|Originally Appeared in the 20th Anniversary Tri-State Pottery Festival Plater Turner's Handbook June 18, 19, 20, 1987|
By Mark F. Twyford, Interpreter
East Liverpool Museum of Ceramics
For nearly six decades, from 1888 to 1946, professional baseball was a segregated institution. Since blacks were denied the opportunity to compete with and against whites in the major and minor leagues, their only alternative lay in forming leagues of their own. Although most citizens of East Liverpool are unaware of it, the city is credited with having a representative in the Negro Leagues. In 1948, an East Liverpool resident played for the Homestead Grays in the Negro National League. His name was Bob Boston. This is his story.
On July 4, 1919, the United States of America was celebrating its 143rd birthday and its first since the Treaty of Versailles had brought an end to "the war to end all wars." Woodrow Wilson was finishing his second term as president and, economically speaking, the country was healthy. As far as entertainment was concerned, the attention of the American public was focused on Toledo, Ohio, where Jack Dempsey celebrated Independence Day by belting Jess Williard into oblivion and claiming the World Boxing Heavyweight Championship. In East Liverpool, sirloin steak was selling for 30 cents a pound at the A. H. Kountz Meat Market located at 403 Market Street, and Erlangers, which was situated on the corner of Fifth and Washington Streets, had boys' overalls on sale for .984. East Liverpool's male residents were preparing to flock to the American Theatre to see Theda Bara starring in "The Siren's Song." For most Americans, the future looked bright.
For the most part, the status of blacks after World War I was low as it had been prior to the war. Blacks were no better off during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson than they had been during the William H. Taft Administration or would be during Warren G. Harding's term as president. Black men were more concerned about how they were going to feed their families than they were with the outcome of the Dempsey-Willard fight. Sirloin steak and new overalls were the exceptions with chicken and hand-me-downs the rule. Any black man caught looking at Theda Bara with lust in his eyes would immediately been fitted for a necktie made out of rope. For most black Americans the future looked as dimly lit as the present.
When Robert Boston entered the world on July 4, 1919, in Rome, Georgia, he was immediately thrust into an environment where racial prejudice and inequality ran rampant. Robert, the sixth, and last, child of Ed and Burma Boston, was born black and poor into a country controlled by people who were white and rich. Although it appeared that Robert's feet were planted solidly on rock bottom, Lady Luck soon dug a hole and Robert fell deeper.
Boston's childhood was the stuff of which nightmares are made. Ed Boston died shortly after his son's birth, and the burden of raising Robert and his five brothers and sisters fell solely on the shoulders of Burma Boston. Robert's mother did everything she could to care for her children but, alas, the load proved to much to bear; within a decade, Burma Boston died.
Following his mother's death, Robert, or Bob as he was more commonly called, moved in with a neighbor and at the tender age of 13 he went to work in a rock quarry. Boston spent most of his nonworking hours playing baseball, a game at which he proved to be quite adept. Because of his tremendous size (6 ft., 6 in.) and his prowess on the baseball diamond, Boston's talents were in great demand, and he quickly learned that being good at baseball had its fringe benefits.
In the late 1930's, Boston left Rome and headed for Gadsden, Alabama, where he went to work for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Baseball, as a sport to be played by the masses, was at its zenith, and most companies sponsored teams. Goodyear was no exception. The rubber company fielded two teams, one for whites and the other for blacks. An applicant's baseball abilities often played a deciding role in the outcome of the hiring process, and those employees who played for the company's teams were given more desirable jobs and had to work fewer hours each week than those who did not play. Boston's job required him to work only two days a week. The remainder of his work week was spent playing baseball.
The list of benefits which went along with begin an outstanding baseball player did not end with a desirable job and a decreased workload; Boston also was able to supplement his income by playing for semi-pro teams who would pay him to play for them in important games. Boston was a particularly valuable commodity to teams who needed his services for only a game or two because he could play practically every position on the field and, thus, he could be placed at whatever position the team happened to be the weakest.
Boston's baseball career experienced little change over the next few years as he moved about throughout the South playing for various company and semi-pro teams until he was inducted into the United States Army in 1943. Upon being discharged from the Army in January of 1946, Boston came to East Liverpool, where his wife, Lucy, whom he had married in 1940, had been staying with her sister. He went to work at Crucible Steel in Midland, Pennsylvania, and it was there, while playing in the company's baseball league, that Boston first put his talents on display in the tn-state are. In his first game, the versatile Boston, known primarily for his hitting ability, pitched a no-hitter and struck out sixteen batters in the process. Although Boston was quite impressive on the mound that day, it was the prodigious wallops which rebounded off his mighty bat that caught the eye of Clarence Huffman, the manager of the Golden Star Dairy entry in the East Liverpool City League.
