Fans admired the Cuban Giants baseball team for its athletic skills, and Granville, Washington County, NY baseball promoters admired the black baseball team for its draw at the gate.
About 1,000 people, “including many ladies,” with groups of baseball enthusiasts traveling from Rutland, Whitehall, Glens Falls and Troy, attended the June 26, 1890 game when the Cuban Giants defeated the Granville Granvilles 7-0.
“The multitude came to witness a good game of ball and that ambition was satisfied,” The Granville Sentinel reported on July 4, 1890. Yet racism prevailed in the headline, which proclaimed, “The Darkies Played Nobly.”
The paper described Gifford, pitcher for the Cuban Giants, as “the colored boy.”
Racism was again interjected into news coverage in 1892, when the Cuban Giants returned to the region for a week-long road trip, including two games against the Champlains, a black baseball team comprised of employees of the Hotel Champlain at Bluff Point, near Plattsburgh.
“As we go to press, the earth jars with a mighty conflict at Rouses Point between [the Cuban Giants] and the Hotel Champlains, who are thought to be a full match for them in skill as well as color and coaching wit,” the Plattsburgh Republican reported on August 20, 1892. “The latest news from the field is that perspiration flows freely, and the air is so black with minstrel jokes that the roosters are crowing.”
The hometown teams that played The Cuban Giants were often underdogs, still, fans turned out in droves because of the caliber of baseball the black team brought to the area.
The Granville Athletic Club, which owned the Granville baseball diamond and The Granvilles, a local semi-professional baseball team established a year earlier, was happy in 1890 with the gate receipts.
After all, the local team had not been expected to win.
“They have the satisfaction of knowing that an immense number of people paid to see it done – and money is what the athletic association was principally after.”
Prior to the June 29 game, the Cuban Giants had already played several times in Washington County in the 1890 season against the Greenwich Mutuals, winning twice and losing once.
“The Cuban Giants, since their first visit in the town, have spent a good deal of their idle time here, and seem to like the place very well,” the Greenwich correspondent reported in the Sentinel.
Later in the summer, The Cuban Giants defeated Whitehall 7-6 on July 29, playing for a crowd that included many out-of-town visitors.
Inconsistent reporting makes it difficult to definitively say that this was the same Cuban Giants team that was the first Black American baseball team.
The Granville Sentinel identifies the team as the Cuban Giants of Newark, N.J.
There was a team in Newark called The Little Giants that played off and on from the 1886-1890 seasons, and at times had black players, according to blackpast.org, a black history website.
However, The Little Giants played in professional leagues and would not be as likely to barnstorm from town to town playing independent teams.
It is possible that the Sentinel confused Newark with Trenton.
The original Cuban Giants, established in 1885 at the Argyle Hotel at Babylon, NY, in Suffolk County, were sold in 1886 to Walter Cook, who moved the team to Trenton, NJ., according to the Society for American Baseball Research and blackpast.org.
In 1890, the team was moved to York, Pa. the name changed to the Colored Monarchs of York.
On Aug. 11, 1892, The Whitehall Times reported that The Cuban Giants of New York City, scheduled to play at Whitehall, was the same team that played in the area in 1890.
“The Cuban Giants are the champion, colored team of the country,” the Times reported. “It will be remembered that when the Cuban Giants were here two years ago, a most exciting game was played.”
In 1892, the Cuban Giants played a week-long series of games in the Champlain Valley:
August 15 –at Whitehall
August 16 –Defeated U.V.M.’s 10-6 at Rutland
August 17 – Defeated U.V.M.’s 1-0 at Burlington
August 18 – Defeated U.V.M.’s 5-3
August 19 – Lost to Champlains 7-5
“The game was an excellent one for the spectators, abounding in brilliant plays. Four home runs were made and great excitement prevailed from start to finish,” The Elizabethtown Post reported on August 25, 1892.
August 20 – Defeated Champlains 5-3 with about 700 people attending the game On September 25, the Champlains traveled to New York City and lost to the Cuban Giants 18-1, The Elizabethtown Post reported on September 28,1892.
Perhaps the success of the Cuban Giants at drawing fans influenced an attempt by another Washington County community to recruit a black baseball team.
“There is no baseball nine in this place, and there is a great possibility the Gorhams, the New York colored club, will locate here,” the Cambridge correspondent to the Sentinel reported on July 4, 1890.
There was no further mention of the recruiting attempt in subsequent 1890 issues, but the Gorhams were scheduled to play a game in Washington County in the 1891 season against the U.V.M’s of Burlington at Whitehall, the Sentinel reported on Aug. 14, 1921.
Baseball historian Tony Kissell writes on his blog that U.V.M. won the game 3-2, and that Glens Falls defeated the Gorhams on August 21.
Washington County also had a series of integrated baseball teams in this era.
James E. Brunson III wrote in his 2019 book Black Baseball, 1858-1900, that John E. Gifford of Washington County played for the Cambridge Acorns in 1889, the Granvilles in 1890, the Granville Salems in 1891, all primarily white teams, and for the Cuban Giants of Hoboken, N.J. in 1892.
The People’s Journal of Greenwich reported that Gifford, “the colored third baseman” for the Acorns, had “two heavy hits” when the Acorns defeated the Fosters 9-0.
Photo: One of the many baseball teams that used the Cuban Giants name at the turn of the last century.
David Fiske says
Among those who played for the Cuban Giants was a grandson of Solomon Northup (of Twelve Years a Slave fame), Harry “Zip” Northrup. This article summarizes his career in baseball.
Dave Nathan says
As a North Country native and lifelong baseball fan (I met Bobby Thomson as a teenager in the 50s at a Lake George restaurant and it has been downhill since then!), I very much enjoyed reading this piece and appreciate the great research that went into putting it together.
-Dave Nathan Bethesda, Maryland
Leslee Keys says
The image of the Cuban Giants is taken at the home field on which they played each winter for nearly a decade, the grounds of Fort Marion (Castillo de San Marcos), the northern boundary of St. Augustine, Florida. The Castillo is managed by the National Park Service, and the grounds are open to visitors 24/7.