Baseball has been a cherished, serious pastime in the Hawley, Pa. community for generations. The local team had the honor over a century ago to be trounced by an African-American team in 1909, led by one of the first major stars of early Black Baseball History.
HAWLEY - Baseball has been a cherished, serious pastime in the Hawley, Pa. community for generations. The local team had the honor over a century ago to be trounced by an African-American team in 1909, led by one of the first major stars of early Black Baseball History.
The game between the Hawley team and the Scranton Battling Giants took place on the home field, the north end of what would become Bingham Park.
Organized baseball was played at Hawley at least since 1883 when the Belmonts, thought to have been made up of men from the Bellemonte Silk Mill, played other nearby towns. The field alongside Hudson Street and part of the future town park, was a canal boat basin, drained after the canal shut down in 1898. The ball field was established in 1903 and was known simply as “Athletic Field.” Today, it is known as the John Salak Memorial Field, one of four in Hawley.
The field underwent extensive improvements in May of 1909. Officers were elected: M.E. Lewis, president; C. H. Freethy, treasurer and Charles Houck, secretary. Edward B. McAndrew was appointed manager
On June 26, 1909, the Hawley Team was pitted against the Scranton Battling Giants.
In a prelude to the game, the Honesdale Citizen reported, “Hawley plays the Battling Giants at Hawley, on Saturday, June 26th. The Giants are considered to be the equal of the Cuban Giants. With McClosky in the box for Hawley a hot game is looked forward to. Turn out everybody and loosen up.”
The Honesdale Citizen, on June 30th, carried the story with the headline, “Two Games Well Played, Won by Battling Giants!”
“A game extremely interesting was played at Hawley on Saturday, and shut out the home aggregation by the score of 4 to 0,” the subhead reads.
“A[an African-American] band of gentlemen with Captain William[s] as master of ceremonies invaded this town (Hawley) on Saturday and did a white-washing,” the paper reported. “It was no disgrace for the locals to lower their colors before the Giants; we were simply outclassed in every part of the game. Williams, until he became an advertisement for Mellin’s Food was considered to be one of the best catchers among the [African-American teams]. He has been playing base ball long before Charlie Elliott ever landed in Hawley”
(Mellin’s Food company sold infant food.)
The Hawley players were Edwards, McNamara, Siler, Theilke, McCluskey, Rose, McAndrew, Langan, Gaffney and Bea.
The Battling Giants included: Land, Mathew, Weaver, Bragg, Williams, Fuller, Barnard, Smith and Dawson.
Next day at White Mills
The next day- Sunday - the Battling Giants took on the White Mills team, beating White Mills on their own turf, 4 to 2.
Playing for White Mills were Tuman, Lilly, Wenders, W. Smith, Lawson, C. Smith, Gill, Dorflinger, Bellman and Murphy.
“Murphy” may very well be the famed ball player “Honest” Eddie Murphy, who lived in White Mills and was a catcher for the local team, 1907-1909. He went on to play for the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago White Sox, including several World Series games.
The Giants were represented by Land, Mathews, Weaver, Bragg, Williams, Fuller, Barnard, Smith and Jordan.
Some information on the team was learned from a piece of team letterhead that was being online as this article was being written. It states that the Scranton Battling Giants were formed in 1909 by Charles Battle. He was the owner and booking agent. His letterhead read, “Book us and we will fill your grounds.” Williams is also identified, as “Clarence Williams, Famous Cuban Giants - Catcher Manager.”
A handwritten note dated May 27, 1909 on the letterhead, signed by Charles Battle, was addressed to Mr. Reinhart, who had a sporting goods store in Scranton. It reads, “Please give bearer a pair of shoes and a first base men’s glove, and oblige.” Clarence Williams signed it on the back. Also pencilled on front is “charged, 5/27/09” and “8.10” which may have been the price.
The seller of the letterhead commented online that Williams probably needed this pass to allow the sporting goods retailer to enter his store and buy the glove. “Williams was famous enough to appear on the letterhead but apparently too black to buy his own glove at the sporting goods store,” the seller commented.
A Scranton newspaper reference was found for the Scranton Battling Giants in May 1911, when they were playing against Clarks Summit.
Their manager was Clarence “Waxey” Williams, an African-American baseball catcher from the Negro Leagues. In 1885 he joined up with the Cuban Giants, the first black professional team, during their first season. His career lasted at least 20 years, playing for major teams. He was a right-handed catcher.
His baseball career included the Cuban Giants, 1885-1889, 1891 and 1892-1894; New York Gorhams, 1891; Philadelphia Giants, 1902; Cuban X-Giants, 1903-1905; Scranton Battling Giants 1909- ; Colored Capital All-Americans (years not found) and Smart Set as manager in 1912, his last season in professional, black baseball.
While he played with the Cuban Giants they were part of otherwise all-white leagues, in 1897, 1889 and 1890. In 1890, Williams and Frank Grant defected to play on the otherwise white Harrisburg team in the Eastern Interstate League.
The Cuban Giants, based in Trenton, NJ, were considered the top ball club of the era, during the time Williams was on the team. In 1904, Williams accompanied his team mates on a tour in Cuba.
