If you’re ever on Northwest 25th and Vaughn Street in Portland, you might think that the area is rather modest at first: it’s a mix of industrial properties, houses, and apartments in the neighborhood. Hotels are on display further down the street, and the Adidas store attracts customers from across the metro area just a few blocks away.
But in the same place 75 years ago, Portland’s baseball team went up on the plate at Vaughn Street Park, a wooden stadium with 12,000 seats in the Slabtown district. What was left of the park today, demolished in 1956 as a fire hazard, is a memorial plaque naming two teams from the annals of Portland’s baseball history, Portland Webfooters and Portland Beavers.
But the plaque does not mention another team that briefly called Vaughn Street home: the Portland Rosebuds from 1946, the city’s first and only Negro League baseball team.
This summer is Portland’s Wild Wild West League revive Rosebud’s moniker for a whole new team in honor of the original. But the information about 46 Rosebuds has been difficult for the league to track down.
“It was almost like it was erased from history – it was just gone,” said Alan Miller, co-owner of the Portland Pickles and “Marshal” of the Wild Wild West League. “People at that time were not willing to talk about them. They were not willing to cover them. They were not willing to support them – and that made it even more difficult. ”
From the few short news articles from the 1940s that exist, many newspapers called the team by the nickname Portland Roses. That name was not unique to baseball – a Portland Rosebuds hockey team went before them three decades earlier.
“It was almost like it was erased from history – it was just gone. People at that time were not willing to talk about them. They were not willing to cover them. They were not willing to support them – and that made it even more difficult. ”
Baseball Rosebuds was part of the West Coast Negro Baseball Association, a Negro minor league with six teams, including the Seattle Steelheads and Oakland Larks. The Portland team also played at a time when organized baseball was still segregated.
“Baseball is a perfect microcosm of racial relations in the United States,” said Chieko Phillips, who serves as director of heritage programs at 4Culture, a Seattle cultural finance agency.
In 2014, Phillips curated an exhibition at Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum entitled “Dark, ”Which focused on African-American baseball in Washington state. Phillips said racist policies in the 1940s made traveling for black athletes – and any black American – extremely difficult.
“Before the civil rights movement, there were certain hotel rooms that players could and could not stay in. “Sometimes the players had to sleep on the bus or outside,” said Phillips. “Sometimes people had to bring food because they were not sure when to find restaurants that allowed them to eat.”
Struggle and perseverance
But the story of Negro League baseball is more than just a story of a match. For Raymond Doswell, Vice President and Curator of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum In Kansas City, there is also a history of endurance.
“To play baseball during segregation, you really had to love the game to withstand so many indignities,” Doswell said.
According to Doswell, the Negro League teams were a by-product of Great Migration, a period between 1916 and 1970 when about 6 million African Americans moved out of the southern country and into cities and urban neighborhoods such as Harlem in New York, Kansas City. , Beale Street in Memphis and Chicago.
Many Negro League teams did not have the financial stability or support that white teams had, but they still provided opportunities for black athletes – even outside of baseball. Take, for example, the Jesse Owens Olympic athletics track, the four-time gold medal that stunned the world at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
“The black baseball teams really helped Jesse Owens after the Olympics. He was deprived of his amateur status and could no longer compete in certain events, “said Doswell. “The reasons were basically racism – that he was banned from further competition given how successful he and his teammates were in Berlin.”
To earn a living, Owens teamed up with a friend and Harlem Globetrotters owner Abe Saperstein to lead the West Coast Negro Baseball Association a decade later. Owens went on to become the owner of the Portland Rosebuds and published West Coast league games by sprinting against racehorses across baseball fields.
According to Portland monthly, Recruited Owens players from a number of major Negro league teams: the musty Al Jones of the Memphis Red Sox, player Collins Jones and first baseman Blue Dunn of the Miami Ethiopian Clowns.
But even with Owens’ star power, it was not enough in the end to keep the West Coast league sustainable. In 1946, the Rosebuds were to play an entire season in 110 games – but the league as a whole fell in less than three months, with the Portland Rosebuds ending in mid-July with a 7-8 record.
According to Leslie Heaphy, a professor at Kent State University and baseball historian in the Negro Leagues, worked several different factors toward the west coast. Negro teams had to compete for time in stadiums and parks used primarily by white leagues; the money also dried up as attendance decreased. And then there is the inherent charm of playing baseball in the Pacific Northwest.
“Honestly given where they played, especially for Portland and Seattle, there were a number of games that worked out,” said Heaphy.
The West Coast Negro Baseball Association was also established because of Jackie Robinson’s historic appearance with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. He broke the baseball color barrier, integrated into Major League Baseball, and drew attention from fans and press coverage away from the West. Coastal.
Restore an important story
Today, the world knows about Owens and some of the best players who have come out of the Negro leagues, but still none of the Rosebuds ended up in the majors. According to Doswell, most athletes who played in the Negro League will never get the full credit they deserve – but it is important to remember their stories.
“I’m glad there’s an interest in Portland in supporting Rosebud’s history, and we’m happy to support it where we can. “What I hope is that when we mark that past, we also remember the difficulties that the players went through and in a way remind them of their interest in baseball and their perseverance in baseball,” said Doswell.
“Hopefully this is a way to continue learning history, not to whitewash history, and remind people of African American contributions to the Portland community and beyond,” he said.
And that’s part of what the Portland Pickles and Wild Wild West League are trying to do this summer. For co-owner Alan Miller, he hopes to welcome fans safely with a focus on educating Portlanders about the team’s legacy.
“I think part of having a baseball team in Portland, there is a certain responsibility that we have to understand the past,” he said. “And if we can show people that ‘Hey, this happened, this is a very important part of Portland’s history,’ it’s the first step.”
Rosebuds in 2021 opens its introductory season at Lents Park on June 21, and they are rocking new jerseys with a new Rosebuds logo. They hope to shine a light on an often overlooked but important chapter of Portland’s history of baseball.