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October 17, 2009


Gary Ashwill

Incidentally, I really don't know how complete the list of interracial games in Washington in the 1870s is. I have certainly not scoured the microfilm of D.C. newspapers in the early 1870s. The Washington Post wasn't founded until 1877, and the digitized Washington Star from Paper of Record is not especially user-friendly, so I could easily be missing a lot.

Gary Ashwill

Also, rather than parsing the language of a brief newspaper item, it might be useful to step back and think about the most obvious facts here. The Olympics play the Alerts, and the match, unlike most games between Washington clubs, is given quite a bit of publicity (receiving mentions in newspapers from Baltimore to Boston) for the very reason that it's a game between black and white teams. Then, a club cancels its game with the Olympics--not because of any difficulty in scheduling or travel arrangements or disagreement about the receipts or whatever--but expressly because they had played the Alerts.

Leaving aside the Alerts being a non-convention club, how often was a game called off because one team objected to the other's previous opponents?

Gary Ashwill

David, a few thoughts. One is that of course right now we only have this scrap of text, so it's hard to say for sure what it really means, and whether or not it fairly represents the Marylands' views. For example, there could have been disagreement among the players or directors of the Maryland Club about the issue, and the "non-convention club" language represented some kind of compromise.

More likely in my opinion they were unembarrassed about their racial attitudes, but didn't want to insult the Olympics too explicitly. (The two clubs would go on to play each other four times in 1870.) In 1869 it was not a trivial matter to accuse whites of associating too closely with blacks, and so the Marylands softened their criticism of the Olympics by adding the bit about playing a non-Association club while still making their point.

David Ball

Before posting the first time, I had put out an inquiry on the listserv for SABR's 19th century committee, because I was not entirely comfortable with the idea that anybody would have objected to an NABBP team playing an outside team. When I got no response after a day, I went ahead and posted here. Subsequently, several responses did come in, that seem to confirm the Olympics' playing a non-NABBP team was not objectionable, although rather surprisingly nobody seems to have certain knowledge on the point. The straightforward interpretation I've suggested is therefore more question, to say the least.

That said, the idea that the Marylands' resolution was an example of covert racism still seems to me an anachronistic imposition. Today, the force of broad public opinion was such that any attempt to draw a color line would have to be dissembled in public. I cannot imagine anyone in 1869 feeling the need to act that way. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, but postbellum segregationists thought they were on the virtuous side and generally had no need to be hypocritical about their beliefs. We may disagree, but their behavior was naturally dictated by their own beliefs, not ours.

It is true, of course, that Maryland had been a slave state within just a few years of 1869 and there were no doubt many segregationists among her citizens, but that makes me all the more dubious that the Marylands would not have avowed any segregationist views openly.

While we're at it, how complete is the list of cross-race games for Washington? It's tough to put together an exhaustive list of this kind covering a long range of years, especially in the 1870's, when newspaper coverage of baseball was generally sparse, and often lacked box scores that catch the eye of the reader.

james e. brunson

What does "top level" mean?

Being a convention club ('elite' status)?

Economic (money and property) and human resources (free or leisure time) to practice, develop skills, compete?

When it comes to social and class issues, 1868 to 1870 were hardly innocent years.

Colored troops returning home and competing with white troops for wage labor created problems. (Blackface minstrelsy and baseball minstrelsy during Reconstruction and beyond offer examples).

The Fifteenth Amendment (1870) didn't help either: for citizens, politicians, and ballplayers, it intensified social (race, race-mixing, miscegenation) and class (leisure life) anxieties.

David Ball

What the Intelligencer says is that the Marylands objected to the Olympics' playing a match game against the Alerts because the latter club was not a member of the National Association of Base Ball Clubs ("a convention club"). Race is mentioned only incidentally.

I don't know this period really well and am not aware whether there were in fact rules or customs prohibiting match games between NABBP and outside teams. A ban on matches against outside teams certainly would indeed have implied ipso facto the drawing of a color line, since no black teams belonged to the NABBP. However, that consideration disappeared, along with the NABBP, long before 1878.

It's also certainly possible that the Marylands were dissembling the real reason for their objection, but I don't think in 1869 most people who wanted to draw a color line felt any need to hide the fact that they were doing so. Therefore, I question whether there's any reason not to take the Marylands at their word.

I have read a little about Washington baseball at this period, in the NY Clipper, and elsewhere, and I notice that Andrew Johnson probably and Ulysses Grant certainly took an interest in baseball, and as a result there was something of a fashion for Washington politicians to likewise turn their attention to the game. In particular, some radical Republican pols seem to have taken the black clubs under their wing.

Around 1872, for one reason or another, the politicians appear largely to have turned their attentions elsewhere (although off season government patronage jobs remained a Washington ball player's perk at least into the late 1880's). I wonder whether local black clubs may not have suffered from this change even more than the white ones, since they were presumably weaker to begin with and had more need of the influence powerful white politicians could bring to bear on their behalf.

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