Chatham Colored All-Stars Belong In The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame
When you discuss influential baseball teams, who have left a lasting impact on sport, and society in Canada, there is no better example, and no group of groundbreakers more notable than the Chatham Colored All-Stars.
This is why the Chatham Colored All-Stars belong in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
One person advocating for this, Brock Greenhalgh, who has been advocating for recognition of the Chatham Colored All-Stars for 30 years, and recently authored the book, “Hard Road to Victory: The Chatham All-Stars Story.”
“Their story may be a regional one, but what they accomplished is more wide-reaching,” says Greenhalgh of why he believes the Chatham Colored All-Stars belong in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
“If a young athlete can see him or herself represented by this team, that would be worthwhile.”
In 1934, the Chatham Colored All-Stars were the first Chatham team to win an Ontario Baseball Association title. More notably, they were also the first ever team, comprised entirely of Black athletes, to enter the OBA playoffs.
The team used, and popularised in Ontario the tactic of “barnstorming,” which not only showcased their talent, but was the earliest example of integration between Black and white teams and athletes in Ontario.
The Chatham Colored All-Stars were a beloved team across Southwestern Ontario at a time when racism and segregation were pervasive in Canada.
“Overcoming obstacles of racism and bigotry for the sake of wishing to play a sport they loved, that story needs to be recognized,” said Greenhalgh.
The Chatham Colored All-Stars made their historic impact on the game of baseball 13 years before Jackie Robinson became the first Black player in Major League Baseball.
Many of the players on this team were considered of professional calibre, however the oppression and racism of the time excluded these athletes from the pro ranks. In fact, the ties to the Chatham region as the end of the Underground Railroad at Uncle Tom’s Cabin and North Buxton, tie this team directly to freedom from slavery, and as an expression of the positive power of sport.
Of the heralded players on this team, Wilfred “Boomer” Harding, was widely considered a professional calibre baseball and hockey player. In 1946 he became the first Black player in the International Amateur Hockey League, playing for the Detroit Red Wings farm team, but again preceded hockey’s colour barrier being broken by Willie O’Ree by more than a decade.
Earl “Flat” Chase, who is a Chatham Sports Hall f Fame inductee, was perhaps one of the All-Star most impacted by the colour barrier, with opponents, teammates, and media proclaiming “the only thing keeping him from the major leagues was the colour of his skin.”
Fergie Jenkins Sr. was also a member of the All-Stars. Although he wouldn’t get to showcase his talent at the professional level, his son, the more widely known Fergie Jenkins, would go on to star for the Chicago Cubs and become the first Canadian inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
For the last four years, the Chatham Colored All-Stars have been on the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, but have continued to be overlooked despite their groundbreaking and historic contributions to racial inclusion in sport, and their on field success.
The team’s 2022 eligibility will mark the 90th anniversary of the formation of this club.
This team broke barriers, and they serve as a historic example of the oppression of the past in sport, and of the skill and talent of Black athletes in a period of segregation. Their contributions to the game of baseball extend far beyond their regional play, and their lasting impact to the game of baseball in Canada is deserved of a permanent home in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
By Ian Kennedy