ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Three vintage photographs link the related exhibits “Negro League Baseball” and “521 All Stars: A Championship Story of Baseball and Community.”
One of those three photos should be of special interest to New Mexicans. It shows 10 black men in baseball uniforms with “Troop L” emblazoned on their jerseys. Several of them are holding bats.
They are members of the baseball team of Troop L, Ninth Cavalry, Fort Wingate, N.M., near Gallup. The caption says 1899 is the year the photo was taken and these men, joined by two others in army uniforms, are Buffalo Soldiers, the nickname given black soldiers by the Indians they fought.
“I put that there to show that blacks were playing baseball in the earliest times of the game,” said Tom Lark, who curated the exhibits.
Lark speculated that Troop L would have played against segregated companies of black troops and white troops.
“They played for the fun of it,” he said.
Since the photo caption provides only basic information, the viewer may wonder what are the names of these baseball players/soldiers of Troop L. Did the team have its own diamond? What was its record that year? Who were the better players? Who were their opponents?
The photo connects a large exhibit of black-and-white photographs about a baseball team in Rembert, S.C., known as the 521 All Stars with an exhibit about the history of professional Negro baseball in the United States with photographs, posters and a placard of trading cards.
In the East, black baseball teams sprouted after the end of the Civil War and during Reconstruction. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that teams began to successfully organize into leagues on the East Coast and the Midwest.
One of the most prominent team organizers was Andrew “Rube” Foster. He was honored with his image on a 44-cent postage stamp.
During the 1920s and in next two decades there were such teams as the Newark Eagles, the Baltimore Black Sox, the New York Black Yankees, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Kansas City Monarchs.
Two Monarchs who later gained famed in the Major Leagues were pitcher Satchel Paige and infielder Jackie Robinson. Robinson was a historic figures because he broke the color line of the previously all-white Major Leagues when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him in 1947.
A poster in the exhibit promotes the 1945 Negro League World Series between the Monarchs and the Newark Eagles. The poster noted the Monarchs’ lineup included Paige and Buck O’Neil, the first black coach in the majors and the Eagles’ team with Larry Doby and Monte Irvin, who also played in the majors.
The All Stars exhibit is based on a collection of photographs published in a book in 1998.
The team played weekends. Admission was $2. Its home field was dirt and the stands were a ramshackle affair – “scrap metal, plywood, shipping pallets, sheets of tin.” The team’s name was spray painted on a sign at the ballpark.
“The whole scene seemed to be a flashback to the old Negro League, and the level of play was quite high,” Frye Gaillard wrote in a gallery guide text.
Lark said that to him the exhibits are not just about the sport.
“When I give tours, I try to give people an idea that it’s the three Hs – heritage, history and hope,” Lark said. “This is for any human being.”
In America, there’s the idea that you can do anything if you work hard enough, and that applies to baseball, too.