12 Mar

what a treat

Imagine sitting in the stands at Gilmore Field in Los Angeles on a day in early November, 1943. A reported 7,000 people were there, taking in a California Winter League game between Pirrone’s All-Stars and the Baltimore Elite Giants. The All-Stars were a team made up of mostly major leaguers. The Elite Giants were a collection of Negro League stars that included the legendary Satchel Paige and several Mississippi natives. Never heard of the California Winter League? If you’re into baseball history, you should check out William F. McNeil’s brilliantly researched and richly detailed book “The California Winter League: America’s First Integrated Professional Baseball League.” Yes, the CWL was an integrated league that operated in the off-season from 1910-45, long before Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the color line in the major leagues. Among the Mississippians who played for the black teams that ventured west were Hall of Famers William Foster (Alcorn State alum) and Cool Papa Bell (Starkville native) and Bill Hoskins, William “Lefty” Harvey, Howard Easterling, Bubba Hyde and Fred Bell (Cool Papa’s brother). Most of the Negro Leagues’ brightest stars played in CWL games, and a bunch of noteworthy major leaguers did, as well, including the likes of Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Sam Crawford and Bob Meusel. On that November day in 1943 — according to a published box score in the book — Cool Papa Bell, Easterling and Hyde combined for six hits as the Elite Giants rallied to beat Pirrone’s All-Stars 4-3. Paige got the win, striking out 14 against a lineup that included Peanuts Lowrey, Andy Pafko, Catfish Metkovich and Roy Partee. What a treat that must have been for the 7,000 who were there. What a treat McNeil’s book is for the rest of us.

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