Handwritten on the back, "Oakland Larks Negro League Team 1946?, 3B Fox Blevins sliding Felton Morrie Morrison." Photo shows Blevins bent over, stradiling a base with his glove with the baseball resting inside, resting on top of the base as Morrison slides on his back into the base. Empty baseball field in the background.

(Source: Oakland Heritage Alliance News, by Michael Knight, Winter 1996)The Oakland Larks The decade and a half after World War II represented a Golden Age for baseball in America. In the 1940s every facet of American society seemed to embrace this sport even if barriers kept their best players out of the white male major leagues. For women and different racial and ethnic groups, specialized leagues sprang up across the nation to serve the public's voracious appetite for baseball. Some prominent African American businessmen in Oakland and Berkeley realized there was a ready audience waiting for Negro League baseball on the West Coast. The West Coast Association Negro Baseball League was formed during a series of meetings held October 18-20, 1945, at the Elks Club on 8th Street in Oakland, by the board of directors of the High Marines Social Club, and representatives from the five original member teams. The first four teams were the San Francisco Sea Lions, Seattle Steelheads, Los Angeles White Sox, and an unnamed San Diego Club. The fifth team was formed by the High Marines board of directors and called the Oakland Larks. The League was officially authorized by a conference commission appointed by the High Marines Social Club members and the five team representatives. This commission was assigned the duty of drafting League bylaws and submitting them to the full conference for signature. Despite two unresolved issues, the entry fee for new teams (finally set at $500) and the League's name (West Coast Association), the document was signed on October 18. The purpose of the West Coast Association was to form a profitable Negro minor league located in Pacific Coast cities. Although based on the West Coast, all teams were allowed to book non-league games throughout North America. The Larks played home games at parks in Berkeley and Oakland, and grueling road games all over the west and Midwest against such renowned non-league teams as the House of David. The Larks had a standing arrangement for games with the House of David. This team was originally formed in 1903 to represent a Jewish religious colon called Benton Harbor, Michigan. House of David players were known for their flowing beards (considered part of their uniforms, according to the contracts they signed) and trick plays on the baseball diamond. When these two barnstorming teams played, it was always to capacity crowds, as in Seattle on August 7, 1946, when 12,000 fans cheered a nine-inning "barn-burner," part of a sold-out three-game series the two teams played in Seattle. The league was also formed to give African American players an opportunity to play minor league ball in preparation for advancing to the Negro major leagues. This was viewed as especially important by league officials because the Pacific Coast (minor) league was still segregated in the late 1940s The league officially opened its first season April 12, 1946. However, from the outset many of the teams were in financial difficulty. The league struggled along, many teams folding by 1947. The remaining teams carried on as a loose confederation before permanently disbanding in 1949. What had seemed like a good idea in 1945 during the baseball-starved atmosphere of wartime America lost its luster by 1947 as the major leagues returned to full operation. Interest in the Negro Leagues generally declined after Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier in 1947. A key figure in the founding of the West Coast Association was Eddie Harris. Eddie Harris, who resided for many years at 1613 Derby Street in Berkeley, was a former Negro minor league player with the California Eagles. He approached the High Marines with the concept of a new Negro baseball league in 1945. He became business manager of the Oakland Larks and was credited with assembling the league's most dominant team. The Larks practiced at San Pablo Park in Berkeley, with league games played either there, or when available, at the Oakland Coast League ball park. After the Larks folded in 1949, Harris took a civil service job in Berkeley while he searched for a position back in the world of his first love, baseball. There is virtually no personal information on Eddie Harris in the West Coast Association records held at AAMLO. More detail is found in the records on Jim West, who was hired by Eddie Harris as player/manager. West was a renowned Negro Leagues player from Philadelphia who brought several talented teammates to California to play for the Larks. His correspondence with Eddie Harris during negotiating over his contract reveal a flamboyant, even cocky, personality, as well as his philosophy on building a successful baseball franchise. As the negotiating process dragged on in early 1946, West wrote Harris in exasperation and declared that if he was allowed to implement his strategies and hire specific (albeit expensive) players of his choice, he would guarantee the league championship for the Larks. Harris finally relented and West came through on his promise: the Larks were the leagues first champions by a huge number of games in 1946. Another man who appears frequently in the Larks' publicity clippings is Sammy Workman, billed as the "Limbless Baseball Wonder." Workman lost both his arms and legs at the age of two, apparently due to infections. He was hired by the Larks as a traveling exhibition for their games and put on hitting, catching, and running demonstrations for the crowds while the teams warmed up for the feature game. The West Coast Association records at AAMLO cover many aspects of the league's operation from inception in 1945 through insolvency in 1949. These records contain the league's by-laws, contracts, minutes, correspondence, newspaper clippings and regulations. Records for the Oakland Larks include financial records, correspondence, publicity releases, clippings from around the country, contracts, game schedules, personnel records, and photographs. A large collection of Western Union telegrams received by the business manager of the Larks in the spring and summer of 1947 make it possible to reconstruct the team's road trips that year. Telegrams datelined Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Wichita, Houston, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Pine Bluff, and many smaller towns provide an excellent insight into a baseball team's typical daily operations, as well as the obstacles and tribulations faced by Negro League teams touring the nation. The specter of a racist society was never far behind. In May of 1947 the Larks were notified by telegram that a game with the "Davids" in Fort Smith, Arkansas was canceled, due to a municipal policy prohibiting integrated sporting events. What makes these records all the more valuable is that no other archive in the West is known to hold documents from this league. However, West Coast Association records contain little biographical information on its members or on league teams other than the Larks. The African American Museum and Library at Oakland would like anyone with information on the WCA, Oakland Larks, High Marines, Eddie Harris,, or league players, to contact Michael F. Knight, curator specialist, at 597-5053. We are particularly interested in stories from former players or anyone who knew former players.

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