In the baseball-obsessed region of Central Pennsylvania in the mid-1900s, exhibition games were all the rage.
Throughout the state, small semi-professional leagues sprouted up throughout the late nineteenth century. Williams Valley, in Dauphin County’s northern industrial heartland, was no different. Fans packed the bleachers to cheer for their home team.
Exhibition games were an interesting opportunity. In between fierce league battles, teams from around the region gathered to show off their skills and their players for new audiences.
It was one such game in the summer of 1905 that seemed to leap off the page and grab my attention.
An important note about baseball in this era. The American pastime was a deeply segregated game. The color line was nearly impenetrable.
Without a league of their own, African American ballplayers played on their own teams. The Harrisburg Giants were a successful team operated by Colonel William Strothers (their photograph from 1906 is above).
They played an independent schedule, meaning that they traveled the region playing semi-professional teams. They came to Williamstown in July 1905 to play the locals at Stoney Park.
Williamstown, July 24.
The locals played an uphill game Saturday afternoon with the Harrisburg colored Giants and lost out by a score of 3 to 2. It was a battle of pitchers between Wilkinshaw and Jackson.
The Williamstown hits were scattered. The fast field and base running of the Giants were interesting features. The score:
The Giants came out successful in their exhibition at Williamstown. The team returned to Williams Valley in the summer of 1906 to play another game against an “Upper End” club. They defeated Orwin easily.
In these coal towns, racial diversity was largely missing in the early decades of the 20th Century. It’s that local “whiteness” that fascinates me about these exhibition games.
What was it like for an African American team to come an overwhelmingly white community to play? What was the reaction from the local crowd?
On these points, the historical record remains silent, at least for now.