Dusting off the dirt

Rediscovering Negro Baseball’s Dayton Marcos

By Sarah Sidlow

Photo: This photo appeared in the August, 1942 Spot Magazine – caption wording with photo is original to the period;
photo credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.

Editor’s Note: The language used in this peice refers to the language of the day as it appears in both historical publications and scholarly text on the subject.

There is no exhibit for the Dayton Marcos Negro League baseball team at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Nor is there one in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. The Marcos are not mentioned among the list of negro league teams on mlb.com, or in the archive of negro league stories on ESPN.

There is one known photo of the Marcos – circa 1920 – and one known replica of the navy flannel Marcos jersey from the same year, the latter in the private collection of Michael Carter, senior vice president at Sinclair Community College.

The manila file in the local history department at Dayton Metro Library is thin, comprised mostly of newspaper clips from the 2000s, remembering Curtis “Bingo” Lloyd, the Marcos’ last surviving member, who passed away at the age of 99 in 2002.

The folder also houses copies of a few requests for more information, stapled to responses that read, paraphrased, “unfortunately, we do not know any more.”

What remains of the Dayton Marcos is mostly box scores, newspaper clippings and dead ends.

The Marcos were more than merely a blip in baseball history, however, having begun independent operation in the early 1900s as the only black team in the Ohio-Indiana League, before becoming one of the founding teams of the Negro National League (NNL) in February, 1920. The Marcos name and various iterations of the team continued in catch-as-catch-can fashion possibly as late as the 1930s or 1940s. Yet, for almost four decades of playing America’s game, we know very little of their story.

“Any of us continuing to do the research we do is trying to figure out who, what and where these [Negro League] teams came from, what happened to them and why,” said Leslie Heaphy, a sports historian and associate professor at Kent State University.


‘We are the Ship. All else the Sea.’

All-black baseball dates even further back than the start of Dayton Marcos. Unfortunately, so does professional baseball’s “whites only” exclusivity. In 1867, when the all-black Philadelphia Pythians baseball team applied for admission to the National Association of Base Ball Players (an organization pre-dating today’s major leagues), it was unanimously rejected. The decision denied access to “any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons.”

So, in the late 1800s, black “barnstorming” teams toured the country independently, competing against one another and in exhibition games against amateur and professional white ball clubs. In Dayton, the Westside YMCA, rooming houses and private homes welcomed visiting black players – better treatment than was expected for black players at that time. If Dayton’s love for “blackball” was not manifested in its history-keeping, perhaps, then, it was in its hospitality.

The Negro National League was formed in 1920 when Rube Foster – a talented black pitcher who became manager, and then owner, of the Chicago American Giants – held a meeting in Kansas City, Mo. with a handful of owners of other independent black professional teams. Together, they solidified the first organized black baseball league – the Negro National League (NNL). The NNL’s motto, “We are the Ship. All else the Sea,” is telling of its tumultuous relationship with major league baseball.

Present at that meeting were the owners of the Detroit Stars; the Indianapolis ABCs; the Kansas City Monarchs, who would go on to play the first colored world series in 1920 against the Hilldale Giants; the St. Louis Giants, the traveling Cuban Stars and Dayton Marcos Owner John Matthews. Thus, the Dayton Marcos became one of the eight original teams in organized black baseball.

At that time, Dayton’s African American population had been rising steadily, augmented by the migration of southern blacks to the North. By 1920, there were 9,052 black citizens living in Dayton.


Root, root, root for the home team

Most of what we know about the Marcos is about the 1920 team – but to call it “well-documented” would be more than generous. For example, we know they played their first game June 12, 1920, against the Chicago Giants at Westwood Field on Western Avenue (now James H. McGee Boulevard). They hit against Giants pitcher Satchel Paige, who would go on to become one of the most celebrated black baseball players of the day, pitch for the Cleveland Indians and become the first inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (1971) based solely on his Negro League performance.

We also know many of the Marcos players did not stay with the team very long, a trend common for the time when local players joined baseball teams but were often called away by the obligations of daily life.

“Some of the players were only there for a short time, and therefore what we know about the Dayton Marcos seems to suggest that the vast majority of the players were local to the area,” Heaphy said. “That’s one of the difficulties in trying to track them down.”

Third baseman and manager “Candy” Jim Taylor – one of the most famous Marcos players – was with the team in 1920, but gone by 1921. Taylor was part of a successful baseball family which produced four Negro League players including Ben Taylor, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. After leaving the Marcos, Jim went on to manage other teams in the Negro League.

On the mound was pitcher George Britt, who also stayed with the team for the 1920 season. Left-handed pitcher W.G. Sloan was already a hometown hero by 1920, though not for any athletic feat. Rather, it was for saving 317 people during 68 hours of continuous work during the Great Flood of 1913. A majority of this rescue work was done with a steel-bottom boat, which Sloan acquired at gunpoint from a famously selfish factory owner.

Over the years, other team members may have included water boys Charles Stokes and “Mule” Brown, Bill Earley (whose son was also a Marcos player), “Slim” Branham, George Brown, Clarence Coleman, Eddie DeWitt, G. E. Gray, Bruce Hocker, William “Wise” Johnson, I. S. Lane, Edward “Boots” McClain, Mitch Murray, Hurland Ragland, Curtiss Ricks, Curtis “Bingo” Lloyd – who played with the Marcos in the 1930s, and shortstop Chester Blanchard – who played with the Marcos from 1926 to 1930, and then umped the game for many more years.

Mid-season in 1920, the Marcos were hailed as “The best team in Dayton in their time!” and “One of the fastest colored teams in this part of the country!” but after a dismal finish near the bottom of the league (the 1920 team had a 16-36 record), the Marcos’ future was uncertain. The team left the NNL and returned to independent play.

“[Their record] doesn’t necessarily say anything about how successful they were before or after,” Heaphy said, “but typically with an independent team, what they discover is they can make more money independently, [rather than paying for Negro League guarantees]. What that would suggest is there had to be enough local success that they felt they could make it on their own.”

Some sources maintain the Marcos had a 1921 season in the NNL as well, but were moved to Columbus and granted a black front man, Dr. Howard Smith, and a new star player-manager, 37-year-old John Henry Lloyd. That year, “Pop” Lloyd hit for a reported .337 batting average.

The Marcos returned to the league from independent play in 1926, but performed no better than they had in 1920, finishing just barely above the last place Cleveland Elites in the bottom of the NNL.


History’s forgotten team

Little else is known about the Negro team that was present at the birth of professional black baseball. As Dayton historians and sports historians continue to dig, it seems what is unknown – and why – becomes the more interesting story to tell.

What’s ironic about the thin Marcos file is the fact that the state of Ohio boasts the city with the most all-black baseball teams ever represented a little more than three hours away (by modern standards) in Cleveland. Representing the city from 1922-1950 were the Cleveland Tate Stars, Browns, Elites, Hornets, Tigers, Cubs, Stars, Giants, Red Sox, Bears, Buckeyes and Clippers.

Yet, for a state with a proud black baseball history, another interesting fact emerges – the only team sports historians know less about than the Marcos is the Akron Black Tyrites, which played for a portion of a single season in 1933, before merging with the independent Columbus Blue Birds to finish the season as the Cleveland Giants. The Giants did not continue after 1933.

Heaphy attributed a large portion of this missing baseball history to the lack of black local publications.

“The bigger problem is when cities don’t have a significant black newspaper,” Heaphy said. “Unfortunately, Dayton doesn’t have a strong black newspaper heritage.”

News coverage of the Dayton Marcos, then, was left largely to the “visitors” column of other black newspapers around the country, which leaves us today with little more than box scores.


The legacy

In 2011, the Marcos were inducted into the Wright Dunbar Inc. Dayton Region’s Walk of Fame. It is perhaps the highest honor the organization ever received. Yet, the team’s legacy is an important one – to be listed among the founders of the professional league to which baseball greats like Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays owe their careers.

“The fact that [the Marcos] were part of the very first ever professional Negro ball league gives them a standing and an interest, which is why I think [the story has] never died away,” Heaphy said. “People have always wanted to be sure that Dayton is recognized as a part of that and that Dayton and the African American community had a national standing at that point.”

To be sure, the fact so little remains of the Marcos’ legacy in no way indicates Marcos baseball was not engrained in Dayton’s culture. As many as 2,000 people turned out for some of those games at old Westwood Field. Baseball fans will always find their way to the ballpark, and for an area without close proximity to a major league team, the Marcos would have been their hometown sluggers.

“Dayton is not close by to any major league baseball teams, so when people are looking at an opportunity to watch baseball, that’s what people go to,” Heaphy said. “That would support the idea that the Marcos had a significant local following.”

Perhaps that is why the city of Dayton, still without proximity to major league ball, has adopted another club with such great enthusiasm – the Dayton Dragons at Fifth Third Field, which broke the national record for most consecutive sellouts by a professional sports team, an average 8,375 fans per game. When the Dragons came to Dayton in 2000, it was Curtis “Bingo” Lloyd, a Marcos player, who threw out the first pitch.

Now, in these winter months, with Spring Training on the horizon and Opening Day just out of reach, baseball fans have something new to look forward to. In celebration of Black History Month, Sinclair Community College will present Shades of Greatness, a traveling exhibition by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum which showcases art inspired by Negro Leagues baseball. The exhibit will run Monday, Feb. 3 through Wednesday, March 12 in Building 13 during normal gallery hours. Michael Carter’s Marcos jersey, as well as other Negro League jerseys in his collection, will also be on display. The exhibit is just one more piece of the puzzle – another way to keep the story alive.

“I believe stories like the Marcos, and the Negro Leagues in general, are important because after all, it’s American history, and Major League Baseball’s story is incomplete without it,” Carter said. “Sports have always been a conduit for the disenfranchised to begin earning some measure of respect and equality. Negro Leagues are an excellent example of that.”

After all, it isn’t just baseball.

Reach DCP freelance writer Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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