The following Spring, Boston, at the invitation of Huffman, joined the Golden Star team. He immediately made his presence felt. In his first season with Golden Star, Boston, the only black player in the league, registered a mind-boggling batting -average of .560, the highest ever recorded in the City League. He was also the main reason Golden Star cruised through the Shaughnessy Playoffs and captured the City League crown by sweeping Riverview Florists in three games. For the most part, Boston was treated with respect by teammates and opponents alike. However, the often subtle prejudice which was prevalent at the time occasionally surfaced in newspaper articles. An article in the East Liverpool Review following Golden Star's opening round playoff victory over Irishtown shows that although Boston had gained attention for his exploits on the baseball diamond, he was still better known for being the only black player in the league.
Manager Clarence Huffman of Golden Star sprung a surprise Tuesday in the Dairyman's opening City League series playoff game with Irishtown when he started heavyhitting Bob Boston on the mound, and the big colored fence-buster responded byout-dueling Don Railing in a 2-1 battle that was halted in the sixth because of darkness.
So impressive was Boston's rookie season in the City League that the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League signed him to a guaranteed $500 a month contract to play for them during the 1948 season. This represented a substantial increase over the $300 a month he had been making at Crucible.
In signing with the Grays, Boston joined an organization which clearly ranks as one of the best, if not the best, in the history of professional baseball. For nine consecutive seasons, from 1937-1945, the Grays had the best record in the Negro National League, and seven times during that period they captured the pennant. However, in the two years immediately preceding Boston's arrival, the Grays had fallen on hard times. The 1946 and 1947 seasons witnessed a complete reversal in the Gray's fortunes, as Homestead finished no higher than third in the standings and posted an overall winning percentage below .500.
Boston's debut in the Negro Leagues proved successful as he batted a robust .360 in spring training and opened the season as the Grays' starting third baseman. He continued his fine play through the early part of the 1948 season, as the Grays' play returned to the level of excellence which had come to be their hallmark. Alas, the story was not to have a happy ending. Boston's professional career came to a screeching halt when he crashed into a light pole while attempting to catch a foul ball.
As Boston chased the foul ball which was lofted towards the seats near the third base bag, the Grays' left fielder shouted to him that he had plenty of room to catch the ball. The left fielder was mistaken. So great was the force with which Boston struck the pole that not only did he break his arm, but the severity of the impact also caused the splintered bone to cut through the muscle and skin into open air.
Despite the severity of Boston's injury, his doctors informed the Grays' management that, given the proper amount of rest, his arm would regain all of the strength which it had lost. However, if a word to the wise is sufficient, then it would have required little more than an endless tirade to convince the Grays' management of the importance of giving Boston's arm the appropriate amount of time to heal.
The Grays' manager, Vic Harris, an astute baseball strategist with an alleged propensity for drink, repeatedly forced Boston to play even though his arm was obviously not healed. As a result, Boston's days as a professional baseball player were numbered. Shortly thereafter, while playing third base, Boston fielded a grounder and drew back the ball to throw it to first base. However, the throw was not forthcoming, as Boston couldn't bring his arm forward. Without saying a word, Boston laid his glove down on the ground and walked off the field. The once-promising professional baseball career of Bob Boston had ended with as little fanfare as it had begun.
Until the time of his injury, Boston was considered by many scouts to be a better major league prospect than Luke Easter, his roommate on the Grays who went onto start for the Cleveland Indians. Following his injury, Boston returned to East Liverpool and went back to Crucible, where he worked until he retired in 1980.
Although his professional career was over, Boston continued to play in the East Liverpool City League. From 1948 . 1951, Boston led Golden Star Dairy to two league championships and re-established himself as the best player in the league by finishing first in numerous batting categories over the four year period. At the end of the 1951 season, Boston hung up his spikes for good.
Today, Boston lives in Dayton, Ohio with his wife Lucy. He is a kind gentle man with a good sense of humor and an outstanding outlook on life. Bob Boston is also a man East Liverpool should be proud to call its adopted son, and a man who will, hopefully, now be remembered in a city which has, for too long, left his song unsung.
Bob Boston lived with his family on 1st Avenue in the East End of East liverpool.
There was a city softball league in the 1940's and 1950's in East Liverpool. They played at the old YMCA ball field on Bradshaw Avenue. Some of the teams in that league were the American Legion, Winland Glass Company, the VFW Post 66 and the Veterans Social Club.
The Veterans Social Club won the city Championship in 1955.
Playing First Base for that championship team was Bob Boston.
Bob Boston was a driving force behind the summer baseball games that were played at Columbian Field in the east End in the 1950's when bus loads of African-American people and players would come from afar and near to play or watch baseball played at Columbian Field.
If anyone has any additional information about Bob Boston we would greatly appreciate it. We are also looking for any pictures of Bob Boston and if anyone has any and would allow us to scan them to include in this article we would greatly appreciate that as well.
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