A few months ago I was hired by Jimmy Allen to research the above photograph, which he’d had in his collection for decades. With his permission, I’m presenting my findings here, because it’s both a beautiful photograph and historically significant.
The team in this photograph is the 1923 Washington Potomacs, an independent club owned and managed by Hall of Famer Ben Taylor. It was taken in Griffith Stadium (then known as American League Park) in Washington, D.C., on opening day, May 10, 1923, before a game between the Washington Potomacs and the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants. A street parade was held before the game, after which Taylor was presented with “a beautiful horse shoe of American Beauties Roses…The design was over four feet high and contained over two hundred roses.” This can be seen to the right of the photo next to Taylor.
(Baltimore Afro-American, May 18, 1923, p. 15)
The Potomacs’ roster consisted of players Taylor brought from his previous team, the Indianapolis ABCs, including William Ross, Morris Williams, Ralph Jefferson, Morten Clark, Mack Eggleston, William Woods, Wayne Carr, and Taylor himself, along with several rookies (Pete Washington, Joe Goodrich, Bullet Campbell, Will Owens) and some journeymen from other, mostly east coast teams (Elias Brown, Alex Albritton, Joe Lewis, Buck Ridgley). An independent outfit, the Potomacs played 23 games against Eastern Colored League teams in 1923, going 9-14.
The following season, Taylor acquired a co-owner and financial backer named George Robinson, and the team entered the Eastern Colored League. After undergoing a roster overhaul, the Potomacs still only managed a seventh-place finish, going 21-38. In 1925 they moved to Wilmington, Delaware, and Taylor left the team. With Danny McClellan as manager they sank even further in the standings, and folded before the season was done.
When I set out to identify the photograph, the first thing I noticed that made it clear it was an image of the 1923 Potomacs was the presence of Ben Taylor himself (standing, far right). Taylor managed two teams in Washington, D. C.—the 1923-24 Washington Potomacs, and the 1938 Washington Black Senators. That it was the ’23 Potomacs was confirmed immediately by the presence of Morten Clark (in glasses, kneeling second from right), the only player in black baseball at the time to wear glasses when he played, and Mack Eggleston (standing, second from left), who retired from the big time in 1933. We also have the testimony of Leonard Goodrich, son of the Potomacs’ third baseman Joe Goodrich, who identified his father in the photograph (kneeling, fourth from left).
For comparison with the team photo, here are several photos of Potomacs players published in April 1923, showing what is clearly the same uniform (note the diamond on the sleeves, the socks, belt, pinstripes, and “Washington” across the chest):
(Pittsburgh Courier, April 28, 1923, p. 11)
This photograph has a great deal of significance for Negro league history, as it’s the only known team picture of the 1923 Potomacs, it provides the clearest images available of many of the players on the team, and it features the only known images for three players (Alex Albritton, Morris Williams, Buck Ridgley). Also, in the case of Joe Goodrich, this is the only known photograph of him in a baseball uniform.
STANDING, L to R
1. E. J. Butler
A publicity man brought from Indianapolis by Ben Taylor to serve as the team’s business manager. After 1923 he would return to Indianapolis to promote all-black auto races. Below on the right is a photo of E. J. Butler from 1924.
A catcher Taylor brought east from the Indianapolis ABCs. Here he’s compared to two images of Eggleston from Cuban baseball cards in the 1920s.
A right-handed pitcher from Texas, one of the San Antonio Black Aces players brought to Indianapolis by C. I. Taylor in 1920. There are no other known photos of Williams, but he was reported to have been 6’4” and over 200 pounds, so this seems to be the obvious candidate.
4. Alex Albritton?
Albritton was a journeyman pitcher for east coast teams in the 1920s. Later in life he was confined to a mental institution, where he was beaten to death by an attendant in 1940 (the attendant was later acquitted of any wrongdoing). Only one photo of Albritton is known to me, and it is so poorly reproduced as to be useless, so this is a guess (in part because the pitchers all seem to be standing together). The other alternative would be Buck Ridgley (see also #5, kneeling). Unfortunately I only have this poor-quality detail for Albritton and William Woods (below).
