LONE TREE, Colo. (CBS4) – Colorado’s baseball tradition got started long before the Rockies. You can trace it back to the 1920s to a team called the Denver White Elephants.
Bob Kendrick has dedicated his life to talk about one of the forgotten chapters in American sports history: Negro League Baseball. Kendrick is the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
“The Negro Leagues were obviously created during an era of American segregation when African-American and Hispanic baseball players denied an opportunity because of color. So they created their own league,” Kendrick said.
He started out as a volunteer at the museum before he met Buck O’Neil, who played in the Negro Leagues and led an effort to open the baseball museum. The encounter changed his life.
“I tell people all the time, once you are bitten by the ‘Buck-bug’ it’s all over. You just wanted to be on Buck’s team, Kendrick said.
“I considered myself to be a baseball fan, yet here is an entire chapter of baseball and Americana that I really did not know anything about. The more I was introduced to this story, the more I learned about this story, the more I wanted to learn about this story and so I almost became engrossed in it.”
Kendrick now goes around the country in one of the six traveling exhibits to tell others about the life and legacy of the Negro Leagues which lasted from 1920-1960.
The competition was fierce. Giving future Baseball Hall of Famers like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron their start in professional baseball.
“This is just a sampling of the talent that were there in the Negro Leagues,” Kendrick said. “It makes us as baseball fans wonder what did we miss? What would have happened had the doors opened sooner?”
Colorado never had an affiliated Negro League team, but it had the Denver White Elephants, the longest lasting African-American semi-pro team in Denver from 1915-1935. The White Elephants were owned by Albert Henderson Wade Ross, or A.H.W. Ross for short. He was a businessman and politician who owned the Rossonian Hotel in Denver’s Five Points.
The White Elephants would barnstorm around Colorado and also play in the Denver Post Tournament which became the first American tournament to integrate in 1935.
“Although they weren’t official members of the Negro Leagues, they were a dominant black baseball team competing primarily against white baseball teams because they didn’t have that influx of black baseball teams in and around them. So they were going all over the state taking all comers and whooping all comers,” Kendrick said.
One of the players on the White Elephants’ roster was Theodore “Bubbles” Anderson. He played with the team at the ripe age of 15. Two years later, he would become the only Colorado native to play in the Negro Leagues in 1922 when he joined the Kansas City Monarchs as a 2nd baseman, 3rd baseman and pitcher.
Anderson would play for the Monarchs (1922-23), Washington Potomacs and Birmingham Black Barons (1924), Indianapolis ABCs (1925), Atlanta Black Crackers (1938). He was also a World War II veteran and died on March 14, 1943 at the age of 38 from a gastric ulcer. Anderson’s final resting place is at the Fairmount Cemetery in Denver.
Stories of the Denver White Elephants, Bubbles Anderson and the Negro Leagues are the reason why Bob Kendrick continues to travel the country, hoping the legacy of these stories remain vivid in the hearts and minds of the next generation.
“The pride, the passion, the perseverance, the determination would not only change our sport, more importantly it would change our country,” Kendrick said. “This is what ushered in the Civil Rights Movement in our country. This is a powerful and compelling story of diversity and inclusion.”