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Colorado baseball history, Part 1: The shifting color line

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, January 21, 2022

With the lockout holding strong and the start of spring training and possibly the Rockies season opener on March 31 in Los Angeles against the Dodgers in doubt, it’s challenging to start previewing the 2022 season. So instead of looking ahead, this series will look to the past at the vast and diverse history of baseball in Colorado.

It all started back in 1990. Colorado was making a pitch to be home to a Major League Baseball team. By July 5, 1991, it was official: Denver would be home to the National League’s Colorado Rockies. It was so exciting to know that MLB was coming to the Mile High City.

In reality, though, Colorado has been a hotbed for baseball since at least the 1860s — before Colorado was even a state. From the 1860s to the 1940s, there were dozens of semi-pro teams, mining teams, collegiate teams, amateur teams, boys and girls youth teams, and barnstorming events that even brought Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig to Denver.

While most people know the famous story of Jackie Robinson breaking MLB’s color barrier on April 15, 1947, the truth about integration and segregation in baseball outside of MLB is much more complicated. More than 60 years before that, several Black players played on integrated teams in Colorado and the state also played host to more than a dozen Black baseball teams.

With hundreds of teams all over the country in dozens of leagues in the late 19th century, many specific names and details are lost to history. From the 1870s through the 80s, at least 70 Black players were on the roster of different teams in the United States. One of those players was John W. Jackson, aka “Bud” Fowler, who is credited as the first Black player to play professional baseball when he took the field for a Massachusetts team in 1878.

Fowler played for dozens of teams in 22 states and Canada, including the Colorado State League’s Pueblo Pastimes in 1885, becoming a trailblazer for other Black players, like George Taylor, William Castone, and brothers Zack and Bill Dean, in Colorado to integrate white teams.

Earning entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame through the Early Baseball Era Committee, Fowler will be enshrined on July 24 in Cooperstown. Fowler played 10 years on minor league teams, amassing 2,039 at-bats with 628 hits, 455 runs, 112 doubles, 38 triples, 190 stolen bases, and a .308 average. Even though some players started wearing gloves in 1875 and on, Fowler never did whether he was pitching or playing second base.

Foster played for numerous teams in his 30-year career and suffered horrible acts of racism by his own teammates and from other teams, who did everything from not taking the field if he was on it to them purposefully injuring him by throwing at him and spiking him.

In 1867, two years after the Union’s victory in the Civil War “the National Association of Baseball Players would not allow any ball club with even one ‘person of color’ to join their association,” according to famed Colorado baseball historian Jay Sanford. Ten years later, the MLB officially took root as the National League with its first games. By 1887, the International League banned teams from signing Black players. While few official bans like this were on the books, MLB owners adopted Jim Crow policies and formed a “gentleman’s agreement” that officially segregated the league around the same time.

In 1884, the Pueblo Blues became the first Black team in Colorado. According to Sanford, the Blues placed advertisements challenging white teams to games where the winner could earn over $100 (which would be about $2,800 in today’s dollars). Over the next 50-plus years, over a dozen Black teams formed around the state. The team with the most staying power, and the one that helped two Colorado natives on their way to the Negro Leagues, was the Denver White Elephants.

The first Black semi-pro team in the state, the White Elephants played from 1915-1935, mostly against white teams. The team was owned by A.H.W. Ross, the famous businessman and politician who also owned the Rossonian Hotel in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. The White Elephants played on a field at 23rd St. and Welton, close to Lawson Park and the Blair Caldwell African American Research Library (a branch of the Denver Public Library) today.

The White Elephants fielded talents like Tom “Pistol Pete” Albright, a pitcher who would end up playing for the Bacharach Giants and New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues, and Theodore “Bubbles” Anderson, a second baseman who played in Denver from 1920-21 before making his way to the Negro Leagues and played for the Kansas City Monarchs, Washington Potomacs, Birmingham Black Barons, and the Indianapolis ABCs.

While the talent was endless around the state, Sanford clearly states the impact of Black teams in Denver and beyond.

“A remarkable fact to consider is that all the black clubs noted here flourished in an era when African-Americans represented only 3.2 % of Denver’s population. This indicates that the fan base for black teams included whites and African-Americans buying tickets and sitting shoulder to shoulder in the stands. The ballpark provided a rare venue for members of these two races to associate socially.”

Even though the White Elephants folded in 1935, their mark on baseball in Colorado in undeniable. In their final years, they played in the Denver Post Tournament, a historic competition known as the “Little World Series of the West,” which will be the focus of Part 2 next week.

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Rockies announce Triple-A coaching staff, with Warren Schaeffer returning as manager and Jordan Pacheco tabbed as hitting coach | Denver Post ($)

Aiming for a winning record for the first time since the Albuquerque Isotopes became the Rockies Triple-A affiliate in 2015, the Isotopes announced Warren Schaeffer will be back at the helm in 2022. It will be Schaeffer’s second year as manager, but he will have a new supporting cast of coaches, including former Rockie Jordan Pacheco.

Pacheco, an Albuquerque native, played all over the infield for the Rockies from 2011 to halfway through 2014, will be the hitting coach. Former Double-A Hartford pitching coach Frank Gonzalez, the father of former Rocky Mountain High School standout and current Seattle ace Marco Gonzalez, will now be the pitching coach in Albuquerque. Pedro Lopez, the Isotopes hitting coach last season, will now be Schaeffer’s bench coach.

Rox prospect Romo makes noise on the field | MLB.com

When it comes to being serious and studious, Drew Romo could be the next Nolan Arenado or Troy Tulowitzki. In this feature by Thomas Harding, Romo, the Rockies first-round supplemental pick in the 2020 Draft (35th overall) and our No. 8 PuRP in the last rankings in February 2021, had a remarkable season for the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies in his MiLB debut. His .314 batting average, 47 RBI, 17 doubles, and six homers helped him earn all-league honors. Even better, he is enforcing curfews in hotels, catching as many pitchers as he can, and developing habits to call strategic games due to his intense preparation.

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