Racial Pioneer Recalls Dreaming Big

By Harold MCNeil
Updated: October 18, 2005

His hair is nearly all white now, but Ted Wyatt doesn’t appear to be too many years past knocking one out of the ballpark.

Still fit and sinewy in his 70s, Wyatt has a physical presence that still recalls the man he was back in the 1950s and ’60s, when he was one of only a handful of black players in Western New York’s amateur baseball leagues.

Back then, baseball, not football or hockey, was the region’s favorite pastime. The sheer number of leagues offered Wyatt ample opportunity to indulge his passion, the Buffalo native recalled on a recent trip home for family business.

“Baseball was big in Buffalo. There were many leagues at all of the parks. Any day or any evening, you could find kids out playing baseball,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt moved to Petersburg, Va., in 1990 but fondly recalls another proud return home in 1997, for his induction into the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame. He is the first and so far only African-American so honored.

Baseball was all around Wyatt growing up on the city’s near East Side. As a kid, he first started playing in the city’s midget leagues, then went on to play in the Muny leagues and became All-High at Fosdick-Masten Park High School in 1950.

“At the time I thought I was the first black to make All-High in baseball, but I understand that back in the ’30s or ’40s there was one other black who had made All-High in baseball,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt came of age at the dawn of the integration of Major League Baseball. But even before, he dared to dream of playing in the majors.

“You had thoughts of it. When I was a kid [before] Jackie Robinson integrated baseball, he played for Montreal, which played against Buffalo, and I would go watch them play. They were one step [away] from the majors – guys like Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. . . . I thought about being in that position, and there were many, many people who thought that I would make it,” Wyatt said.

He later played with the Fort Knox Army championship team and in the mid-1950s tried out with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“There are the few that make it and a whole lot who don’t make it. I was part of the whole lot that didn’t make it . . .,” Wyatt recalled.

Locally, Wyatt played with the Cold Spring Seals and the old P&L Giants, but he spent 15 years with the Cheektowaga Travelers All-Star Team. The local leagues weren’t officially segregated, but often Wyatt was the only black player on his team. Sometimes he wasn’t treated well, he said.

Wyatt recalled being denied service at a Hamburg restaurant following a double-header in one of the town parks.

“I went in with a couple of the guys on the team. We were still in uniform. We were playing against the Hamburg team. The guy [serving in the restaurant] said: “I can serve you, but I can’t serve him.’ And the guys I was with said, “Never mind.’ ”

Once the manager of another team objected to his presence in the game, but Wyatt said he was fully accepted by his teammates and embraced by longtime coach and manager Herb Niebergall, also a Hall-of-Famer.

“Before it was even fashionable, I was “Brother Ted to him. He took me to his home and his children. He had two daughters. By the family and the community, they respected me. They loved me,” Wyatt said.

“I am honored to be in the Western New York Hall of Fame, and it was a privilege to be on the teams that I played on, particularly the team in Cheektowaga because of how well I was treated and still am treated by the players who played on that team,” he added.