Written by David Robert Weible
The 1933 Art Deco Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J., is one of the few remaining stadiums in the country associated with Negro League Baseball, and the former home to some of the league's greatest players and teams.
In connection with the recent community cleanup of Hinchliffe, coordinated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the city of Paterson, and the Hinchliffe Steering Committee, PreservationNation spoke with famed Negro League historian Dr. Larry Hogan about the significance of Hinchliffe Stadium and the legacy of Negro League Baseball.
Where did your interest with Negro League Baseball history begin?
I don't know a time when I didn't really love baseball. But the [Negro Leagues] part of it came from my doctoral dissertation. It was on something called the Associated Negro Press, which was a black version of the AP. I was writing a study of the institution, but I couldn't stay away from the sports pages. When I finished the dissertation, there was probably only a page or two referencing sports. But from then I started out on a journey through those papers, and most particularly, meeting the players. And I've been hooked ever since.
What did you get from speaking to Negro League greats like Monte Irvin and Gene Benson?
The easy answer to that question is 'stories, and stories, and stories.' When you met these fellas, the odds they faced, the tough stuff they had to face, just enjoying the game and loving the game the way they did, you couldn't help but be attracted to them.
What stands out to you about Negro League baseball that the Majors just didn't have?
Well, the style of the game was different. They played what they call 'Inside Baseball.' They ran much more. They did the hit and run. But they had practically everything baseball skill-wise and talent-wise that the Major Leagues had.
What about Hinchliffe Stadium and Larry Doby?
What make it special are two things. One was the quality and extent of the highest professional Negro League baseball that was played there, especially, in the mid-1930s, when the New York Black Yankees and to a lesser degree, the New York Cubans make it [one of their] home fields.
[And second,] in regard to Larry Doby, [he] learned his baseball in Paterson. He played for semi-pro teams there when he was in high school, playing under an assumed name so he could preserve his amateur status. His experience playing there in Paterson was important in terms of developing him as a baseball player.
What do you think the impact and the legacy of the Negro Leagues is on the game of baseball?
In terms of impact, I always point to the business of bringing down those barriers of segregation that kept these players from playing for so long. Everybody focuses on Jackie, and rightly so, it's such an incredible story, but there couldn't have been a Jackie without the teams and the leagues showing off this wonderful talent. And the spotlight that was on great baseball and great black baseball players, it became so obvious that the discrimination that was there was just ridiculous.
Why is it so important for this stadium and for the history of Negro League Baseball to be preserved?
Black baseball in New Jersey is as rich as you can find it anywhere. And so Hinchliffe is a place that fits into that history. It's the last of the Negro League ballparks in New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area where significant black baseball was played in a way that just grabs your attention.
They hosted a colored championship of the nation in 1933 when the New York Black Yankees occupied that field as their home field. And the stadium is something that, as a place, was dreamed of for at least a generation before it was built and paid for. The stadium is a monument to the sports enthusiasm of the struggling working-class Americans. Certainly it is an early symbol of the claim that sports and athletics have increasingly made on our national psyche as an access route to the American dream.
Once you establish that [history], then this place becomes a place where schoolchildren can come and not just read about the story in books, but see the place, and have that story told in the place where they played. For all of those reasons, it's a place that really does need to be preserved, restored, and brought back to the purpose that it was originally intended for.