What a great way to start Black History Month: induct the 1934 Chatham Coloured All Stars into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Except, it didn’t happen.
Instead, the hall’s committee selected just one inductee this year, Vancouver native Jeff Francis.
Francis enjoyed a decent Major League career as a pitcher. The All Stars, however, broke down colour barriers in 1934 when they became the first all-Black team to win a provincial title.
The win came despite obvious attempts to pull victory out from under them. With the All Stars leading 3-2, the umpires called the championship game in Penetang on account of darkness, except the sun was still in the sky. A day later, they won regardless.
For Samantha Meredith, executive director and curator of the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society and Black Mecca Museum, seeing the local team left off the list Feb. 2 was a Groundhog Day kind of moment for her.
It’s the fifth straight year the team’s been on the ballot, and fifth consecutive year it has not been enshrined.
This year was particularly tough to swallow, as the Black Historical Society, an author, a craft brewery and descendants of the players on the 1934 team all worked to raise awareness of the milestone the All Stars achieved 88 years ago.
Author Brock Greenhalgh penned “Hard Road to Victory” detailing the hurdles the team had to overcome.
Sons of Kent brewery put out a commemorative beer in the team’s honour, and, combined with Greenhalgh’s book sales, helped raise $7,000 for the Black Mecca Museum.
And in honour of the All Stars, descendants of players came to Chatham this past October to play in a ball game dubbed “Field of Honour.”
Meredith said she and others excitedly woke Feb. 2 to track the announcement from the hall of fame.
“So many of us were up early that morning, waiting on the website,” she said. “To see the class induction was only one person…It was super disappointing news. We all thought this year was going to be the year.”
Meredith said getting the news on the second day of Black History Month would have been very appropriate, considering what this all-Black squad had to endure.
“It seemed like it would have been such a perfect fit, the start of Black History Month, with an all-black baseball team,” she said. “You sometimes wonder if they (hall committee members) don’t realize the significance. They (the All Stars) were trailblazers breaking all these barriers.”
As for what’s next, the team still has four more years of eligibility, meaning it is on the ballot until 2026.
“For us, we’re just going to keep sharing the story and having events to honour these guys,” Meredith said. “We’ll just keep getting stuff out there.”
They have help. The Toronto Blue Jays and Chatham native Fergie Jenkins – whose father was on the 1934 All Stars – have put out a video in the team’s honour.
Jenkins also happens to be an inductee to the Canadian hall of fame in 1987 and a 1991 inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. He enjoyed long and storied career in Major League Baseball.
To view the video, go to https://youtu.be/HySvpgjU4Ps