5. William Ross
Another Texas player who followed Ben Taylor from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C., Ross was a right-handed pitcher and sometimes manager. Back in 1917 he had led a Texas Colored League all-star team north to play the Chicago American Giants and Indianapolis ABCs, which is probably when he met Taylor.
Here he’s compared with photos of 1) Ross with the 1922 Indianapolis ABCs, and 2) a photo of Ross with the ’23 Washington Potomacs, from the Baltimore Afro-American.
6. Joe Lewis
Taylor signed Lewis, a catcher, from the Baltimore Black Sox, and he would return to the Black Sox before the 1923 season was finished. Here he’s compared to a photo of Lewis with the Hilldale Club in 1924.
A right-handed pitcher from New England, Campbell was a rookie in big-time black baseball in 1923. Here he’s compared to a photo of Campbell with the Hilldale Club in 1924.
8. Wayne Carr
Carr was another right-hander with a reputation for jumping from team to team, which he did in August (along with Morten Clark, below) to join the Black Sox, a league team. In the middle is a photo of Carr with the 1922 Indianapolis ABCs, and on the right is another image of Carr with the Potomacs in 1923.
9. Will Owens
Owens was a rookie infielder brought by Taylor from his native Indianapolis. He would go on to a long career in the Negro leagues. Below on the right is a painting of Owens by Paul Debono (based on a photograph, which unfortunately I don’t have in my records).
10. Ben Taylor
The founder of the Washington Potomacs, one of the greatest first basemen in Negro league history, a member of the famous Taylor clan, and a Hall of Famer. On the right is Taylor with the 1922 Indianapolis ABCs.
KNEELING, L to R
A journeyman outfielder in the 1920s, mostly for east coast teams, Jefferson later became a sporting goods dealer and in the 1940s a Pennsylvania state legislator. He was another native Texan who had played for the Indianapolis ABCS. Below right he is shown with the Philadelphia Colored Giants in 1928.
An outfielder who had played for the ABCs in 1921 and 1922, Woods was recognized as “one of the fastest men in the game” and a great bunter (Baltimore Afro-American, April 6, 1923). He died of heart trouble at the age of 29. On the right below is a photo of Woods with the Washington Potomacs from the Afro-American in 1923.
A rookie brought up from Georgia, Pete Washington would go on to a long Negro league career as a fine defensive center fielder who hit with a little power. On the right is Washington with the 1929 Baltimore Black Sox.
4. Joe Goodrich
A third baseman/shortstop from Texas whose career was derailed by an arm injury he suffered in the spring of 1923 (thus his absence from some of the early games). Then in the offseason between 1923 and 1924 he was struck by a car and badly hurt.
He was identified by his son, Leonard Goodrich. No other baseball photograph of Goodrich is currently known (even the family has none).
5. Buck Ridgley?
An infielder who spent much of his career playing for minor teams in upstate New York. According to several sources he was a left-handed second baseman, which was quite rare. I haven’t found a photo of Ridgley; here I’m guessing he’s kneeling in the front row between two other infielders (Clark, Goodrich). The other option is that this is Alex Albritton (see Standing #4).
6. Morten Clark
Another player Ben Taylor swiped from his old team, the ABCs, Clark was famous as the only man in black baseball at the time to wear glasses while playing. He jumped with Wayne Carr to the Baltimore Black Sox in August. On the right is a photo of Clark from the Indianapolis Ledger in 1915.
7. Elias Brown
This outfielder’s real name was Elias Bryant. Despite his severe expression here (and in other photos), he was well-known as an onfield comedian and an off-season vaudeville performer. On the right are photos of Brown with the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants in 1921, and Brown with the Brooklyn Royal Giants in 1930.