After a century in an unmarked tomb, St. Paul's Black baseball founder finally gets a tombstone

After a century in an unmarked tomb, St. Paul’s Black baseball founder finally gets a tombstone

Hundreds of mourners packed the pews of Pilgrim Baptist Church, while an abundance of hundreds more poured out onto the lawn and respected a pillar of the city’s black community.

In addition to being a successful businessman and philanthropist, Reid had been the owner of the venerable St. Paul Gophers, a child-storming black baseball team that dominated the sport in Minnesota and beyond between 1907 and 1910.

But when his funeral procession arrived at Oakland Cemetery a few blocks north of the Capitol, Reid was buried in an unmarked plot next to his first wife and brother.

Reid finally received a tombstone Tuesday morning, when St. Paul Saints unveiled a new rose granite marker at the burial site.

“Phil was a visionary and a pioneer,” said Saints general manager Derek Sharrer. “He is such an enormous personality. It’s a story I do not think enough baseball fans have heard of. ”

Philip Edward Reid was born in the slave state of Kentucky in 1854, writes historian Todd Peterson in his book “Early Black Baseball in Minnesota.”

By the end of the 1880s, Reid had worked his way up from waiting tables for the railroads to the nursing bar at the Eureka Saloon in downtown St. Paul.

A decade later, he had established himself as a liquor and cigar importer in the city, and opened his own bar in 1901 on Kellogg Boulevard and Cedar Street, according to local Black baseball historian Frank White.

Reid became known throughout the twin cities as “dad”, and quickly became one of the richest black men in St. Paul and a leading figure in African American society, counting among his friends the boxer Jack Johnson and the future Negro National League founder Rube Foster, writes Peterson.

“He was a big sports fan,” White said of Reid. “At some point, he decided, ‘I’m going to have a baseball team.’ “And not just any baseball team, but the best baseball team.”

Reid recruited top black ball players from across the country and put together powerful lists that included Walter Ball, Candy Jim Taylor, Chappie Johnson and local multisport superstar Bobby Marshall.

During the team’s inaugural season in 1907, Gophers woofed his hometown fans by beating the dormant St. Paul Saints in a showdown.

Two years later, Gopher’s Frank Leland beat the Chicago Giants – widely regarded as the best African-American ball club in the country at the time – in a five-game series to claim the world title Black Baseball, according to White.

These games gave Gophers a strong reputation, but they did not pay the bills. Like many other black teams of the time, Reid earned nine bucks by storming the Upper Midwest, playing weekend series against local amateur teams.

During the four seasons Reid managed Gophers, they won almost 75% of their games, according to Peterson’s research.

“It’s a fantastic win-loss record,” White told Pioneer Press in April. “And they all played. They played many teams and took on everyone who came. ”

After the 1910 season, Reid left town to marry an actress and singer named Belle Davis. Gophers would be reborn under new ownership a handful of times, but Reid would never manage another baseball team.

He died on October 16, 1912.

“It was a great match for all classes,” according to Reid’s obituary in the Twin City Star. “Everyone loved ‘Phil’ Reid. He had many friends – because it was his ambition to have them. ”

Reid had purchased three adjacent plots at Oakdale Cemetery many years earlier. An upright tombstone marked the graves of Reid’s first wife and brother.

It is unclear why no marker was ever installed for Reid himself, but White speculates that it has something to do with the legal battle over his property between Reid’s widow and son.

White, whom Sharrer considers “the most prominent black baseball historian in the state of Minnesota,” first approached the Saints to correct this oversight after the team opened its City of Baseball Museum at CHS Field in 2019, which includes an exhibit on Gophers as White. was involved in developing.

“We started thinking about ways we could rectify the situation,” Sharrer said. “We decided that the best way to do it was to give him the tombstone he deserved.”

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