The man who famously refused to play against black players, mostly Fleet Walker, on multiple occasions in the 1880s, and has often been charged with a high degree of responsibility for the formation of baseball’s color line, ran a semipro team in Chicago in the 1900s that played against black teams quite frequently. And he sometimes suited up with the team himself, well into his 50s.
So, to answer the obvious question, yes, Cap Anson did play against African American teams. Here is a box score for one such game, played on August 22, 1908, showing a 56-year-old Anson taking the field against Walter Ball, Pete Hill, Harry Moore, and the rest of the Leland Giants:
How did baseball’s most notorious racist before Ty Cobb come to swallow his objections to racially-integrated baseball? Who knows, since to my knowledge he never said anything about it himself—but I’d guess four possible reasons:
- He changed his views, or at least mellowed a bit with age;
- He didn’t think it was such a big deal away from the major leagues;
- As proprietor of a semipro club, he realized that games with black clubs were his biggest draw, largely because they were by far the most talented opponents the semipros could book on a regular basis;
- He thought that his own appearance against black clubs would attract fans who were aware of his reputation, and might have expected something crazy to happen.
It’s likely some combination of these factors, with number 3 probably the most important, in my opinion.
And of course there is this photograph. I don’t actually know the story behind this (if there is one).
This picture, by the way, is one piece of evidence (among many) that Rube Foster wasn’t six feet tall (see comments on this post). Anson was supposed to be six feet tall himself, and he’s clearly taller than Foster here. Unless Anson was standing on something (I don’t think I’ve seen a larger version of the photo) or his commonly listed height was wrong and he was really 6’3” or 6’4” or something, Foster was, on the evidence of this photo, probably a few inches under six feet. More on this in a future post.