Still a winning season for New Windsor Cubs

Reunion: The team of black and white Carroll kids who blasted to a 21-0 Little League pennant in 1954 continues to bat 1.000 in friendship.

July 27, 2004|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Sunday was Little League Day at Oriole Park for the New Windsor Cubs. Forgive the fans if they didn't recognize the undefeated team from 1954. Instead of gangly kids in baggy uniforms, they were gray-haired granddads in matching T-shirts.

On the front of the shirts: CUBS FOREVER.

Fifty years after this Carroll County team won a pennant on its first try, the players still flock for reunions from places like Wyoming and North Carolina.

Three still have their Little League uniforms, neatly folded and tucked away. Outfielder Barton "Skip" West kept his bat, a weathered Jackie Robinson model. And a while back, coach Herbert "Humpot" Brooks, 86, was seen around Westminster wearing his beat-up "NW Cubs" cap.

A photo of the 12-and-under club's youngest player, Ken Robertson at 8, hangs in the Laramie, Wyo., office of the physician he became.

"I think about that team every day," said Robertson. "I tell people how we went 21-0, a bunch of black and white kids, at a time when schools were segregated.

"Who'd have thought, in 1954, that a small town in a southern state would allow that to exist?"

They were a country brood who had been pals long before Little League. They swam the same creeks, biked the same trails and dawdled outside Brownie's Corner, the town's soda shop, sipping 5-cent cherry Cokes and wrangling over whose Topps card was better, Mickey or The Duke.

When organized baseball beckoned, they joined en masse - 15 eager schoolboys who would shake up the newly formed Frederick-Carroll Little League. Of the circuit's four teams, only New Windsor (population 800) bore an integrated lineup. Westminster and Frederick, the area's largest towns, supported their own youth programs. Those, too, were for whites only.

On June 5, 1954, three weeks after the Supreme Court's landmark decision barring segregation in schools, New Windsor played its first game, with three African-Americans on the field and another, Brooks, in the coaching box.

The Cubs won, 16-4, over Woodsboro, a team from Frederick County.

"To us, [race] was no big deal," said shortstop Mike Schlee. "We weren't black. We weren't white.

"We were kids."

Others saw it differently. A half-century ago, most lunchrooms, bars and theaters below the Mason-Dixon Line relegated blacks to second-class accommodations.

New Windsor was no exception. "You could walk into the drugstore and buy a Coke, but you couldn't sit there and drink it," said left fielder Edward "Buzzy" Davis, who is black. "That was the way of the world.

"We had no problem assimilating into the team, because we were friends. But we still knew that, after a game, we couldn't go into a restaurant and eat with the [white] kids."

Davis is dean of the business school at Clark University in Atlanta. At 10, all he wanted was to play ball. Rebuffed by the segregated team in his hometown of Union Bridge, Davis bicycled the 4 miles to New Windsor, where he made the starting nine - alongside Herbert "Sonny" Brooks, the coach's son and a strapping power hitter, and Richard "Jasper" Hill, perhaps the fastest of them all.

They sat among their white teammates on the bench, wiped their brows with the same towels and drank water from the same galvanized bucket.

"The fact that we all used the same dipper offended people in Union Bridge," said outfielder Jim Dyer. "They threatened to forfeit a game because of that."

Others tried more subtle means of aggravation.

"Whenever the black guys would bat, you'd hear derogatory comments from the stands, murmurs that were barely audible," said Schlee. "Some people would throw stones against the backstop, to distract the batters.

"If it bothered our guys, it never showed. Sonny hit some home runs of gigantic proportion, including one that sailed over the fence - and a house - at Union Bridge."

Only once did the Cubs respond to a racial slur from the stands. Sonny Brooks was at bat when his manager, Ray Wilson, charged the fan, grabbed his shirt and gave him what-for.

"I didn't hit the guy, but I gathered him up," said the manager, now 75.

And Brooks?

"I just made 'em pay for it by hitting," he said.

The media took note of the ethnic mix. Reporting their scores, the Frederick Post referred to the Cubs as "New Windsor's non-segregated nine."

The Cubs circled the bases and forged ahead.

"To us, it was never `Sonny is black' or `Sonny is colored.' It was just `Sonny,'" said third baseman Josh Owings. "If you picked on him, or Jasper or Buzzy, you were pickin' on all of us."

After five games, they had outscored opponents 108-26.

New Windsor was said to be piling on. West, the outfielder, was sitting in the chair at Wimpy's Barber Shop, getting a flattop, when a rival coach sauntered in for a shave.

"The coach asked me why we kept running up the scores. I told him, `It's not our fault that you can't get us out,'" said West.

Said Davis: "Having different races on the team made us work harder. We didn't want to lose to anybody."

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