundo" team. The El Segundo battery was Gipe and Duncan; these same two players were listed as Standard Oil of El Segundo players in January, 1920, so there's a pretty good chance that the El Segundo team from July 4 is the Standard Oil team.
It would make sense that the teams would pose for a photograph before a July 4 game, the stands packed with a holiday crowd. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a box score for the game, or even a line score. I only found a brief item reporting the game in the Los Angeles Times (California Eagle issues for the summer of 1920, as far as I know, have not been preserved).
The Alexander Giants' battery on July 4 consisted of two well-known west coast players who never played back east: the pitcher Johnny “Wizard” Baugh and the catcher/infielder Spencer Butcher. Baugh was said to be “a great favorite at Alexander Park” (California Eagle, May 30, 1924); the Kansas City Monarchs infielder Bob Fagan (who played extensively on the coast too), called Butcher “peppery” and “my ideal for a catcher. He is always ready to try something. In other words he is in the game all of the time and his head is always up” (California Eagle, August 27, 1924).
I don’t think I have any photos of either of them, but if this picture does show the team on July 4, 1920, then this is Spencer Butcher:
Who else was on the 1920 Alexander Giants?
I haven't found too many 1920 Alexander Giants’ box scores in general, but here’s a list of some of the players I’ve found appearing with them that summer (aside from Baugh and Spencer):
Willie Woods, cf
Carlisle Perry, ss
Black Cat Williams, 3b
Goldie Davis, lf
William Curtis (a.k.a. “Billy Bowlegs”), 1b
William Ross, p
Of these players I only have certain images of two, Woods and Ross. Here is Woods:
I don’t see him in the Alexander Giants photo (though it’s hard to say for sure)...
...but I think I see William Ross, an interesting player with a long career in and out of the Negro leagues, and from what I can tell probably the biggest star on the Giants in 1920 and 1921. Check out this guy, the third player from the right in the original photo:
Here are some pictures of Ross (the two on the left) to compare to the AGs man (on the right):
So, of all the Alexander Giants players in this photo, I can only identify (more or less) William Ross and Spencer Butcher (the latter only because he’s wearing catcher’s gear).
These two men…
…seem likely to be the guys who founded and ran the team, William Carroll (the manager in 1920 and builder of the ballpark) and the team’s namesake, Jim Alexander. I don’t know which is which. Alexander had some small fame in Los Angeles as the first black IRS inspector in the city and organizer of the local Texas Club (presumably for emigrants from that state). Here’s an image of him, though you can't tell much from it:
Lastly, let’s consider where this game was played. It was at the Alexander Giants’ grounds, newly built in 1920 and called Carroll Park, after William Carroll. It was one of a spate of small baseball parks built by black teams around the country at this time—Giants Park in St. Louis in 1919, Central Baseball Park in Pittsburgh later in 1920, Tate Field in Cleveland in 1921, Lewis Park in Memphis and Stars Park in St. Louis in 1922.
Although this article locates the ballpark at 53rd and Long Beach Avenue, virtually every other source I’ve seen locates it at 32nd or 33rd and Long Beach (and at least one source, below, gives the address as 2710 Long Beach). I haven’t been able to check any contemporary maps to be sure, so anybody who has access to them, see what you can find. Called Carroll Park in 1920, it became known more frequently as Alexander Park or Alexander Field in 1921.
Anyway—this photograph gives us a wonderful image of the park and its crowd, a very rare (indeed, I think unique) view of a black baseball park in the early 1920s. While I don’t have a full image of the whole panoramic photo, here’s a portion that gives you a pretty good sense of the park and the crowd:
Sadly Carroll/Alexander Park came to a premature end in September, 1921.
There was also a report in the Chicago Defender. The Proquest version is nearly unreadable; I have a much better version directly photocopied from the microfilm, but couldn’t find it in time for this post, so here’s a transcription (from the Chicago Defender, October 8, 1921, p. 10):
ALEXANDER GIANTS’ BALL PARK DESTROYED BY FIRE
By Walter Gordon, Jr.
Los Angeles, Cal., Oct. 7 – The Alexander Giants’ baseball park, which occupies the four square blocks beginning at 33d and Long Beach avenue, was completely destroyed by fire on the evening of Sept. 25, at about 6:45 p. m. The fire is supposed to be of incendiary origin, as shortly before the blaze flared up a night watchman in a nearby plant saw a man running from that direction. The fire department answered the call as quickly as possible, but the blaze was beyond control. It is claimed that they also found evidences of incendiarism. The Giants were organized in January, 1919, with the following officers: Fred Lucas, president; James Alexander, vice president; M. W. Alexander, secretary; Dan Russell, manager; James Thomas, treasurer; Dr. J. S. Outlaw, medical director.
The Alexander Giants have won 95 per cent of their games this season and they are great favorites. The motive which prompted the destruction of the park was possibly team jealousy. The park was valued at $15,000, with insurance of $5,000 only. The owners plan to rebuild immediately.
It’s unclear to me whether or not Alexander was trying to blame the Giants’ main rivals, the Los Angeles White Sox, for the arson (“team jealousy”), although the two teams had faced each other as recently as the previous spring, and the Alexander Giants sometimes played in the White Sox ball park.
The Alexander Giants did take the field again in 1922, but two of their best players, Ross and Blackmon, left to join the Negro National League’s Indianapolis ABCs, and the team’s star seems to have dimmed considerably. I found a reference or two to Alexander Park that year, but it may be that the destruction of the grand stand was a blow that the park and team never really recovered from.
By the way, this is the 700th post on this blog, which I’ve now been writing for (gulp) almost eleven years. I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface.
UPDATE 3/15/2017 Check out these 1920 maps of the location of Carroll/Alexander Park.