African American Baseball in San Diego
On the second Tuesday of each month, watch a presentation at 1:00 pm in our Thornton Theater.
Long before Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball’s color barrier, San Diego’s first African-American baseball team, the Young Giants, was formed in 1899 and played against the top white teams in the county. In 1906, an African-American catcher named Sanders played on San Diego’s first integrated baseball team, Star Cycle. “Colored teams,” as they were called back then, were very popular when they played in San Diego. Rube Foster’s Chicago Colored American Giants spent the winter of 1912-1913 in San Diego.
They played 24 games against the mighty San Diego Bears, 1911 champions of the California Winter League. The Bears roster included major and minor league players. San Diego won 14 of the games against the Giants.
Before returning to Chicago, the American Giants played a five-games series against the Portland Beavers. Chicago won four of those games and the Beavers would go on to win the Pacific Coast League championship that year.
The American Giants were good… very good. In 1920, Rube Foster would become the founding father of Negro League Baseball.
Negro League teams continued to barnstorm in San Diego into the 1940s. Four San Diegans, Walter McCoy, Johnny Ritchey, Gene Richardson and Neale Henderson would play in the Negro Leagues.
In 1948, Johnny Ritchey became the “Jackie Robinson of the Pacific Coast League” when he “broke the color barrier” playing for his home town San Diego Padres.
About the Free Tuesday Talk Series
Come to the History Center on the second Tuesday of each month for a presentation about our shared history—both popular and obscure—and uncover something new! Join a monthly conversation about San Diego’s untold stories relevant to a changing community. Free Tuesday Talks are always free with Give Forward admission.
About Bill Swank
In 1995, Bill Swank and James D. Smith III wrote about the original San Diego Padres in The Journal of San Diego History. Swank went on to author or co-author ten books – six about baseball – and has been called “San Diego’s preeminent baseball historian.” He has written numerous articles for The National Pastime, The Baseball Research Journal, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Our Heritage (SOHO), DownBeat, USAthletics and The Clairemont Times among others. For three years, Swank played second base for the legendary bearded House of David baseball team that barnstormed against Negro League teams. Satchel Paige called them “The Jesus Boys.” He is the only Santa Claus to have played for HOD and famously resurrected their hidden-ball-in-the-beard trick.