Skip to content

LA White Sox: The best team you probably never heard of


Negro League baseball on the West Coast

Some of the best professional baseball ever played in Los Angeles took place at a long forgotten facility in Boyle Heights. The Los Angeles White Sox were part of the West Coast Negro Baseball League and faced an assortment of big league talent that barnstormed along the California coast, particularly in the greater Los Angeles area.

Black ball players played all over the LA area at venues such as Chutes Park (near Washington Boulevard and Grand Avenue) as well as sites in the Vernon region and in South Los Angeles. White Sox Park (sometimes known as Anderson Park) was built by Doc Anderson, a local  African-American entrepreneur and was the only local facility constructed specifically for a Black team. While it only seated 3,500 people, the field dimensions were relatively big: 445 feet to left center, 546 feet to center, and a “short porch” in right at 430 feet. It opened in 1921 under the ownership of local produce distributors Joe and John Pirrone as a response to the all-White Pacific Coast League stadiums which maintained a strict prohibition against Black players.

When the original park began to fall into disrepair by the mid-1930s, the Pirrones built a better, more upgraded facility that seated 7,000 visitors–also named White Sox Park–at 38th Street (or today’s 41st Street) and Compton Avenue, not far from Thomas Jefferson High School, occupying what is essentially the site of present-day Ross Snyder Recreation Center.

The great Oscar Charleston

The White Sox’s were a formidable team led by the legendary Oscar Charleston who, during the summer in the 1930s, played for the St. Louis Giants of the Negro Leagues. Some baseball historians consider Charleston among the top five players in the Negro Leagues. As a center fielder, Charleston was arguably the best “five-tool” player of his day (hitting for average, hitting for power, running, throwing and fielding) and, in 1921 playing in the Negro National League, hit .426 with 10 triples, 14 home runs and 28 stolen bases. Charleston (circa 1946) played in the West Coast Negro Ball League and is reputed to be the man who recommended Robinson to the major leagues.

Other White Sox players included hall of famer Biz Mackey at catcher, and “Bullet” Rogan–the Shohei Ohtani of his day–who excelled on the mound and the plate. Satchel Paige pitched a few times against the White Sox who were covered mainly by the California Eagle newspaper which would publish their two-month schedule (October through December) as part of the California Winter League season. Dobie Moore also played. He was a shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1920s, and played winter baseball locally in 1920 and in 1921. Moore’s .385 batting average for those two seasons was the highest in California Winter League history.

Big stars at White Sox Park

Over the years at White Sox Park, the greats of baseball stopped by to demonstrate their skills, among them hall of famers “Cool Papa” Bell, Josh Gibson and Willie Wells. Other Black stars who played at White Sox Park included Buck Leonard of the Homestead Grays and Mule Suttles, the California Winter League’s all-time home run leader with 64.

It would seem unlikely that a Black team would compete against a White team during the dark days of segregation, but fate would have it that, one day in 1938, a team of Black opponents got stuck in a train station on the way to Los Angeles. Joe Pirrone threw together a White team of minor and major leaguers to the delight of the crowd. The idea of integrated games became accepted–at least for one afternoon. By the mid- to late-1930s, restrictions against the very popular Black baseball stars eased a bit, and they were allowed to play in the Pacific Coast League in parks like Wrigley Field and Gilmore Field.

“All of those teams were so good, and the White Sox were so, so good,” said Jerry Hairston Jr., a baseball historian who played 16 years in the major leagues including a stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2012-2013. Hairston, whose grandfather, Sam Hairston, played in the Negro Leagues, is a Dodgers commentator on SportsNet LA. “They sacrificed so much to give us an opportunity to play this great game, so I would not be here and a lot of us would not be here if it wasn’t for those guys.” Hairston candidly admitted that his grandfather was “a better player than I was,” in lamenting that “he didn’t get the opportunity that I had, so everytime I took the field, I played hard because of him.”

It isn’t quite accurate in labeling all winter baseball in California as “California Winter League” as the term ignores the uneven color lines that existed in that time and place. For most Black players in the early 1900s, baseball was a year-round occupation. Much has been written about African-American involvement in the Cuban Winter League and the barnstorming teams that played against White major leaguers.

Satchel Paige vs. Dizzy Dean

Long before Satchel Paige’s All Stars faced Dizzy Dean’s barnstorming major league players in the 1930s, Oscar Charleston’s Bear Cats (the White Sox in reality, but also known as the Colored All Stars and the Colored Giants) handily defeated Irish Meusel’s All Stars in Southern California during the winter of 1921-1922. Ironically, it was that period that the Ku Klux Klan settled in the greater Los Angeles area just when the White Sox were competing against–and often defeating–some of the best White teams.

These games demonstrated that Negro League players could stand up against major leaguers. In turn, this justified the concerns of professional baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, to not allow White major leaguers to compete on a regular basis with Negro League players during the off season. Ty Cobb, a noted segregationist, opted to leave the Los Angeles area following the 1921-22 winter league schedule before he had to play against Oscar Charleston and the White Sox.  

Because these games took place during the winter months, rainouts were common. The White-only teams had insurance policies that would recoup lost revenue. The White Sox didn’t have that luxury and suffered at the will of the weather. Still, when the weather was favorable for a ball game, there were large crowds coming from throughout the area to watch and cheer the action.

The California Eagle reported that one day in 1921, a game was canceled when a “rip-roaring Santa Ana storm” blew down “the entire north and south side fence [and left it] lying mangled on the ground.” It rained so hard that the paper reported “fish were swimming around the bases, bringing sorrow to the management and disappointment to the several thousand fans.” Los Angeles experienced terrible flooding before the Los Angeles River was modified to essentially become a flood control channel

By 1946, the Negro League had begun to fade somewhat, but in that year the West Coast Baseball Association was formed to include the San Francisco Sea Lions, the Seattle Steelheads, the Portland Rosebuds (owned by Olympic great Jesse Owens), the Oakland Larks, the San Diego Tigers and, of course, the Los Angeles White Sox. Less than a year later, the sports world–and American society in general–would be forever changed by the appearance of Jackie Robinson in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform.