- Black Ball and the Boardwalk: The Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, 1916–1929 by James E. Overmyer
The Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, New Jersey, traced their origins to the intersection of racism, tourism, and politics. In 1915, the Atlantic City Colored League was formed to provide an entertainment outlet for the city’s eleven thousand black residents. The hope was that blacks would attend the games and stay off the boardwalk, a haven for white tourists. In 1916, two black businessmen, one an ardent supporter of the local Republican political machine, asked an existing area team to join the league and rename itself after politician Harry Bacharach, the once-and-future mayor of Atlantic City. When the team did not join, one of the businessmen travelled south and convinced eight members of the Duval Giants, a black team in Jacksonville, Florida, to come north and found a new club, the Bacharach Giants. Soon becoming “one of the dominant squads in the hotbed of semi-pro and amateur baseball around the city,” the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants would win two Negro League pennants during the team’s fourteen-year existence (9).
In Black Ball and the Boardwalk, James E. Overmyer provides a detailed and fascinating season-by-season reconstruction of the history of the Bacharach Giants. Negro League teams usually received little attention in white-owned newspapers. Although black-newspaper coverage of the teams was more extensive, those newspapers did not always provide complete box scores or play-by-play accounts of the games. However, in the early twentieth century, the white-owned dailies of Atlantic City and Philadelphia reported on both black and white baseball. As a result of that coverage, Overmyer had access to a wealth of data [End Page 438] seldom seen by Negro League historians. He supplemented the material from those white newspapers with the information he located on away-games in black newspapers, and he cross-checked the player stats that he found against the stats compiled by the Negro Leagues Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research. Consequently, Overmyer managed to reconstruct significant portions of each of the Giants’ campaigns, sometimes uncovering the results of more than 120 games that the team played in a single season, and to accumulate a sizeable enough collection of statistics to provide a fairly complete picture of many of the players’ on-field accomplishments.
Although one of the best Negro League teams of the era, the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants had a precarious existence. The Giants dominated their opponents in 1916, winning sixty-seven of eighty-two documented games, but the team nearly folded two years later due to financial reasons. Fortunately, a cash infusion from two African American investors saved the club. In 1920, the Giants began a three-year stint as an associate member of Rube Foster’s new Negro National League (NNL). As an associate member, the Giants remained officially independent but received preferential scheduling from NNL teams; in return, both sides pledged to respect the player contracts of the other. In 1922, investors split the Giants into Atlantic City and New York versions, the latter retaining the association with the NNL. For reasons not entirely clear, the New York team folded after one year. Now back to representing just Atlantic City, the Giants broke with the NNL and helped found the rival Eastern Colored League (ECL) in 1923. The team would achieve its greatest success as a member of the ECL. In both 1926 and 1927, the Giants captured the league pennant but lost to the Chicago American Giants of the NNL in the Negro League World Series. Beset by squabbles over player contracts, the ECL folded in 1928. The Giants took the field as an independent team in 1929, but financial difficulties and attendance problems, which had long plagued the franchise, forced the club to disband at the end of the year.
Although probably packed with too much information for the casual reader, Black Ball and the...