They were dubbed an “extraordinary attraction” featuring players who “would be in the big leagues but for the fact that their race bars them.”
In the summer of 1921, the Calgary Black Sox challenged teams and entertained fans as they traveled from Chicago to Alberta and back again.
While they represented the Canadian city with “Calgary” across their chests, none of them hailed from the community of 63,305 and only a few had played baseball there in previous years.
Little is documented about the Black Sox, their origins, tour and eventual demise, so we decided to dive into the history books and newspapers of yesteryear to learn more about the barnstorming squad.
BLACK SOX BACKSTORY
Touring teams filled with Negro Leagues ball players were nothing new to North America, or Canada for that matter.
In mid-August 1920, the Winnipeg Colored Giants, featuring future stars like Buck Ewing, made their way into a number of Alberta communities with tournaments in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Barons.
The Giants opened this province’s leg of the tour with a 9-7 win over the Medicine Hat Monarchs in front of a packed house.
“The game was real snappy throughout and very amusing to the majority of the fans,” wrote the Medicine Hat News on August 6th.
“The dark boys kept them laughing all most of the time while their plays were very brilliant in many cases.”
“We will have to hand it to them that they have a nifty little ball club and deserve full stands wherever they play.”
After 9-5 and 10-6 wins in Lethbridge, the Giants edged future Alberta Sports Hall of Fame pitcher Lester “Slim” Haynes and the Barons squad 10-9.
They returned to both Medicine Hat and Lethbridge in the following weeks, winning three and tying the Windy City bunch once.
The Giants continued to receive plenty of positive publicity wherever they went, including Calgary, where the team photo was featured as the main image in the sports section of The Morning Albertan on September 4th, 1920.
“The Giants are undisputedly the premier colored ball team in America, and the humor that they put into their playing is a treat for fans,” the paper wrote in the photo’s caption.
“This will be the first opportunity that Calgary fans have had to see in action the team that for years proved such a big sensation in Chicago.”
However, not everyone was willing to welcome the team with open arms.
Further down on that same page, the paper wrote: “The president of the amateur baseball league says Calgary amateurs cannot play against the Winnipeg Giants. That’s jake, they’ll all be able to play because none of them are amateurs, except Freddy Lepper and he couldn’t tour this summer on account of business reasons.”
The games went on and the Giants faced the Lethbridge All-Stars again, with the visitors taking both contests 10-3.
“A farce with the only thing short a circus band was about the whole story of the Chicago Giants-Lethbridge game at Victoria Park yesterday,” wrote the Albertan on September 7th.
“No team of semi-pros in Western Canada would make a match with the colored team is the opinion of local fans who watched the two performances yesterday.”
They had also hoped to play in Edmonton, but weren’t able to make arrangements, only to stop in the capital on their way to Saskatoon before heading home for the fall.
A FEATURE ATTRACTION
Not only did the Union Giants tour around North America in 1920, but so did the Baltimore Black Sox.
While the Sox didn’t make their way up to Alberta, they were acclaimed as “among the strongest colored teams in the country” by several newspaper writers in the United States.
In the spring of 1921, the two teams met up in Appleton, Wisconsin to face a local team, but both ended up losing.
“It was decided to select the best players from both teams and form one organization which will be able to meet the best teams in the country on equal terms,” wrote the Post-Crescent on May 4th, 1921. “This team will be known as the Calgary Black Sox and will play here Sunday afternoon.”
While it’s not said outright how the Black Sox had become associated with Calgary, it was later revealed in the Albertan that Calgary businessman Charlie Ross owned the team for the summer.
“When Charlie Ross and his Black Sox come to Alberta for a series, there will be some smart baseball served up, as the club, comprised of colored players, has been carrying on a big barn-storming trip in the States and capturing the majority of games,” promoted the paper on July 19th.
BUILT TO WIN
Led by former Indianapolis ABCs and Chicago Giants first baseman Sam “SS” Gordon, the team set off on a busy schedule of games through the U.S.
Everywhere they went, they were met with intrigue and speculation about how good they were.
“A special attraction is offered at the fair grounds,” noted the Stevens Point Journal on May 9th. “The team is said to be an aggregation of unusual strength.”
The roster was highlighted by Frank Wickware, a hard-throwing righthander nicknamed “Rawhide” and “The Red Ant.”
He was one of the premier Negro league pitchers between 1910 and 1920, including highly publicized games he played with the Mohawk Giants in 1914 against a barnstorming team known as Walter Johnson’s All-Americans, named after the Washington Senators ace.
Touted as a “test of the best white pitcher against the best colored twirler,” the two went head-to-head with the Giants winning 1-0.
Also on the mound for the Sox was Scottie Hendrix. Nicknamed “Iron Man,” the 37-year-old had most-notably pitched for the Lincoln Giants in 1918.
Behind the plate for the Sox was James Bray, a 22-year-old who didn’t make his Negro Leagues debut until 1925 with the Chicago American Giants. He was also a part of Chicago’s 1927 Colored World Series championship team.
Another veteran on the squad was outfielder James Lynch, who had made several stops during his career including with the French Lick Plutos and Dayton Marcos.
And newspapers also boasted about “Kid” Anderson, a shortstop who was thought of as one of the best infielders in the country. Like many of his teammates, Bobby Anderson had spent the previous season with the Chicago Giants.
With a healthy mix of experience on the roster, the Black Sox embarked on a lengthy American road trip where they would win nearly 80% of their games before they crossed the border and headed for “home.”
