Five years ago I started researching the 1946 West Coast Baseball Association purely off a newspaper clipping I found while doing a separate summer school project at Portland State University right before graduation. Being an ardent baseball fan, especially the history of the game, I was taken back by the thought there was actually a Negro league team in Portland, let alone the West Coast.
The more I searched, the less I found.
At the time, I was living in Northwest Portland, one block from the old Vaughn Street Ballpark where the WCBA’s Portland entry – the Rosebuds – played against WCBA teams (the Seattle Steelheads, San Francisco Sea Lions, Oakland Larks, Los Angeles White Sox and San Diego Tigers) and other barnstorming clubs. Many late nights I found myself walking past the old ballpark site that opened in 1901 before being torn down in 1956. All that remains now is a plaque noting the ballparks history, minus the Rosebuds of course. Standing on that corner, it was hard to imagine the Rosebuds taking the field in ‘46 with all the modern industrial buildings around today, but I did.
I picture it still.
That’s why I decided to do the book – that coupled with constantly being told there is nothing there to research or a story to tell.
There is a story to tell. It’s just digging and digging and digging to get to the heart of it.
After continual research and countless hours reading microfilm, starting to write a manuscript and conducting interviews with former players and relatives of former players is well underway. What started in 2003, continued with research while living in New York City and day trips to a research library in Harlem. There I found the black owned newspapers of that era. They have been priceless. So are the interviews – with William “Skinny Legs” Blair (Portland Rosebud), Harold “Beebop” Gordon (San Francisco Sea Lions….and pictured above) and the former wife of Mel Reid (Oakland Larks) – Betty Reid Soskin (truly an amazing woman).
All are well into their 80’s, but they tell Negro league tales as if they happened yesterday. That’s the thing. The story is about baseball, but it’s more about these ordinary men with extraordinary aspirations.
The memories will surely help fill in the details and gaps of the featured story I wrote on the WCBA two months ago for the Northwest Examiner.
And now back in Portland, the hunt for the history of a short-lived six-team West Coast Negro league – post World War II – grows with each writing session and former player interview.
More of both to come…..
Chasing history has never felt so good.