A Baseball Snapshot of the Ebony-Ivory Era

“My claws are white, but my eye are black. Call me what you will, if you like the name ‘Sand Crabs’ for your club! – What I want to know is – if you call your team the ‘Sand Crabs’ – black or white – are you going to require your hitters to run the bases sideways on a batted ball?”

Back in the days of segregated baseball, before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1946-47 that kept identifiable black players from playing ball with whites at any level of organized (“white”) baseball, the white clubs even seemed to have “first dibs” on team nick names. If the Galveston white club was named for the Sand Crabs. a species that still lives abundantly upon the beaches of the Island City on the Gulf Of Mexico, south of Houston, the professional black club from that same community was then honor bound or “culturally coerced” into calling themselves the “Black Sand Crabs”, if they so chose (which they did) to identify their own athletic efforts with the same local creature. It was a distinction made by the prefacing word “Black” that both separated and explained their club’s distinct identity from the “White” version of the same animal namesake.

Here’s a game summary for a contest played in Galveston between the Black Sandcrabs and the Black Oilers on April 24, 1921 (The article expresses “sand crabs” in one word as “sandcrabs”.):

Galveston Daily News April 25, 1921 Contributed by Darrell Pittman

Galveston Daily News
April 25, 1921
Contributed by Darrell Pittman

That same year, the 1921 Galveston (White) Sandcrabs opened their Texas League season in Houston as guests of the Houston Buffaloes at West End Park as shown in the following panorama of both clubs lined up for a festive celebratory photograph prior to their game. The Houston club occupies the left of the space facing the camera to center page – and the Galveston side-crawlers occupy the right side of the picture section in this featured image:

buffs-sand crabs21

Our apologies for the fact that the panorama photo fades almost down to an ant-size line of figures in our presentation here, but that’s OK. Photographic quality is not the point of this column.

The point here is that it is important for us to remember that the so-called “good old days” may have been simpler for some, but not all. And that today, in spite of our new technological ability to rush to even quicker, often wrong judgments of others, we also are now more strongly committed as a culture to battle against discrimination which keeps any of our people disenfranchised due to their differences from our mainstream river of opportunity in this great country. As far as I’m concerned, we haven’t lost “The American Dream” that many now mourn as having passed. We simply have found a way to deal more openly, even if we disagree on measures of change, with our search for a way to make sure that the American Dream is available fairly to all of its citizens.

Our wonderful game of Baseball (and I love to capitalize that word every time I write about it specifically in the name of love)  was part of the problem for decades. From the 19th century opposition of Hall of Famer Cap Anson through the strong-hand administration of Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis through the early to mid-1940s, an invisible, unwritten barrier to blacks kept some of the greatest ballplayers of all time from competing directly with all others at the major league level. That finally ended with the death of Landis, the surging support of Branch Rickey, and the gutsy day-to-day courage of Jackie Robinson breaking the major league color line with Brooklyn in 1947. He actually broke the color line at AAA Montreal in 1946, but had to do it also at the major league level the following season to make it stick.

The major snapshot here is not simply that all black clubs once had to use the word “black” as part of their separating identity from local clubs using the same mascot name. Those days are done. The snapshot here is that the battle against evil intent and discrimination against others for all kinds of reasons is never done. As long as ignorance, insecurity and the human ego work so well together, we shall always need to remain on guard against injustice and a retreat into old cultural fears of difference that get in the way of any hope for a shared peace and prosperity that is equivalently available to all.

Jackie Robinson # 42

Jackie Robinson
# 42

Jackie Robinson Day – and the wearing of #42 on each player’s jersey on that date in the baseball season – is undoubtedly the most important date in the season. If the day ever comes that we don’t do it any longer – and we start having a lot of young players coming up who don’t remember who Jackie Robinson was – or what he did – we are all stepping back into the deep dew of yesteryear. And I do mean “all” of us.

Jackie Robinson was not merely a figure of black liberation in American history. He also was a liberator of whites and all other races from segregation, a cultural way of life that forced us all to live in hypocrisy from the greater-sounding language of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. All of us whites who ate in restaurants and attended movies and ballgames during the era of segregation, at best, were passive participants in a system which was totally unfair to our black brothers and sisters – who either weren’t allowed to be there too – or to have anything close to a full range of choice on event seats that matched our own “whites only” options.

Discrimination is the devil we all have to keep killing because there always seems to be someone around who keeps trying to bring it back in some new or remodeled form.

My favorite black baseball club nickname from those days of ebony and ivory separation was the Galveston Flyaways. To me, it stood out as a model of hope for soaring spiritual deliverance from this world’s limitations. And they did not have to call themselves the Galveston Black Flyaways either – because there absolutely was no such white team animal.

God Bless! – The Pecan Park Eagle!

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3 Responses to “A Baseball Snapshot of the Ebony-Ivory Era”

  1. shinerbock80 Says:

    Actually, the Flyaways were initially a white semi-pro team in Galveston in the 1870s. They seem to have ceased to exist, and the black semi-pro team took up the mantle by the end of that century. It is truly a great team name, nonetheless.

  2. Rick B. Says:

    Amen to what you wrote about Jackie Robinson being a liberator for all people. If anyone wants an example of a person who had the courage to make a difference in the world in spite of all of the obstacles laid in his way, he need look no further than Jackie Robinson. Every member of the human race should admire and be proud of him.

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