A STOP IN SASKATCHEWAN
Before making their way to Alberta, the Sox started their Canadian trek in Saskatchewan.
The club received rave reviews following dates in Moose Jaw and Swift Current, with fans taking a particular shining to catcher James Bray, whose name was misspelled in an article.
“One of the great features of the games to the fans minds was the work of Grey, the husky catcher for the visitors, who did all the receiving in the evening game,” wrote the Swift Current Sun on July 29.
“This bird is the sweetest thing in the catching line that has ever been around these parts, and funny, oh baby, he had them all knocked cuckoo.”
Meanwhile, word was starting to spread in Alberta’s foothills about the upcoming tour by the Black Sox.
“The players hail from various cities in the United States, although when playing across the border, they had quite a laugh on the fans by telling them that they hailed from Calgary,” wrote the Albertan on August 1st.
“Besides playing real baseball, the Black Sox carry several comedians, who inject enough comedy into the game that the fans are kept in a joyous mood throughout.”
Ross told the paper that baseball fans like to laugh and have as much fun as possible, while also enjoying the game itself.
While no Alberta papers recounted the humourous moments on the field, the Post-Crescent did liken the Sox to a “vaudeville team” that “kept the fans in good humor.”
CALLING CALGARY HOME
The Black Sox would call Victoria Park in Calgary home for a few games, starting with a four-game sweep against Drumheller.
Reporters found themselves impressed with the quality of baseball they saw.
“That the Black Sox are one of the classiest bunch of ball tossers that ever performed before Calgary fans has been demonstrated throughout the series and there can be little doubt but that this aggregation could give the best in the Western Canada league a good tussle,” wrote the Albertan on August 8.
That same ballpark was where the Sox faced their first hint of adversity a few days later, as they fell 7-2 to the Central Alberta All-Stars. They were able to regroup and wallop the home team by scores of 12-1 and 12-8 in a doubleheader.
They wrapped up their Victoria Park sojourn with two wins against Red Deer, before heading to Big Valley for a one-day tournament, which didn’t go as planned.
Three games were played that day, with Drumheller knocking off the hosts 4-2 while the Black Sox fell 7-4 to the Nacmine Monarchs in an 11-inning marathon.
The Monarchs had loaded up with former professional players like Elmer Leifer, Karl “Junk” Walters and Harry Huser, who had been playing for the Western Canada League’s Moose Jaw Millers before the team folded during what turned out to be a controversial season.
READ MORE: The Buckin’ Bronks
They ended up winning the prize money with an 8-7 win over Drumheller.
The Black Sox stuck around “The Badlands” for a few more games, where they began a best-of-five series with the Drumheller Miners.
On August 20th, the Sox fell 4-2, then beat their hosts 15-2 the following day. However, with Huser on the mound for the Miners, the Sox came up empty in a 6-3 loss in the third game, before falling 10-2 in the finale.
“The Miners are the first club in Canada to win a series from the colored team, and local fans now boast the semi-pro championship of Alberta for their club,” wrote the Albertan on August 25th.
For a more detailed breakdown of each game, we recommend checking out At The Plate’s recount of each contest.
The series loss wasn’t the only bad news that hit the Black Sox that day, as the team was also deemed to be ineligible by E.D. Battrum, the secretary of the Alberta Amateur Athletic Union.
“Any amateur playing against the team now touring Western Canada under the title of Calgary Black Sox will automatically suspend themselves under the Amateur Baseball Association and their amateur cards will be cancelled,” Battrum was quoted in the Calgary Herald.
“The Black Sox are a team of colored ball players hailing from the United States, and are ineligible to participate in any kind of organized baseball.”
With that, the Sox were forced to head south of the border again, playing in Fargo, North Dakota, before wrapping up their tour where it began: Appleton, Wisconsin.
On October 9th, the Sox fell 6-2 to the Appleton Brants in front a small crowd of fans.
It was the one-and-only year that “Calgary” was emblazoned on the fronts of the Black Sox jerseys, as team organizers met again in Illinois the following spring.
“Another strong colored semi-pro ball club has entered the Chicago territory this year with the reorganization of the Calgary Black Sox as the Chicago Grey Sox,” wrote the Chicago Tribune.
“The team is managed by Frank Duncan, formerly of the American Giants, and will make its first appearance Sunday in a practice game.”
The Calgary Black Sox finished the 1921 season with a record of 91 wins and 28 losses.
In many newspaper accounts, players were only referred to by their last name, and, in some cases, they were misspelled. Following is our best account of the roster of players who made up the Calgary Black Sox:
- S.S. Gordon – manager – long-time player including with Chicago and French Lick
- A. Arnold – pitcher – unknown
- W. Avery – pitcher – unknown
- Bobby Anderson, shortstop/second base – Chicago American Giants
- Bobby Boyd, outfielder – Chicago American Giants
- James Bray, catcher – Chicago American Giants
- Frank Duncan, first base – captain who played with several teams in his career
- Scottie Hendrix, pitcher – Lincoln Giants
- James Lynch, outfielder – Several teams
- L. Moorman, infielder – unknown
- Andrew Reed, third base – Detroit Stars, St. Louis Giants
- Scotty – outfielder – unknown
- Clarence Walters, pitcher – Milwaukee Bears
- Frank Wickware, pitcher – Several teams
- W. Meyers, utility – spelled a number of ways including “Vanderbilt Meyers” and “William Myers.”
If you have any further insight or background on some of the players who suited up for the Calgary Black Sox, email firstname.lastname@example.org, as we would love to properly document the history of what was a great touring team.