Stories You Should Know: Cap Anson and the creation of the Color Barrier

Cap Anson and the Color Line in baseball.

 

Cap Anson was one of the true visionaries to what has become major league baseball. He, along with Harry Wright are probably the two most influential people in the history of the sport. We’ll leave Harry Wright to another article and concentrate on one Adrian Constantine Anson or the “Marshaltown Infant Terrible”.

 

Born in Marshall, Iowa on April 17, 1852, he was the first white child born in that town. His Father and Mother, Henry and Jeannette, were two of the original settlers of the new town. Baseball fever swept the nation in the 1860s and young Adrian was caught up in the excitement. Playing for the Marshalltown team in 1870, Anson was discovered by Albert Spalding and signed to his Forrest City team for $66 a month.

 

Forest City would become one of the charter members of the National Association, the first major league in 1871 and Anson was their 3rd baseman. With the collapse of the Forest City team in 1872, Anson signed with the Philadelphia Athletics, thus beginning a career amongst the greatest of all time. The National Association fell apart after the 1875 season mainly due to four key players from the powerhouse Boston Red Stockings (Albert Spalding was one of them), and Adrian Anson of the Philadelphia Club jumping their contracts to sign with the Chicago White Stockings. The association couldn’t enforce the contracts, thus falling apart and allowing the birth of the National League.

 

Beginning in 1876 Chicago baseball and Adrian Anson would begin a journey which would last until 1898. He would be named “Captain” (Manager) of the team in 1879 at age 26, and be known from then on as “Cap” Anson.

Cap Anson player

A true visionary, he became the dominant figure in major league baseball. He was the first manager to actively pursue the best players from around the country, signing them, thus creating a powerhouse squad. This forced the other teams in the league to adopt the same course, thus thrusting the National League to true major league status. He was the first to employ platooning, to give signals from the bench, to call for the “hit and run”. In short, he was responsible for most of the strategic changes in the game in the early years of the National League.

 

Unfortunately, he also was one of the people most responsible for the segregation of baseball. Anson was bombastic, conceited, and a racist. In 1884 Chicago had an exhibition game against the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association. Toledo had a college educated, well-spoken catcher named Moses Fleetwood Walker, who happened to be black. Anson insisted that Toledo Manager, Charlie Morton, remove Walker from the game. Anson threatened to pull his team off the field, but Morton would not relent, threatened Anson to play the game or leave. Anson stayed and played the game, but he began a campaign to ban “colored” ballplayers.

Moses Fleetwood Walker with team
Anson proved he would back down if he was pushed when Moses Fleetwood Walker’s (far left) Manager Charlie Morton pushed back. If more people had the guts of Morton and Walker in the early history of baseball there would have been no need for Jackie Robinson. 

In the months that followed several leagues did ban “colored” players. It became very confusing, nobody was sure which leagues allowed “colored” players and which leagues didn’t. It came to a head again in July of 1887 when Chicago traveled to Newark to play an exhibition game against the International League’s Newark Little Giants.

The Little Giant’s had a pitcher, George Stovey, who the National League New York Giants were looking to sign. Stovey was black and Anson again refused to take the field. “Get him off the field, or I get off” boomed the big first baseman. This time the opponent relented and Stovey was removed from the game. Still there were no rules banning black players from signing major league contracts, the teams just refused to sign them.

Anson gets a bad rap as the man who segregated baseball. Yes he was a racist and preferred not to play against “colored” players, but he was first a baseball player. Charlie Morton proved that he would back down if his baseball life was threatened. The problem with baseball was too many players agreed with Anson, and nobody had the guts to stand up to the practice until after World War II. It wasn’t an Anson problem, it was a baseball disgrace.

 

It wasn’t until 1946 when Branch Rickey initiated his great experiment and signed Jackie Robinson that baseball would be integrated. Not only baseball, but the country owes them both more than we can ever repay.

 

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