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The First East-West All-Star Game
NOTE: In celebration of this month’s MLB All-Star Game at Anaheim, we take a look back at the first ever Negro League East-West All-Star Classic in 1933. This article first appeared on BASN on July 11, 2005.NEW HAVEN, Ct. (BASN) — The date was September 10, 1933. It was an overcast day in Chicago as one of Negro League baseball’s longest tradition began humbly before a crowd of just over 20,000 customers at Comiskey Park.
Nearly two months after their major league brethren held its inaugural All-Star Game in the very same park, the best players in the Negro Leagues descended on the Windy City for the first East-West All-Star Classic.
Over the next two decades, the East-West Game was the highlight of any Negro League season. What the CIAA Tournament is to black college hoop fans, the All-Star Classic was to fans of Negro League baseball.
While Pittsburgh Crawford owner Gus Greenlee is commonly recognized as the brainchild behind the East-West Game, “Big Red” was actually approached with the idea by two prominent black journalists at the time.
Early in 1933, Pittsburgh sportswriters Roy Sparrow of the Sun-Telegram and Bill Nunn of the Courier initially approached longtime Homestead Grays owner Cum Posey about have two Negro League All-Stars teams playing a benefit game at New York’s Yankee Stadium.
After being turned down by the Big Apple folks, according the reports, the reporters approached Greenlee about the All-Star Game idea. Greenlee thought the game should be played in Chicago. He later approached Robert Cole, owner of the Chicago American Giants about leasing Comiskey Park.
Eventually, again according to reports, a deal was reached and the parties involved agreed on Comiskey Park and September 10 as the date for the first All-Star Classic. Unlike their major league counterparts at the time, voting for the players would be left up to the fans.
Two of the nation’s largest black newspapers, the aforementioned Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender, would be the home of the East-West All-Star ballots. Because of the paper’s locations, two teams: the Crawfords in the East and the Giants in West would dominate the fan balloting.
In fact, Pittsburgh first baseman Oscar Charleston would win the overall fan balloting, garnering over 43,000 votes. But it be Charleston’s West counterpart at first base and the brother of a Negro League legend that would dominate the headlines on this day.
Much like the legendary Babe Ruth hitting the first All-Star Game homer for the major leaguers, one of the Negro Leagues greatest home run hitters connected for the first East-West game dinger. Chicago’s Mule Suttles hit a towering two-run shot off Sam Streeter in the fourth as he helped lead the West past the East 11-7.
Lefthander Willie Foster got the win as he tossed the only complete game in East-West Game history. The brother of Negro League founder, Rube Foster, Willie scattered seven hits, struck out four, and even had an RBI single in the seventh.
Ironically, Foster would lose next year’s All-Star Classic 1-0 to Satchell Paige. With better weather, the game drew just over 30,000 fans to Comiskey, which was the unofficial home of the Classic for many years.
The 1934 Classic would also prove to be just the start of an incredible boon to Negro League baseball. Attendance figures would gradually increase for every All-Star Classic each season. In four separate seasons (1938, 1942-43, and 1946), the East-West Game outdrew the major league All-Star Game.
The game reached its zenith in attendance in 1943. Before a record crowd of 51,723 at Comiskey, the West prevailed over the East 2-1. Once again, the winning pitcher was Paige who out dueled Dave Barnhill for the victory.
To many Negro League players, being picked to play in the East-West Classic was a truly and honor. “You got a chance to play and throw against the very best”, said Newark Eagles pitcher Leon Day.
“It (playing in the All-Star Classic) always gave you a little extra, a little something pumping through your blood”.
NOTE: Black Baseball’s National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game 1933-1953 and When The Game Was Black And White: The Illustrated History of Baseball’s Negro Leagues contributed to this story.