Black Baseball at Target Field

My goal in creating an exhibit in partnership with Ramsey County Historical Society and writing a book and having it published by Minnesota Historical Society Press, is to share with others the history that I’ve researched, learned from others in interviews and saw while traveling with my father and watching him and his teammates and opponents play the game of baseball and fast pitch softball.  This history of Black Baseball helps complete the real story of baseball and fast pitch story in Minnesota, which has sometimes been hidden and untold.

This web site has been created to continue those stories and research that continues to happen.

I’m very fortunate to have a relationship with the Minnesota Twins Baseball team and their President, Dave St. Peter.

When Target Field opened and during one of the walk through tours with Dave St. Peter, we walked past Town Ball Tavern and on the wall outside there were photos of amateur town ball teams.  This was a great display of some of the teams from Minnesota and I know that they’ve been amazed at the number of people wanting to share more photos of teams.

Dave asked my thoughts, I remember saying (tongue in cheek), “it’s great but you don’t have any pepper in with the salt,” was my reply.

He then asked, “do you have any photos?”  I do but I don’t own them but can get rights for their use.

Dave committed at the time to insure that we shared some of the Black Baseball story at Target Field, which he says is a “Living Museum!”

At the end of the 2016, I met with Dave St. Peter, Mike Kennedy and Clyde Doepner to discuss the potential of “where,” in Target Field we could place some photos.  I brought four photos with me as suggestions and some of the history that went along with the teams included in the photos.

The photos include the 1908 St. Paul Colored Gophers and their new rival across the river, the 1908 Minneapolis Keystone Tigers.  Both of these teams similar to teams of the era were semi-professional teams (some would consider professional).  The photo of the Keystone Tigers was newly acquired from a gentleman Kent Klungstrom and since has been acquired by MHS.

Townball Tavern Black Baseball teams.jpg

The St. Paul Colored Gophers would become the standard for Black Baseball in Minnesota during their time from 1907 – 1910 with a winning percentage that many teams would love to have and which made them a drawing card whenever and where ever they played. 

  • 1907 – W 86 – L17 – T2 (.828)

  • 1908 – W87 – L28 – T1 (.754)

  • 1909 – W75 – L27 – T3 (.728) Declared Black National Champions after defeating the Leland Giants of Chicago

  • 1910 – W81 – L37 – T3 (.681)

  • 1911 – W47 – L45 –T2 (.510) This team was no longer owned by Phil Reid and were called the Twin City Gophers.

The Minneapolis Keystone Tigers owned by Kidd Mitchell had a desire to become the best Black Baseball team in Minnesota as they began their rivalry with the Gophers.

  • 1908 – W86 – L21 – T1 (.755)

  • 1909 – W46 – L28 – T1 (.620)

  • 1910 – W18 – L11 (.620)

  • 1911 – W31 – L28 – T3 (.524)

* Source, Early Black Baseball in Minnesota, The St. Paul Gophers, Minneapolis Keystone and Other Barnstorming Teams of the Deadball Era, Todd Peterson

The other two photos are of a rivalry in the ‘20’s between the Minneapolis Askin Marine Red Sox and the St. Paul Uptown Sanitary Shop.  These two teams would be the Black Baseball teams of their era as the two most prominent teams in Minnesota.

So thankful to Dave St. Peter and the Minnesota Twins for their continued support of Black Baseball in Minnesota and that part of the untold story.  Having these photos in Target Field help to insure that Black Baseball is a real part of our legacy of baseball in Minnesota.

The next time you’re at Target Field, go up to Town Ball Tavern and when you enter the photos will be to the left.  Also, the photos outside of the location have been updated, so take a look at those teams from an earlier time in Minnesota history.

Dick Newberry

While initially doing research,  I found this information in the Town Ball book done by
Armand Peterson and Tom Tomashek.

At the time I was more focused on so-called “local players” that I knew played with and against my father.  Although I also included touching on players that played in Minnesota, Dick is a player that still has family in Minneapolis and surely deserves to be included in the Untold Stories of Minnesota Black Baseball. 

