Friday, February 4, 2011

West Ends Vs. Pinchbacks: Game One

Eighteen black men representing St. Louis and New Orleans swam out to Sportsman's Park yesterday and showed 800 colored "folks" and a small sprinkling of whites how to play ball. The weather was against the exhibition, and after looking in vain for life-preservers, the game game had to be called in the seventh inning. The New Orleans club is named after Louisiana's most distinguished colored statesman, P.S.P. Pinchback. The St. Louis men are known as the "West Ends." Next to a watermelon and a coon hunt, a negro likes a ball game, and they go at it with such zest that even a policeman is compelled to stay awake. The Pinchback team is homeward bound, having defeated the Chicago Unions and other strong Northern clubs. They talk English and French and always swear at the umpire in French. Their uniform was navy blue, white striped caps, white shirts, with a large blue "P" on the right breast. The "West Ends" were arrayed like the lily, pure white, but after skating around in the mud a few minutes the original color of the uniform was hard to discover. The game began at 3:45 o'clock, and the guying a few minutes later. Every play, good or bad, was greeted with yells. Price, the boss "yeller" of New Orleans, took a day off in order to grease his tonsils and have his lungs repaired. Jones of the West Ends was the best coacher, and when a black man reached his bass Jones offered these suggestions:

"Watch 'im dar, watch 'im. Hyar dar; watch dat ball. Now, niggah, go dar; go. Hyar you; get dar. Oh sho man, is you boardin at dat base!"

The West Ends were very rugged in their fielding, but made some good hits. Each man going to bat was advised to "Swiper er over de fence, now den, niggah, kill dat ball. Sho, man, wat's you tryin to do, anyhow?"

...The Pinchbacks took the lead from the start and came near shutting out the St. Louis men. They consider the West Ends "pie." Johnson, Jones and Bracey played well for the West Ends, and all the Pinchbacks showed good form. The New Orleans second baseman proved to be a corker, while Johnson lined them down in a way that made the West Ends sick.
-St. Louis Republic, August 26, 1888

The final score of the game was 6-1. The "P.S.P. Pinchback" mentioned in the article,one has to assume, was P.B.S. Pinchback, the African-American Republican governor of Louisiana from 1872-1873, whose photo is posted above.

The images below were included in the text of the article:

Any questions about how black baseball and black ballplayers were portrayed in the St. Louis press in the 19th century?

The images, the language and the tone speak for themselves. Black baseball was not to be taken seriously by white society. It was minstrelsy. Both white and black baseball were seen as entertainment but white baseball was the supreme competition for athletic superiority on the playing fields while black baseball was a clown show. Arlie Latham's "coaching" was seen as an annoying distraction from the game and undignified while the antics of Price and Jones were portrayed as a defining characteristic of black baseball. What was not acceptable among white ballplayers was fine among black ballplayers because black baseball was not real baseball. That's the message that comes through the 19th century newspaper coverage.

Black baseball was not worthy of coverage by the white sporting press and, when it was covered, the emphasis was never on the game itself. The emphasis was always on a stereotype that the writer wanted to perpetuate. The coverage of 19th century baseball in the St. Louis press was never about chronicling the game but about defining blacks and their place in St. Louis society.


David Ball said...

Have you seen coverage in a broad enough selection of papers to tell whether the treatment of the black teams and their fans differs according to the political sympathies (and probably the readership) of the paper?

David Ball said...

Another question as an afterthought: was it common by the late 1880's for an amateur game to get such full coverage in the St. Louis papers?

We shouldn't allow the condescending aspects of the article (with the exception of the cartoons really rather mild, compared to some I've seen from the period) to overshadow other aspects of it.

james e. brunson said...

The political treatment of black teams and their fans can be interpreted through blackface minstrelsy; minstrelsy finds expression not only in a broad range of print media (cartoons, illustrations, advertisements, news stories, sports, etc.) during the antebellum and postbellum era; it also parallels the rise of baseball as professional entertainment.

Knowledge of history and tradition, critical insight, humor, and intimate human interest angles transformed unpretentious, if not mundane, baseball narratives into an ornate literary form: sports writing. Sports writing infused baseball narratives with jargon, puns, and exaggeration. While traditional narratives provided inning-by-inning or play-by-play accounts, another approach appropriated the blackface vernacular. It described black ball games as minstrel performances, complete with comedic antics, and the protocols of the blackface mask (black skin, “negro” dialect, bulging eyes, thick lips and toothy grins). Fact and fiction blurred, suggesting collusion between the print media and sporting fraternity.

