Tag Archives: National Association of Base Ball Players

What I Learned Today: The Colored Department League

This, which I hope will be a continuing series, will cover a short topic of which I’ve read enough to be interesting but fall far short of expertise. I am sharing here in case you may find this interesting as well.

For as long as I remember my dad had this old, decrepit trophy on his desk. He didn’t exactly keep a neat desk so it would not be unusual to not have a backstory for everything there. Cleaning out his office, trying to decide what may have value — either personal or otherwise — I took a better look at the cup.

It says the following on one side:

U.S. Treasury
Baseball Team
R. Manley Capt. – Wm Ellis Mgr.

I imagine my father saw it in the Treasury building some time during his 22 year tenure there and thought it was pretty interesting. Well, me too. So I decided to do a little research and found out just a little about the trophy.

Reading “Blurring the Color Line: How Cuban Baseball Players Led to the Racial Integration of Major League Baseball” by Stephen R. Keeney on the website for the Society for American Baseball Research, I see that organized baseball was segregated well before the MLB was formed. Teams with African-American and Cuban players were not allowed to join the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), the precursor to Major League Baseball (MLB).

Base ball (two words back then) players were actually recruited with government jobs. An ad from an “1868 job advertisement for a first baseman read ‘The National Club of Washington are looking for a first baseman about here…Terms—First-rate position in the Treasury Department; must work in the Department until three o’clock, and then practice base ball until dark.'” I am assuming this ad is for a white team but it seems that this type of arrangement was later afforded to African-American players.

In 1909, the Colored Department League, an independent league for black players who worked in government was formed with teams representing the Government Printing Office, Interior Department, as well as the Department of the War and the Navy. Treasury joined in 1923, along with several other teams.

I tried finding out more about Mr. Manley and Mr. Ellis to no avail. I did find another fascinating man named William Ellis, who was born a slave, “passed” as a Hispanic named Guillermo Enrique Eliseo, became involved in Wall Street trade and Texas politics, presided over mining and rubber companies for which he developed economic ties with Ethiopia and Mexico, before losing his money and dying in Mexico City in 1923 at the age of 59.

I wish I knew more about these men and the Colored Department League.

Blurring the Color Line: How Cuban Baseball Players Led to the Racial Integration of Major League Baseball


Colored Department League

William Henry Ellis (1864-1923)

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