by Connor Showalter and Jade C. McKenzie [Philadelphia Neighborhoods]
In the 1930s and 1940s, baseball was played at the 44th and Parkside Ballpark, where the originally Negro National League-affiliated Philadelphia Stars began a legacy, which community organizers are attempting to restore for future generations.
Today a memorial park, located at Belmont and Parkside avenues, commemorates the site where the Philadelphia Stars once played.
The Philadelphia City Planning Commission, along with grassroots organizations such as the Business Association of West Parkside, the Parkside Association of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Business and Technology Center, is looking to create a memorial baseball field for the historic team near its original location.
Rebecca Alpert, the keynote speaker for Philadelphia’s 2012 Jackie Robinson Day, wrote a book entitled, Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, chronicling the roles of Jews in black baseball.
“One of the most important Jewish figures in black baseball was Eddie Gottlieb, who was the co-owner of the Philadelphia Stars,” Alpert said. “Ed Bolden, a Philadelphia postal clerk was the main figure who organized the Stars and kept them running for over 20 years.”
Gottlieb was also the owner of the Philadelphia Warriors and drafted Wilt Chamberlain. Bolden was also founder of the Eastern Colored League and previously owned the Hilldale Club that won three Eastern Colored League championships and a Negro World Series.
The Stars’ field in West Parkside housed some of baseball’s greatest such as Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Turkey Stearnes and Jud Wilson who were all Hall of Famers and played intricate roles in the Negro Leagues.
The Philadelphia Stars were important to history because people of all races had a “communal place to congregate,” Alpert said.
“Particularly, for African-Americans who did not have many public and social places where they could come out and have a reason to celebrate,” Alpert said.
Philadelphia Stars Memorial Park has three tributes commemorating the Philadelphia Stars and Negro Leagues’ baseball, including a sculpture, a mural and green space. The statue is of a Philadelphia Stars batter sculpted by Phil Sumpter. The mural, also a part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, was painted by David McShane. Lastly, there is a list of all Negro League teams in history engraved in a granite table at the west plaza.
Jerry Silverman, nephew of Harry Passon, owner of Passon Field is just discovering his family’s history. Passon Field was one of the locations the Philadelphia Stars used before their permanent residence at 44th and Parkside Ballpark.
“It was a total fluke. I never even knew about it. My Uncle Harry passed away when I was young,” Silverman said. “When I became a tour guide for the Mural Arts Program, this was one of the murals that I had to do research on. While reading about the history of the Philadelphia Stars, it said they use to play at Passon Field. That is my family.”
Silverman was excited to find out about a family legacy he had no idea existed. The ballpark was leased by the Philadelphia Stars, but owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad YMCA. It was home to the football club, the “Railroaders” and soon used for a multisport athletic field by local community members.
Mackenzi Parker, the co-owner of Le Cochon Noir at 5070 Parkside Ave., hosted the jazz brunch and keynote address in honor of Jackie Robinson Day and the Philadelphia Stars Negro League Baseball team. Parker said that celebrating and learning about black history in baseball brings people together.
“I think no one really knows about the history,” Parker said. “It brings awareness to people inside the neighborhood and outside the neighborhood as well as a greater appreciation of the game.”
Dr. Robert Perkel, a professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, is an expert on Jackie Robinson who lectures on racial disparities and Robinson’s integration of baseball.
Perkel uses a quote by Robinson that resonates with him is his lectures, “A life is not worth living except the impact it has on others.”
“In some aspects, we are a more color-blind society than we were,” Perkel said. “I keep coming back to that legacy as a way to keep people connected in their communities.”
Perkel said he thinks the community is moving toward the ideals stated in the U.S. Constitution, but how little baseball players really knew about baseball history.
“One of the sad things today is that if you go into a major league locker room there are fewer black players because they are opting for other sports,” Perkel said. “Jimmy Rollins spoke to players in major league baseball awhile ago and mentioned the name Jackie Robinson. A lot of them really didn’t know who he was.”
Perkel said that restoring the baseball tradition in Parkside is in conjunction with the local businesses and residents resulting in Parkside being an upcoming neighborhood.
Mike Feldsher, of Napier Street and Worthington Road said he brought his daughter to see the Philadelphia Stars Memorial for the learning experience.
“This was important to Philadelphia history and baseball history,” Feldsher said. “The black players today like Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard have continued to Philadelphia’s legacy.”
This spring Connor Showalter and Jade McKenzie brought Eyes on the Street and PlanPhilly dispatches from the West Park and Lower South planning districts as part of their work for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a publication of Temple’s Multimedia Reporting Lab. PlanPhilly is a Philadelphia Neighborhoods partner.