Thursday, July 16, 2015

Before Jackie Robinson - Octavius Catto

I learn something new everyday.

Some of my favorite social media accounts to follow are those that post up nothing but photos, and if it's geared towards baseball then I likely check it out several times a day.  This morning one of my favorites, @TheSkimmers on twitter, shared a pic of a late 19th century CDV of a fellow in a suit (check it out above).   This twitterer focuses solely on vintage Baseball pics, so at first glance this post just didn't make sense.

Who is this awesomely named guy and what are you doing on my twitter feed?

Naturally, I did some googling and what I found out is fascinating.

Octavius V. Catto was like the Jackie Robinson of the 19th century. 

From Philadelphia, Catto was a part of just about every important freedom/liberation movement during his time, and spokesman for civil rights.  He was active in Republican Party politics (during the time of Abraham Lincoln), lobbied for civil rights, helped raise 11 all black regiments during the Civil War and thereafter, used passive resistance in the fight for equality in public transportation, and campaigned aggressively for voting rights.

Octavius Catto was also the first black ballplayer to seek entry into the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) - the games main governing body.  He was an accomplished short stop, coach, captain and founder of the Pythian Base Ball Club of Philadelphia - America's first African American team. Knowing that Base Ball was a pathway to inclusion into the American way of life, he used the game as a way to break down barriers.  In fact, the very first match between a black and white team was between Pythian and the Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia in 1869.  BTW, by 1902 the Pythian team morphed into the vaunted Eastern League Philadelphia Giants ballclub.

As I wrote above, Catto was active in the fight for voting rights, and by 1870 Pennsylvania had ratified the 15th Amendment that provided those rights.  A year later those once disenfranchised could came out to vote in the states first election.  So, folks fearful of the changes that could occur from the changing ballot box formed roving gangs to instill fear within the black populace.  Violence and riots ensued.

On that election day, October 10, 1871, Octavius V. Catto was steps away from his front porch when Frank Kelly, an active Democratic Party honcho, recognized him and shot him dead.  The violence caused a public outcry and an severe backlash.  Large majorities voted Republican that day.  Unfortunately, justice did not come in Catto's murder.  Even with numerous eye witnesses (many of whom knew the shooter personally) Frank Kelly was acquitted of his crime.

Although Catto's story ends in a sad note, I think it's important to note what a big stepping stone his actions were.  He is an unsung hero for equality and arguably the first person to recognize how the nation's pastime can be used to bridge a divide that had split the country for far too long. 

As Jackie Robinson said,
 "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
Octavius V. Catto certainly exemplifies what Jackie meant. After learning a little bit about this man life I would fully support his inclusion into Copperstown.

* Please follow on twitter @ernestreyes *
* Dodgers Blue Heaven home page *

Blog Kiosk: 7/16/2015 - Dodger Links - Some Odds and Ends

I just love the symmetry of the vintage ACME news press photograph above that's available for sale through RMY Auctions (auction link here).  Featured are Duke Snider at center, Jackie Robinson jogging in from 2nd base, right fielder Carl Furillo with the ball and Hall of Fame umpire Jocko Conlon calling the out. 

It was taken during the first game of a doubleheader played at Ebbets Field on August 23, 1949 against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Chuck Dierling had hit a blooper in the fifth inning against Joe Hatten, so the Dodger defense converged to make a play.  Furillo got there first and had to make a highlight reel style catch off his shoestrings.  Unfortunately, the Dodgers would lose to the Cards, 5-3, but win the second game later that evening.

Below are some links to check out:
  • Awesome!  Via Old Hoss Radbourn at Vice Sports, "We Had a Fake Dead Ballplayer Interview a Real Author About Her Dodgers Book."  This is the best thing ever.  Twitter sensation Old Hoss Radbourn interviewed Molly Knight about her new book on the Dodgers.  It's both funny and informative.
OHR: Other than myself, I tend to prefer my ballplayers to be quiet, stoic, and utterly devoid of personality. It is the Protestant way. I have noticed, however, that the Dodgers' club house as you describe it seems to be the antithesis of this. Do you think this is a natural by-product of the insane amount of lucre that was spent? Is there a correlation between talent, salary, and outsized personality?
MK: It's a natural by-product of both the money being spent and the fact that they took on a bunch of talented malcontents that other teams wanted to murder but were too scared to dump off the waters of Providence.
But there is another Dodgers uniform number that most Dodger fans hold near and dear to their hearts. And while it may not carry the same historical significance that Robinson’s number 42 does, it is every bit as important in bringing racial equality to the game. That uniform number is, of course, number 34, worn by Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico native and Dodger great Fernando Valenzuela.
  • I think this is very cool.  Via Natasha Geiling at Think Progress, "The Urban Farming Trend That’s Taking Over Major League Baseball." 
  • I learn something new everyday.  Via Dexter Thomas at, "The Secret History Of Black Baseball Players In Japan."  (Hat Tip: Steven Miyamoto on Facebook)
But the tale of how a black American baseball player from the Deep South ended up a big shot in Japan in 1936 is bigger than Jimmy Bonner. It's a little-known story of friendship and mutual aid between Japanese-American and black baseball players at a time when both groups were shut out of organized baseball. It sprang up in California in the pre-war years, became part of "one of the boldest — and most overlooked — experiments in baseball history," made its way to Tokyo, and would end up shaping the future of baseball in Japan.

* Please follow on twitter @ernestreyes *
* Dodgers Blue Heaven home page *