An Itty Bitty Minnesota Black Baseball Exhibit

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

So you already knew that Willie Mays played as a Minneapolis Miller. For about three minutes. But did you know that Roy Campanella had around the same amount of time with the Saint Paul Saints (his last stop before Brooklyn?)

I didn't. I learned that, and a few other interesting tidbits, at a tiny exhibit in the stupendously ugly Bloomington Civic Center* called "They Played For The Love Of The Game: Adding To The Legacy Of Minnesota Black Baseball." Here's the center's link about it. The exhibit is put together by local historian Frank White, who works with the Twins' "Reviving Baseball In The Inner Cities" Program. You can read a Strib article about him (from which I cribbed that last sentence) here.

According to the Strib article, White will soon publish a book about Black baseball in Minnesota, and I'm looking forward to reading it. The exhibit . . . well, I doubt it had much of a budget. It's mostly placards on posterboard, with replica Negro League uniforms. The only truly old object on display, right at the center's entrance, is a handwritten scorecard from what would seem to be Jackie Robinson's last game, 0-3 in a loss to the Yankees. That was nifty.

Not that the information on the placards is dull, far from it. Yet it only scratches the surface. For example, it tells how Black players in Minnesota couldn't stay at most hotels (segregation wasn't the law here, but was enforced via "gentleman's agreement" as in most Northern Cities.) One line explains that players such as Campanella would stay with "the Rideaux family" in their house on Rondo Avenue.

That's the kind of thing I want to read a lot more about. I want interviews with surviving members of the Rideaux family or their descendants. What was their experience with these players? How did the players and fans feel about this de facto segregation? (And while we're at it, let's have more about the Rondo neighborhood in general, a St. Paul black community plowed under for I-94 in the '60s, and which still doesn't get much historical notice.)

I'm assuming the book will also have more about William Williams, who turned down an offer from Baltimore to pose as an "Indian" and play for the Orioles (instead, he became an assistant to Minnesota governors for 48 years.) Or Leland Davis, a Winnebago/Dakota who was too "dark" for anything but Black baseball. And more about teams with names like the Twin City Colored Giants, the Uptown Sanitary Shop (teams named after employers were common in town ball), and St. Paul Colored Gophers (christened the nation's top Black team in 1909, before the more established Negro Leagues existed.)

To fill in the gaps before the book comes out, it might well be worth my (or anyone's) while to attend one of the "Coffee With The Curator" sessions hosted by Frank White at the civic center. These will be on Feb. 19th at 3:30, and Feb. 27th at 10:00 AM. The website says these will feature "a tour and personal stories." If you make a trip to Bloomington to see this exhibit, make it for one of Mr. White's guided tours.

Otherwise, you're left staring at those posterboards which doesn't really begin to express what the experiences of Black baseball players in Minnesota were like. There are some impressive names who spent time here, nonetheless. Campanella and Dan Bankhead with the Saints. Mays and Ray Dandridge with the Millers; Orlando Cepeda and Lou Brock with something called the St. Croix Rox.

And a final "did you know" -- that the (Pipped!) guy Robinson beat out at first for Brooklyn was a former U of M athletic star named Howie Schultz? Well, now you do.

*Sorry, Bloomington, but it's true. Your civic center / city hall looks like the color of those green planks that came with Lincoln Logs. I don't know why those planks were that color, nor why this civic center is, either.

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