In 1947, Jackie Robinson and Bobby Flynn made baseball history. The Robinson story is well known: As a rookie with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he broke baseball’s color barrier by becoming the first African-American player in the modern-era major leagues. The Flynn story may not be as famous, but it, too, represents a landmark in race relations. Click here to read the rest!
Click here to watch KET’s “Baseball in Black and White,” about the history of the Hustlers
article from The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967); July 30, 1949
You broke out in a rash of smiles and happiness when Jackie Robinson, prompted by Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, dipped his pen in ink and signed his name to a contract to play with the Montreal Royals, a minor league farm of the Dodgers. That was back in 1946.
Robinson was elevated to the Dodgers in 1947, the first Negro to crash the racial barriers in the Major Leagues.
Then Bill Veeck, colorful president of the Cleveland Indians, put Larry Doby in the Cleveland wigwam, and a few weeks later had fabulous LeRoy (Satchel) Paige in the Lake Erie tepee, and before you could say Jack Robinson, Paige was a member of the Tribe.
Since then Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe have come up to the Dodgers, and the New York Giants, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, Portland Beavers, Montreal Royals, St. Paul Saints, and month other clubs have signed Negro players. Democracy is on the rise.
But Rickey, Veeck and other major and minor league magnates are Jonnies-Come-Lately in this business of spreading democracy. The seed was sown in Lexington, Ky., four years ago, and has since sprouted into a flower of full bloom.
It was in 1945 that a group of Lexington citizens who had dreamed of democracy in sports, got together and formed the Blue Grass Athletic Club, Inc. This was the birth of the South’s only democratic baseball team.
Their action was the answer to the desire of millions of real Americans, including thousands in the South, to put democracy in action. That this action has found favor with fans throughout the country can be found in the attention the team attracted.
Team players were either born in Lexington, or have come to the bluegrass Capital from other places. The question they must answer before receiving a uniform is not “What is your race?” or “Where are you from?” Instead, the only requirements are that they be Americans and capable of playing good baseball.
And this democratic spirit has been in the inducement that has drawn players from the Birmingham Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox, former big leaguers, and from the New Zion Sluggers. New Zion is a small rural settlement just outside of Lexington.
A brief review of some of the members of this “Team of Democracy” proves interesting. Let’s start with one of the pitchers, Salvatore Mattarazzo. Mattarazzo comes from Providence, R.I. A catcher and assistant coach at Fort Knox, Ky., Mattarazzo comes up to Lexington for each game. He has a B.A. degree from the University of Maryland and a M.A. from the University of Kentucky.
The centerfielder, William (Boll Dooley) Berry got his start with the Winchester White Sox. He has been picked for a tryout with the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League.
First baseman John Will (Scoop) Brown is a recreation official in Lexington, while Everett George, pitcher, comes from Paris, Ky. He played with army teams around Santa Barbara, Calif.
Manager Carl Glass was a star pitcher with the Memphis Red Sox back in the 1920s, serving along with Larry Brown, Daddy Cunningham, Reuben Jones, and other Memphis stalwarts of that period. Glass is recognized as one of the great southpaws of the old Negro National League.
Carmel (Coots) Castle, a veteran of World War II, played with the Birmingham Black Barons, and teams in Columbia, S.C., Indianapolis, and Syracuse, N.Y.; Bobby Flynn, second baseman was the first white member to join the Hustlers. Born in Lexington, Flynn, who played with the American Legion Thoroughbreds, is playing his third year with the Hustlers. He’s a big favorite with the fans.
Walter (Beaver Dam) Mason, shortstop, is another Lexingtonian. Harold Jackson, utility player, a senior at Dunbar High School, is the youngest player on the club.
Charles (Chuck) Settles, popular catcher, has played with the Barons, Baltimore Elites, and the Columbia, S.C. Reds. He was given a trial with the Brooklyn team in 1946.
Benny Coleman is the product of the New Zion Sluggers. He served with the 772nd Engineers during the late war. Catcher Alvin Leach is another resident of Paris, Ky. He formerly played with the Germantown Eagles, Germantown Athletics, and a team in Middletown, Ohio.
Christopher Hunt, outfielder from St. Louis, has recently signed a contract to play with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro American League.
During the regular season the Hustlers met such teams as the Birmingham Black Barons, Indianapolis Clowns, Homestead Grays, Cleveland Buckeyes and New York Black Yankees. Each game is broadcast over radio station WLEX, one of Lexington’s four stations.
With the formation of the club, Ovan Haskins, district manager of Atlanta Life Insurance, was named chairman, and later voted president when the organization was approved in 1945 by the state. Members of the board of directors are: Robert H. McClaskey, vice president; Theopolis Hogue, secretary; Johnnie H. Jackson, treasurer; W. Hughes, Earnest Marshall, Dr. J.R. Dalton, James Brown, and Earl Vanmeter, who was named to fill the position of the late Roger Curd.
The corporation now has a capital stock of $20,000, which was sold to citizens at $10 a share. There are about 135 stockholders in the organization, and each is not only an ardent fan, but also takes personal interest in the operation of the company’s business.
Because of the interest of fans and city officials, the value of the stock has increased to $40 a share.
The group bought a small strip of land a short distance from Lexington, on the Newtown Pike, and leased an adjoining strip in preparation for a ball park. This was in 1945.
The team was organized in April, 1945, and a short time later played its first game. This was before the grandstand had been built. Now there is a modern grandstand with modern equipment that includes showers for the players. The park has been equipped with flood lights, permitting night games. The grandstand has a capacity of 3,000, and is usually filled when the team plays.
And on the nights the team plays, you’ll find members of the corporation, city officials, including the mayor, businessman, barbers, contractors, teachers- all interested in the “Team of Democracy,” sitting in the grandstand and yelling in the good old American fashion for the home boys to bring home the bacon.
At the same time, these fans, recognizing that their team is representative of democracy as it should be in all of America, are sticklers for good sportsmanship. They will have nothing less.