Barnstormers: The Negro League All-Stars in Davenport

When I look around, I see the world as it has been my whole life and sometimes neglect to think about Davenport’s past. Since I was young, going to a baseball game and viewing people of all ages and nationalities playing baseball has been a normal experience. However, it is interesting to look back, and research a time when there was only one color on the baseball field.

In the early 1900’s baseball was still a young sport made up of predominantly white males. In 1878, Bud Fowler was the first paid African American baseball player, though he played only for the minor leagues. Nine years later, all baseball teams banned the signing of African American baseball players.   It took 33 years for an official “Negro” League to start up and in 1933 the first Negro season took off.

After they formed their own leagues, Negro teams would compete in games against major and minor league baseball players in what were known as Barnstorming exhibition games. Muscatine promoter Ray L. Doan brought a Barnstorming trip to Davenport on Tuesday October 5th, 1937 at the Davenport Municipal Stadium.   The bill was set with the Major League All-Stars vs. the Negro League All-Stars, and was said to be a very exciting face off.

Four thousand fans were in attendance, excited to see Major League talent playing in Davenport, and curious to see if the Negro League stars would prove to be enough competition for them. This game brought in major league players such as Gus Suhr, Johnny Mize, Vince DiMaggio, Lou Fette, Lon Warneke, and Tony Gutteridge. The Negro team included Cool Papa Bell, Willard Brown, Frank Duncan, Newt Allen and Bill Sims.

Lonnie Warnecke of the St. Louis Cardinals was the winning pitcher for the Major League All-Stars, shutting out the Negro League Stars in the first 2 innings of the game. Warnecke, Lou Fette, Jim Weaver and Mike Ryba decided to each play 2 innings per game, instead of each playing an entire game on the trip. The Major Leaguers connected for 9 hits and allowed 1 error in the first inning.

Tony Gutteridge, a 3rd baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, was the standout for the Major League team, hitting one of the two home runs of the game, which went 370 feet to left field. Gutteridge had a great day at the bat, hitting a triple, a single and reached first base on a walk. He also made some impressive plays on the field, thrilling the crowd with his speed and agility.

Willard Brown, a left fielder for the Negro League Stars, came out with a 2 run home run that flew 400 feet in center field off pitcher Mace Brown of the Pirates. This spectacular gentleman also caught an amazing hit into left field from Johnny Mize. 

The game ended with a collision between Mueller of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sims, which resulted in cuts to their forehead and required several stitches.

The final score of this amazing game was 5-3, in favor of the Major League All-Stars.

Barnstorming exhibition games continued, with stars like Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller and Satchel Paige facing off all over the country. In the 1960’s, the National Negro League and the National Baseball League joined together.

Sometimes everyday things, like watching a baseball game full of diverse people, are taken for granted.  I know in my everyday life I don’t think about whether sports teams were segregated, but that is a part of our history, and something that we can still learn from today.  I am proud to live in a city where races could play baseball in the same stadium.

(posted by Cristina and Katie)

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Sources:

Barthel, T. (2007). Baseball barnstorming and exhibition games, 1901-1962. McFarland & Company.

“Major League Stars Invade Municipal Stadium Tonight to Meet Colored Players”. (1937, October 5). Davenport Democrat and Leader , p. 11.

“Major Leaguers Pun on Real Show to Beat Colored Stars Before 4,000 Fans”. (1937, October 6). Davenport Democrat and Leader , p. 20.

McNeil, W. F. (2000). Baseball’s other all-stars. McFarland & Company.

Peterson, R. (1970). Only the ball was white. Prentice-Hall.

“Sports from the Wings.” (1937, October 6). Muscatine Journal , p. 12.

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