After reading this story, you’ll understand that he was surely denied an opportunity to play at a higher level.

“Dick Newberry’s story is similar to many African American players of his generation – he was too young to be noticed when the color line was broken in organized baseball is 1946 and 1947, and too old to be considered a prospect by the time he’d fully developed his baseball skills.

Photo courtesy of Newberry Family and Armand Peterson

Newberry was born in Alabama in 1926, but his family moved to Chicago when he was a youngster.  The slight young man did not play organized sports in high school. He had played sandlot, American Legion, and some semi-pro baseball, though and joined the Chicago American Giants of the Negro American League in 1947, where his brother Hank played.  Another brother, Jim, was a veteran pitcher in the Negro Leagues, having started with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1942.

Newberry played for the touring Colored House of David and other semipro teams for the next three years.  In 1951 he broke into organized baseball, signing with the Duluth Dukes of the Class C Northern League.  He stayed there four years, hitting .289, .307, .326 and .330 successively.  It’s curious why he never moved up in calls.  For example, his batting statistics in 1953 – .326, with 17 home runs and 93 RBIs – topped those of Fargo-Moorhead’s Roger Maris, .325, 9, and 80.  Yet Newberry was stuck with Duluth in 1954 while Maris moved up to the Class B Three-I League.

Perhaps age and size were the reasons; Maris was 19 and six feet tall at the time, while Newberry was 27 and five-foot-seven (to be generous).  It is understandable that scouts saw more potential in a younger player like Maris.  Race probably played a factor as well.  At the time, professional baseball teams had picked off most of the established stars from the Negro Leagues and were signing young black prospects for their minor league systems, but they weren’t very patient with older players like Newberry.  They had plenty of journeymen white players to fill their rosters.

While in Duluth, Newberry married a white woman he’d met in a lawyer office.  They began to spend the off seasons in Minneapolis, which was a more hospitable place for a mixed race couple.  After the 1954 season he decided to retire from organized baseball and become a full-time tailor, an occupation he’d been learning between baseball seasons.  He signed a contract to play with the Waseca-Owatonna Twins of the Southern Minny League and was delighted to find that he could earn more money there than he had with the Dukes, and could still hold down a regular job while doing it.

Newberry hit .320 in 1955 and returned to the Twins in 1956 and improved to .383 He was very popular with the local fans and received several gifts and awards during the season.  When the Twins folded, he was signed for 1957 by the Rochester Royals, and had a monster year.  His .420 average topped the modern league record .404 set by Jack Verby in 1948.  He also had 15 home runs and 49 RBIs in the 42 game schedule.

He stayed home in Minneapolis in 1958, as the era of semipro ball was coming to a close in Minnesota.  The Southern Minny dropped to Class A, and a four-team league, at that, drastically reducing the number of salaried positions.  Rochester, choosing to experiment with sponsorship of a team in the professional Class B Three-I League, withdrew from the Southern Minny.  Newberry played the next two years with Cozy Bar and Cassius’s Bar in the Park National League (Minneapolis City League) but then retired to devote his time to his job and family.

In the end, Newberry was like many other baseball nomads who found their way into Minnesota after giving up dreams of playing major-league baseball.  While sad, in a way, these are also success stories.  Baseball gave Newberry, like the others, an opportunity to find jobs and a new home while making some good money during the journey. “

The following information of the poster of the Ricwood Classic with Jimmy Newberry’s photo and the census reports were received from Joseph (Jeb) Stewart of Birmingham, Alabama after he called me to see if I had any additional information regardingJimmy Newberry for an article that he was writing.

Looking at the 1930 census from Wilcox County, lines 71-82, Will and Lula were the parents and they had 10 children.  Jimmie was child #6 and Richard was child #9.  Henry was reputed to play ball too.

By 1940, the family was in Birmingham. In fact this census shows they were there by 1935, lines 1-7.  Jimmie is listed as James and Richard is also identified.

Note the family resemblance in the photos of the brothers, Jimmy and Dick (Richard).