9 ways Minor League teams are celebrating Black baseball history

February 27th, 2024

When Jackie Robinson made his debut as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in Spring Training of 1946, his jersey number was not the 42 he'd come to be associated with. That spring in Daytona Beach, and throughout the ensuing season with the Triple-A Montreal Royals, he wore number 9. This inspired the name of Minor League Baseball's The Nine initiative, dedicated to honoring the Negro Leagues and the history of Black baseball in general. It also inspired this article.

Throughout the country, at every level of play, Minor League teams have staged tributes to their city's Negro League and Black baseball history. Here are, you guessed it, nine examples.

Asheville Blues (Asheville Tourists, High-A affiliate of the Houston Astros)
McCormick Field, home of the Asheville Tourists, is celebrating its centennial in 2024. The Asheville Blues, members of the Negro Southern League, played their games there from the mid-‘40s through the mid-‘50s, winning back-to-back titles in 1946-47. The Tourists took the field in updated Blues uniforms in 2023, and Blues’ pennant flags were placed atop McCormick Field.

Austin Black Senators (Round Rock Express, Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers)
The Round Rock Express, who play in a suburb of Austin, annually celebrate the Austin Black Senators. The team played in a variety of contexts over the course of a half century, sometimes affiliated with a Negro League and sometimes operating independently. In addition to wearing Black Senators uniforms, the Express pay tribute to the team’s star players. Chief among them is Willie Wells, whom fellow Negro League star Cool Papa Bell called “the greatest shortstop in the world.”

Fresno Tigers (Fresno Grizzlies, Single-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies)
Not much is known about the Fresno Tigers, who competed in the six-team West Coast Negro League in 1946. The Grizzlies, seeking to educate fans about this chapter of their city’s baseball history, played a game as the Tigers in 2022. There weren’t any photos of the Tigers in action, so the Grizzlies created logos and uniforms based on a modern interpretation of what the team might look like.

Memphis Red Sox (Memphis Redbirds, Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals)
With a franchise history spanning four decades and across three Negro Leagues – including time in circuits now recognized as Major League – the Memphis Red Sox count on their all-time roster Hall of Famers Turkey Stearnes and Bill Foster, as well as Dan Bankhead and country star Charley Pride. The club’s Lewis Park (later Martin Stadium) was one of the few stadiums owned by a Negro League team. The Redbirds are set to pay homage to the Red Sox on Aug. 10.

New York Black Yankees (Somerset Patriots, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees)
Formed in 1931 and members of the Negro National League from 1936 to 1948, the New York Black Yankees were a force to be reckoned with. Star players over the years included Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, Mule Suttles and, perhaps inevitably, Satchel Paige. The team played at Yankee Stadium for portions of its existence, often wearing uniforms resembling those of the American League club. The Patriots, seeking to give the team an identity of its own, have created Black Yankees logos and uniforms.

Page Fence Giants (Lansing Lugnuts, High-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics)
Bud Fowler was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2022, but he remains among baseball’s most undercelebrated figures. In 1878 he became one of the first pro Black ballplayers, often competing with and against otherwise all-white teams. When racism pushed him off multiple clubs, Fowler pioneered the organization of (and managed) Black teams, including the Page Fence Giants, who drew enormous crowds throughout the Midwest in the 1890s. The Lugnuts plan to don Page Fence Giants unis annually and have given out Bud Fowler bobbleheads.

Salt Lake Occidentals (Salt Lake Bees, Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels)
The Occidentals were formed in Salt Lake in 1906 and quickly established themselves as one of the best teams in the western United States. They joined the otherwise all-white Utah State League in 1908 and the following season took home a league championship. When the Salt Lake Bees played as the Occidentals last season, they did so wearing uniforms that were inspired by contemporary newspaper accounts.

T-Town Clowns (Tulsa Drillers, Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers)
Beginning in 2010, the Tulsa Drillers have staged an annual tribute to the T-Town Clowns, a semi-pro entity that competed from 1946-65. Last season’s homage was particularly special, as the team’s players took the field in T-Town Clowns uniforms for the first time. The Drillers’ home of ONEOK Field is located in Tulsa’s Greenwood District, a prosperous neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street” that was decimated by a horrific race massacre in 1921. Any tribute to Black baseball provides an opportunity to educate fans about the larger history of the area.

Wichita Monrovians (Wichita Wind Surge, Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins)
The Monrovians, originally known as the Black Wanderers, were a dominant semi-pro team that debuted in 1922. They posted ads in newspapers offering to play any team that was willing to take them on; this approach was most dramatically illustrated in 1925, when they defeated a team comprised of members of the Ku Klux Klan. The Wind Surge suited up in orange Monrovians uniforms in 2023, and their onsite history museum features displays related to the team.