The Pueblo Blues, the Lipton Teas, The Colorado Black Diamonds, The ABCs and the Denver White Elephants are some of the many Black baseball teams that played in Colorado. Jay Sanford, a local baseball historian said at the turn of the century there were over 200 teams just in Denver. Most of those were White teams organized around factories or neighborhoods or churches.
But Denver also grew into a home for a robust Black baseball community—an environment somewhat unique in the United States. “I’m not saying we didn’t have our prejudice, we certainly did, but they weren’t as severe as you’d find in most metropolitan areas,” Sanford said.
While there were All-Black teams, a few Black players like Bud Fowler actually competed on White teams—in fact he was the first Black player ever to be paid to play baseball professionally, although others quickly followed. Sanford said in Colorado, “We had our first Blacks playing baseball here professionally in the 1880s. And we had a few Black teams around—and then we had players on integrated teams. That far back.”
Sanford also pointed out that the 25th Infantry Regiment was one of the early all-Black units formed right after the Civil War. While stationed outside of Denver at Fort Logan in 1895, they formed the first integrated military baseball team—predating the 1948 integration of the actual United States Armed Forces by over 50 years.
In Colorado, “Black teams always played against White teams,” said Sanford. Even with the growth of the Negro Leagues in the 1920s, the most popular and most successful Black team in Denver at the time, the White Elephants, was never part of one of the Negro leagues. Rather the White Elephants often played White teams in Colorado. While the games were competitive, “it was under the guise of exhibition.”
That is until the Denver Post put on a baseball tournament from 1915 to 1947. Sanford says it was “the biggest baseball event outside of major league baseball.” It was segregated until 1934—but when the tournament desegregated that year, things quickly changed. Sanford said the White teams “went home having played high level competition against Black teams and they immediately began to integrate. And that’s why the White Elephants broke up following the 1935 season—because their players, all of them, could play on White teams.”
“Had that not happened I’m convinced Jackie Robinson would not have broken through the color barrier in 1947,” said Sanford. In a relatively short time, professional baseball in the United States really began to change. “We were integral in integrating baseball.”
Black Baseball is a part of the Play Ball! exhibit now at the History Colorado Center. See https://frontporchne.com/article/just-game-history-colorado-takes-deep-look-baseball-off-field/