Photo: Pictured is the old Gadsden City Park baseball field located on the approximate site of the Gadsden Sports Complex on Meighan Boulevard. (Courtesy of Mike Goodson)
By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
People living in Etowah County and its surroundings areas always have had a strong love for the game of baseball.
While Gadsden has never fielded a major league baseball team, the city has housed several minor league teams, and several future major leaguers have played in Gadsden. While researching a sporting event during 1921, a mystery was discovered dealing with one of Etowah County’s early professional baseball teams.
In March 1921, an announcement appeared in The Gadsden Times that the new Negro Southern League had granted Gadsden a franchise in the “Big League,” bringing professional baseball to the city. The team, known as the Gadsden Giants, would join nine others in the league. Games would be played at Dwight Park in Alabama City (where the current Gadsden City High School softball field is located) and at Gadsden City Park (where the Gadsden Sports Complex is located).
On March 16 of that year, the Giants were in Pratt City preparing for the upcoming season. The team had been working out there for three weeks and playing other teams in the league before Gadsden was awarded a franchise. The announcement was made shortly after Gadsden defeated the Atlanta franchise, 6 to 2.
Joining Gadsden in the league were teams from Birmingham, Bessemer, Montgomery, Mobile, New Orleans, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville,
The local ballpark in Gadsden was being refurbished under the direction of John Tyler, a well-known baseball promoter. Plans were for the Giants to open the season on April 21, 1921, at Bessemer with a three-game series. The first game on the home grounds would be played April 25, when the Chattanooga Black Lookouts were scheduled to visit Gadsden in for a three-game series. One feature of the early season was a proposed game with Rube Foster’s team from Chicago.
The repairs to the grandstands at league park had been completed and everything was ready for the 1921 season.
The mystery of the Negro Southern League begins to unfold prior to the Giants’ season opener. The next mention of the local team was in the April 26, 1921, newspaper account that recounted the previous day’s game. The brief article tells of Chattanooga taking a 3-0 win. The account reported a fast and interesting game with the local team putting up “a good brand of baseball all the way.” The feature play of the game was a towering home run by Chattanooga’s Andrew Morris. What is missing in the account of the season opener is the mention of any games played at Bessemer in the days before.
The following day, the Gadsden Giants defeated the Chattanooga squad, 10-2, behind a masterful pitching performance by Durand of Gadsden. It quickly appeared that Gadsden had a team that could hold its own. The newspaper reported that the Giants would meet Bessemer the following day. That is where the accounts of the games end. The answers to several of these questions have existed now for over 100 years.
Numerous calls to the Negro League Hall of Fame and the Negro Southern League Museum in Birmingham by the author have produced no additional information. It was if the Gadsden Giants never existed. While searching the internet, an old pdf file appeared that listed the Negro Southern League’s teams and players.
The reason for much of the confusion about the Gadsden Giants was the name. They were listed on the website as the Gadsden Tigers, a team that would move to Atlanta on May 7, 1921 and become known as the Atlanta Black Crackers.