New Orleans finally gets designation as major league baseball city
No, it’s not what you think or have been hoping for since the 1960s. Major League Baseball hasn’t awarded a new franchise to the City of New Orleans. Instead, by virtue of MLB deciding to add the Negro Leagues to its official record, the Big Easy is now big league when it comes to baseball.
The St. Louis-New Orleans Stars were part of the Negro American League in 1940 and 1941, so New Orleans will retroactively be considered a major-league city. It’s not exactly the way the city’s baseball fans would have preferred to attain its big-league status though.
What brought about this unexpected designation? According to MLB.com last week, “MLB is officially recognizing that the quality of the segregation-era circuits was comparable to its own product from that time period.” Consequently, MLB gave Major League status to seven professional Negro Leagues that operated between 1920 and 1948.
Black organized baseball teams existed in the city as far back as 1886, when a team called the Unions of New Orleans played. However, New Orleans didn’t have a single franchise that existed throughout the Negro Leagues era. For example, teams that were part of regional leagues included the New Orleans Black Pelicans who played in 1920 and again in 1945. The New Orleans Crescent Stars played in 1922, 1933, and 1934. The New Orleans Eagles played in 1951.
Furthermore, there existed numerous Black semi-pro teams that often competed against barnstorming teams on tour from other parts of the country. These teams included the Caulfield Ads, Jax Red Sox, and Algiers Giants. Wesley Barrow, after whom the local baseball stadium is named, served as manager of the 1945 Black Pelicans.
New Orleans shared an entry in the National American League with St. Louis in 1940 and 1041. Home games were played in both cities, with Pelican Stadium used as the site of the contests in New Orleans. Their competition included the Kansas City Monarchs and Birmingham Black Barons, two of the more storied franchises in Negro Leagues history. The Stars’ manager was George Mitchell, and their best pitcher was Eugene Smith, who threw a no-hitter against the New York Black Yankees in 1941.
Some of the more notable Negro League players whose careers started in New Orleans high schools and semi-pro teams were Oliver Marcell, Dave Malarcher, and John Bissant. Their hitting and pitching stats will become part of MLB’s official records.
New Orleans had long harbored hopes it could become the home to a major-league baseball franchise. When Major League Baseball’s expansion first occurred in the early 1960s and the concept for a local domed stadium emerged later in the decade, expectations soared that the city would secure an MLB big-league team. However, after numerous unsuccessful efforts by city and state officials to lure an existing franchise to re-locate to the Crescent City to play in the Louisiana Superdome, the endeavor was finally abandoned in early 1980s.
The closest New Orleans came to hosting a big-league team occurred when the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate relocated for the 1977 season.
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New Orleans baseball historian
Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.