In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Caitlin talks about the Memphis Red Sox and you’ll get to hear our best sports announcer voices as we talk about the prominence of the team in the city and it’s eventual decline.
The Negro League Comes to Memphis
The negro leagues had been around for a long time before a team ever started playing in Memphis. Oftentimes, those teams became some of the strongest black owned businesses in the communities in which they operated. This business began to end when Jackie Robinson began playing in the white major leagues in 1945.
For more details about the league generally, look for some more details in the links section at the bottom.
There was a black team as early as the early 1900’s. Lewis park was built, where the Red Sox played, in the 1920’s. It was the first black ball park in America. The owner also owned R.S. Lewis & Sons funeral home with a long tradition of caring for well-known members of the black community at their passing, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after he was assassinated. Four brothers bought the stadium and the Red Sox. They were all successful business owners. The team was particularly profitable and well run… listen to the full podcast to find out how the Memphis ownership group was able to do so much better than many other teams.
The Memphis Red Sox
The team played in various leagues throughout the time it existed. They were only considered a “major league” team for just one of those years. In 1938 was the team’s most successful season. They played for the championship but while being 2 up in the series, it was canceled because of business conflicts with the other team, the Atlanta Black Crackers. The Red Sox never played for the title again.
One of the brothers in the ownership group was run out of town for speaking up against Boss Crump and ended up going to Chicago where he owned another negro league team before eventually becoming the head of the negro league itself.
Larry Brown – Catcher
- He was very friendly and really well-liked by teammates
- In 1930 played catcher in 234 games in a row
- Was asked to learn spanish so he could play in the Cuban league
- Retired in 1938
Verdell Mathis – pitcher
- Left handed
- Grew up idolizing Satchel Page and eventually played against Page and won
- Went to war in WWII
- Became the first African American pitcher in the major leagues
Charley Pride – Pitcher
- discovered when playing against the Red Sox on a sandlot team
- learned guitar while on long bus rides to and from games
- decided music was a better career path
- Went on to have 52 top ten hits on Billboard Country chart
Other Big Name Players
- Satchel Page
- Turkey Steams
- Willie Wells
The End of the Negro Leagues
The Negro leagues created spaces for the black community to use for many other gatherings, a social connection point, and they were often some of the most successful businesses in their communities and the country. However, that success began to falter after integration. With many of the best players going to “the majors” tickets began to slide and eventually, the negro leagues would come to an end.
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