You might have noticed that the latest update to the Seamheads Negro Leagues DB divides 1909 into “Western Independent Clubs” and something called the “International League of Colored Baseball Clubs of America and Cuba.” What was that, and did it have anything to do with the (almost identically-named) National Association of Colored Baseball Clubs of the United States and Cuba of 1907 and 1908?
First, let’s lay out the evidence. In this post I cited newspaper articles referring to the National Association that were published on October 29, 1906; March 21, 1908; December 19, 1908; and December 18, 1909. (These, of course, aren’t the only articles that refer to the league by name—this is just a sampling to establish that there are contemporary sources giving the “National Association” name in reference to 1907, 1908, and 1909.) Moreover, Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide, originally published in spring 1907, mentioned the National Association by name several times.
So the National Association, by that name, existed from 1907 to 1909, with four teams every year: Brooklyn Royal Giants, Cuban Giants, Cuban Stars, and Philadelphia Giants.
However, here are a few more pieces of evidence:
•In an update to Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide that covered the 1907 season, White referred to the “International League of Colored Base Ball Teams,” which oversaw a “colored championship” contest between the Philadelphia Giants, Cuban Giants, Royal Giants, and Cuban Stars—the same four teams that were in the National Association that year, according to newspaper sources.
• Throughout 1909 and 1910, Lester A. Walton of the New York Age kept talking about the “International League of Colored Baseball Clubs of America and Cuba,” again a league featuring the same four times and same key personnel (Nat Strong, Sol White, H. Walter Schlichter, etc.). There are several examples of Walton using this name—it’s the only black league he refers to.
• And even Nat Strong’s December 18, 1909, letter to the Indianapolis Freeman (posted here), in which Strong identifies himself as business manager of the National Association, claimed that the Royal Giants were playing the Cuban Stars for the “International Colored Championship” (his caps; he sent another letter confirming that the Royals had won it).
So, what’s the deal here? Are these two different leagues? If so, why do they have seemingly the same membership? Did the National Association change its name to the International League at some point?
Lawrence D. Hogan, in Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball, spends several pages on the history of these years, and comes up with a rather complicated solution to the National Association / International League conundrum.
First, Hogan asserts that “William Freihoffer [sic] and John O’Rourke” founded the “International League of Colored Baseball Clubs in America and Cuba” in 1906 (p. 104). He also apparently believes the 1906 International League to be continuous with the later mentions of an International League from 1907 through 1910 (as listed above).
He then writes that the “ILBCAC” (his acronym for the International League) “was joined by the National Association of Colored Baseball Clubs of the United States and Cuba (NACBC)” in late 1906. Then at some point the International League “was absorbed into the NACBC, since the same clubs that made up the ILBCAC were also in NACBC members. League clubs played in the ILBCAC in the East, while they functioned under the umbrella of the NACBC during their barnstorming tours in the Midwest and Cuba” (p. 117). In other words, they were originally two separate leagues, but then they merged, with the International League as the name for the pennant competition and the National Association the name of the Strong-run booking agency.
Hogan’s first point, I can say, is actually a mistake. The Freihofer/O’Rourke league, discussed here, was called the International League of Independent Professional Base Ball Clubs. The term “colored” was never used in its name. Moreover, it included two white semipro teams. In my opinion, a white American team in the U.S. in 1906 would have been extremely unlikely to join an organization that identified itself as “colored.” As far as I can tell, the Freihofer/O’Rourke league ceased to exist after the 1906 season. It had nothing to do with either the National Association (which was reported as a new league when it was founded) or the “International League of Colored Baseball Clubs of America and Cuba” that Lester Walton wrote about in 1909.
As for his argument about the relationship between the National Association and the later International League: I have to say that it goes way beyond any actual evidence I’ve seen. In my opinion, the likeliest explanation for the seeming appearance of two simultaneous leagues with the same roster of teams is the simplest: the International League and the National Association were in fact the same organization. People were just confused about its name.
In part I think this was because they remembered the previous International League, the Freihofer/O’Rourke multicultural league of 1906; it might also be because it makes more sense for an organization with an actual Cuban team, and a full name that invokes both the United States and Cuba, to call itself the “International League,” rather than the “National Association.” There might be other explanations for this confusion, too, which I think are related to the reason the league failed in the end. I’ll discuss this in a future post.
By the way, in the Seamheads DB I’ve chosen to go with “National Association” for 1907 and 1908, because nearly all references to it during those years use that name. But I’ve gone with “International League” for 1909, when it becomes the favored name (largely due to Lester Walton, it must be said).