The aftermath of the Civil War unleashed an outpouring of blackface minstrelsy. In the 1870s, minstrelsy’s comedic antics began to circulate in the baseball sports medium:
1) The print media linked baseball to theater managers, promoters, burnt cork artists and the extravagant and lavish performances of blackface farce.
2) Journalists applied the visual/verbal protocols of blackface performance to baseball sports writing. These narratives exploited the blackface mask (black skin, “negro” dialect, bulging eyes, thick lips and toothy grins).
3) Graphic artists working for print houses and newspapers produced baseball visual representations that appropriated burnt cork images.

Below is a theatrical example of how blackface baseball minstrelsy circulated:

Fayette Welch (Patrick Walsh) joined New York City's Hooley’s Minstrels in the late 1860s; Welch was “uproariously applauded for his imitations of darkey singing.”

The Brooklyn Eagle added: “[Welch] is one of the best end men that Mr. Hooley has ever had in his company, and gives us to-day a better representation of the genuine ‘nigger’ than is to be found outside of Brooklyn.” In 1872, the Welch, Hart & Clarke Minstrels toured Illinois and Missouri. Welch became a prominent member of the western sporting fraternity, associating with its gamblers, prizefighters, ballplayers, and sporting ladies. As a solo entertainer, he performed at Deagle’s Theater in St. Louis, and established “a fine reputation as a burnt cork artist of the better class.” During a benefit for prizefighters at Deagle’s, Welch responded to six curtain calls from the raucous and standing room only crowd. In 1875, the “renown darkey comedian” organized a burnt cork ball club. Welch’s blackfaced nine crossed bats with the Red Stockings of St. Louis. They donned gorgeous uniforms of white pants, red stockings buttoned up the side, ridiculously large caps, and low shoes of extraordinary size. The Red Stockings beat them, by a score of 42 to 2: “Welch said his club (they played ten men) could have beat the Reds, but it wouldn’t have looked well to beat the professionals."

While the city's top colored clubs still received covereage, St. Louis papers rarely provided in the late 1880s and 1890s team line-ups and box scores. The newspaper articles should be viewed and evaluated collectively (In this instance, the local sportswriters didn't give the games played between the Pinchbacks and Mohawks as much attention). if anytghing can be taken of vanot only the names of players, the movements of teams across the country and game results; it is also the social and political context of baseball reportage that historian Rayford Logan characterized as the "Nadir" of race realtions in the United States.

Jeffrey Kittel said...


That's an interesting question about the political sympathies of the papers. Not really sure if I can answer it. I've read a broad selection of 19th century StL papers but I'm usually skimming and looking for keywords. I'm usually just looking for the baseball news.

Coverage of amateur games seemed to wax and wane based on the popularity of the game in StL at the time. When the game was most popular, more column inches were devoted to the game and the amateur games would get more coverage. In the mid 1870s and the mid/late 1880s, it was common to see broader coverage of the game.


I think it's interesting to compare the coverage of the Browns at this time to that of the West Ends/Pinchback series. With the Browns, you got detailed inning by inning, at bat by at bat description of the game. You got box scores and compillations of statistics. The lead of the story usually gave you some color and human interest stuff but it quickly got to the details of the game itself. With this series we get basically the opposite of that; the focus is not on the game but on the antics of the players and the crowd.

This may be a development of sports writing but I think it says a great deal that it's only applied to black baseball. You can say that it also applies to the Von der Ahe stories that circulated in the 1890s but those stories never detracted from the game accounts. You'd have a straight forward account of the game and then a VdA story as a sidebar. There is just a distinct difference in the way white and black baseball was covered and portrayed in the press that goes beyond the number of column inches that was devoted to each.

David is correct that the condescending aspects of these articles shouldn't overshadow other aspects. There's a great deal of information in the articles and that's important. But the thing that struck me and that I choose to emphasize was the tone, the language and the images. I think I've talked about it before, to a certain extent, but these articles really drive the point home.

james e. brunson said...


Simply put, I wanted to offer a historical overview of how the "tone, language, and image" of blackface minstrelsy emerged in baseball accounts. I agree with Mr. Ball's view that there are other things in the accounts. Conversely, such accounts have a beginning and I we lose part of the larger issue--why were they popular and how was this cultural practice achieved?

The treament of colored clubs could depend not only upon the tone of a specific paper but the time period and the so-called sophistication of the sportswriter as well. Read, for example, the reports about the 1883 Black Stockings in Saginaw, Michigan. The reportage is clean and dry, inning by inning accounts... no derisive comments at all. However, one Rockford newspaper humorously derided the 1883 Black Stockings as blackface minstrels.

One answer rests with the amount of time that a specific newspaper had published sporting accounts and the presence of a local club. Some sportswriters had literary aspirations (I'm thinking of Mark Twain) and such writing would have proved marketable to contemporary magazine periodicals.