Williams was born in Harrisburg, Pa., January 27, 1886. He worked briefly as a policeman in Harrisburg, and as a waiter. Williams began playing ball as a teenager and started playing left field for the local ball club in 1882. Prior to going to the Cuban Giants, he played ball for Middletown, Pa. and Williamsport, Pa.
The press referred to him as “boisterous” and “insolent.”
How long he was the manager of the Scranton Battling Giants has not been found, although by 1912 he was with another team.
An online blog, posted at https://homeplatedontmove.wordpress.com, discusses Clarence Williams and what the writer found to be subtle- and not so-subtle- racist attitudes of the press concerning both Williams and other African-American players. Nonetheless, the prowess on the baseball diamond of the Cuban Giants earned much respect from fans of the game.
“Since research into segregation-era baseball began several decades, we know that Harrisburg was a focal point for a great deal of African-American hardball history, with great teams and individual players either emerging from or competing in the city.” the blogger notes. “Waxey Williams was one of them. While Williams wasn’t on the level of should-be-Hall-of-Famers like Rap Dixon and Spottswood Poles in terms of playing ability and achievements, he still made an indelible mark on the game, frequently via his lively tongue and wacky histronics on the diamond.”
He died at the age of 68 in Atlantic City, NJ, September 23, 1934. He was laid to rest at Atlantic City Cemetery in Pleasantville.
Ryan Whirty, in an article for The Press of Atlantic City, wrote in a story published online July 25, 2015, that when Williams died, there were plans to ship his body home to Harrisburg. Typical of the times in which they lived, his African -American family did not have the money to bring him home, and Williams’ body was ultimately laid to rest in an unmarked grave.
“And, for the last 80-plus years, Williams — who was both one of the best African-American catchers of his time and one of the most colorful, and at times controversial, players in the land — has rested in that unmarked grave, forgotten by history, anonymous in death and stripped of dignity by the ages,” Whirty wrote.
A group of dedicated volunteers and activists, at the time of the article, were raising funds to purchase and place a gravestone at the site. The effort was part of the Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project, which has been active across the country providing markers for what had been anonymous graves of segregation-era black teams and organizations. Michael Everett of Linwood, NJ, led the local effort.
The grave marker was installed. It contains a summary of his baseball career accomplishments, and a sketch of him in a Cuban Giants uniform.
Oddly, a story in the Harrisburg Telegraph, dated June 26, 1916, tells of the “late Clarence Williams known to Harrisburg baseball fans as a member of the famous ‘Cuban Giants’.” The story concerns his son Robert, who was in the U.S. Army and thought to have been taken prisoner during the American expedition to oust Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa from power.
Census records for Harrisburg, Pa., show that Clarence Williams and his wife Helen A. (Harris) Williams were married in 1891. The 1910 census lists him as a professional ball player, age 44, living in Harrisburg. Helen was 34. At home were their children Margaret, 18; Clarence, 16; William, 12; Helen, 9; Edith, 6 and Ethel, 2.
In the 1920 census for Harrisburg, Clarence was absent but Helen, listed as married, apparently was selling food at the rail station. Her children Clarence, Helen, Edith, Ethel and six year old Hilda were residing there as well.
Their son William A. Williams (1897-1960) was listed as a trainer in a ballpark in Harrisburg in 1930 and 1940.
The Cuban Giants played against the Honesdale ball team, several times. This record may not be complete:
The Giants were at the Honesdale’s home field, on August 22, 1890. A news brief in The Herald, a Honesdale paper, urged patronage “as the Giants demand a guarantee of $50 to play here.” Honesdale’s field was on the “Silk Mill Flats” on Willow Avenue. (The score has not been found.)
Another game with the Giants was planned in June 1892.
They were back in Honesdale in June 1898, when the Cuban Giants defeated Honesdale’s team, 12 to 7.
Another game between them was held September 4, 1903; score not found.
Honesdale beat the Cuban Giants, August 2, 1904, 4 to 0.
On June 15, 1905, the Giants were back, and trounced Honesdale, 7 to 0. The Cuban X-Giants also played against Honesdale, May 18 of that year.
News articles show that the Cuban Giants played at some other local ballfields, among them Carbondale, Hawley and Port Jervis.
Back in Hawley
The Herald reported of a game between “‘Pop’ Watkins Cuban Giants” and the Hawley ball team, Wednesday, August 25, 1909. The Giants were defeated by a score of 3 to 2.
The Hawley team had yet another game lined up that year with an African American team that year. The report did not identify the team. The Citizen reported on September 22, 1909, that there was great disappointment in Hawley when the scheduled game with an African-American team had to be canceled. The team had unfortunately missed the train.
[Editor’s note: Quotes from newspapers from the early 1900’s, where racial reference is made, have been updated to reflect modern forms of acceptable usage, and denoted in brackets.]
Honesdale Citizen newspaper, Fultonhistory.com
Negro League information, Seamheads.com (via Wikipedia)
Baseball-Reference (via Wikipedia)
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, http://coe.k-state.edu