The Philadelphia Tribune's Ed Harris had a tendency to wax poetic, and in a July 1940 column, he was in peak form.
His subject? The newly christened Pennsylvania Colored Baseball League, which in 1940 — 75 years ago — became one of the first circuits to attempt to draw together Philadelphia-area African-American semipro teams in the era of rigid racial segregation in America's pastime.
And Harris was virtually giddy with excitement at the apparent prosperity of this new Negro baseball adventure.
"Behind and underneath it all, the solid foundation on which all baseball is built, are the little clubs, the sandlot teams, the semi-pro clubs, the minor leagues," Harris wrote.
"Were it not for the little fellow, the big fellow would not be. It seems that way in all walks of life and it is particularly true in baseball. The clubs of the Pennsylvania league are somewhat higher in stature than other clubs but they are part of the many on which baseball depends."
Alas, despite making it through its inaugural season and setting lofty plans for a follow-up campaign in 1941, the Pennsylvania Colored Baseball League unceremoniously faded into darkness.
But such disappointing endings were far from anomalies in the topsy-turvy, wild and wooly world of pre-integration black baseball, in which teams — especially semipro ones such as the members of the PCBL — constantly struggled to stay afloat financially.
Across Pennsylvania and the country, such semipro circuits popped up and disappeared by the dozens, if not hundreds, despite the best of intentions and highest of hopes.
"During the existence of the Negro Leagues, one of the lesser-known aspects to many were the existence of many smaller, independent leagues that would come and go," said Leslie Heaphy, a professor at Kent State University and one of the organizers of the Society for American Baseball Research's Negro Leagues committee.
"These leagues tended to come and go because they had no sustained league structure and did not charge regular fees for teams coming to town."
Often, in fact, the reasons for the failures of organizations such as the PCBL ran even deeper than that, said Dr. Ray Doswell, curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
"League structures were deemed necessary for stability," Doswell said. "Among the problems, it seemed, for leagues not sustaining themselves is that all teams were not created equal. Quality teams needed quality, well-run opponents, and that may not have been the case throughout a given league."
As for the Pennsylvania Colored Baseball League, its nascence emerged in late 1939, the brainchild of Asa Anderson, a native of Montgomery, Ala., who moved to Philadelphia around 1920 at age 22 and began a lengthy career as a postal clerk and the proprietor of one of the few black-owned sporting-goods stores in the country.
The president of the PCBL was August "Gus" Rangnow, a white Philadelphia policeman and one of the pillars of amateur and youth athletics in the community, but it was Anderson who drove the league.
The loop emerged with the early inking of nine teams: the Main Line Tigers, Wayne Black Hawks, Media All Stars, Black Meteors, Liberty Stars, Philadelphia Cardinals, Virginia Stars, Haverford Clubs and Lansdowne Giants.
With the league operating out of Anderson's home at 3933 Germantown Ave., the number of teams fluctuated constantly, with franchises clashing with independent teams as warmups for the league season. The league finally launched in mid-May. From there, the various teams jockeyed for position in the standings and constantly fiddled with both their player rosters and their managerial and coaching staffs.
One of the league's most popular teams, and one that received a large amount of coverage in the media, was the Black Meteors, whom the Tribune called "the prides of south Philly" in a July 25, 1940 article.
But as the league proceeded, ominous signs developed; by July, the circuit had dropped to five squads. However, the league and media still gushed enthusiasm, especially hyping an all-star game at Hilldale Park. Stated the Trib: "As with all such attempts there were plenty of scoffers. The clubs that signed up were informed that they were waiting their time and the summer would end with a Pennsylvania Baseball League. While it is still just July it remains that the league has been operating on schedule and the games that have been played have been interesting and worthwhile."
As July progressed, the Main Line Tigers went on a nine-game winning streak, and by the end of the month, there was a virtual three-way tie for first place. In mid-August, league officials established a playoff system for the top four teams.
However, even that seemingly good news was marred by two more setbacks: the departure of the Wayne Black Hawks and the fan-favorite Black Meteors. What was worse, a three-team playoff degenerated into a murky spate of games that left the Main Line Tigers and Liberty Stars hashing it out.
The Stars eventually were crowned champs of the league's inaugural season, but the Tigers received some solace when their first baseman, Tom Taylor, was named league MVP after batting .328 for the season.
The bigwigs were already looking ahead to the next year's campaign. Indeed, by October 1940, the circuit's officials had gathered to establish a playoff structure for '41 and sent out a call to local sandlot and semipro African-American aggregations.
The media boasted, as well. "The move to organize the stronger of the semi-pro teams was one of the finest things that happened in 1940," Harris asserted.
And then ... nothing. No more newspaper coverage, no mention of the ballyhooed '41 adventure, no anything. Kaput. By all indications, the circuit -- which just months earlier had been hailed as a major breakthrough for the regional African-American sports scene -- vanished, like countless other semipro and sandlot blackball teams, into the ether of time and history.
But what the PCBL courageously undertook 75 years ago remains a testament to the desire of African-American fans to pursue their passion for the game throughout history. Coming back to Harris' July 1940 column:
"The small and often obscure teams nurture and feed the game. Unheralded and unsung they do their work day by day during the hot summer months. The destinies of each of these little teams are just as important as those of the first-class clubs. Whether we hear about them or not they exist and as long as they exist baseball can live."