Ask someone either at home or at work, “How are you doing today?”
Several replies will be forthcoming. Some respond “Ok”,
“Fine” or “Surviving”. As long as Sallie Potter’s Louisville
Ebony Aces were playing ball in the Negro League circuit, times and surviving
were good. A steady salary, Potter’s bus, driven by Potter, with reclining
seats, which carried the team from one scheduled game to another, black hotels,
black restaurants and night clubs made for an indulgent and uncomplicated life
on the road. When Potter released veteran player Raymond Mikes, because he broke
his foot rounding third base, playing the Philadelphia American Stars, Bingo
organized the players and revolted against owner black owner Potter.
Bingo thought he knew all the ins and outs of the game, having watched Potter
and fellow hustler Lionel Foster all these years. How hard could it be owning
and managing a ball club? With Lionel backing Bingo with a little capital until
things got going, a barnstorming baseball outfit was born. Bingo first recruited
fellow teammate Leon Carter, the best pitcher alive, and then one by one talked
Potter’s Aces into becoming Bingo’s All-Stars. Even Raymond Mikes had agreed to
come along as bookkeeper. With third baseman Louis’s Lincoln convertible and
Bingo’s Auburn, the team was set and left for Pittsburgh to play the Elite
Giants. Lionel had helped Bingo set up games in Cleveland, Toledo and Chicago,
after that, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then Iowa.
Life was good and surviving was no
problem. Bingo knew hustling baseball games in small rural towns was a lot
different than playing the usual scheduled games in the Negro League and tried
to acquaint his teammates, who had not traveled west of Chicago, with this fact.
“We got to be polite and cheerful all the time even when we ain’t feeling
it” (Brashler 50). Life in segregated America was not easy for Negroes.
White restaurants and hotels did not permit them inside. It was necessary to
find black establishments, who would serve Negroes.
If no place was found to put
them up for the night, they slept in cars or outside on the ground in bedrolls.
Even if they had money and were able to pay, prejudice and bigotry took charge
and made life for the Negro, as a second class citizen. Bingo was aware of this,
but he was going to find out first hand how it really was. Life would become
survival. Once the All-Stars left the Eastern cities and established Negro
League baseball schedules, they would have to hustle their own games. Because
theses games were in smaller populated areas, the All-Stars would have to play
more games just to break even.
Lionel had advised them to play as many games as
possible. Road travel was difficult and slow, streets and highways were not
paved. Cars lumbered over the roads at a snail’s crawl. Dust not only covers the
passengers, but also plugged up the car’s engines. At times, after the last
game, the players filed back into the cars, got as comfortable as possible and
were driven by Bingo and Louis, or back up drivers, on to the next town, the
next game. Showmanship was necessary.
Upon entering small towns, it was
necessary to drive down the business district, the driver would honk the horn as
the players stood up in the car and waved to the people. Then they would change
into their uniforms, re-enter the town, driving down the main streets, honking
the horn, players would walk behind the car and wave and bow to the people, all
in an effort to gain interest and enthusiasm in the upcoming ball game. At the
beginning of the games, were hot ball routines, infield pantomimes and pitching
shows. Then there was the baseball fields, in some cases just pastures with a
couple of wooden benches and a broken down backstop. If an admissions stand
could not be built, then the All- Stars would pass the hat in small rural areas.
After all, expenses have to be met.
The strain of the road eroded players
mentally and emotionally. Day in and day out it was the same routine over and
over again. The ever present discrimination and class distension appeared in
many different themes. Louis was razored for propositioning a white call girl, a
white car mechanic took advantage of Bingo’s ignorance concerning needing new
spark plugs for Bingo’s Auburn, Bingo’s car was destroyed when a white woman’s
truck hit it, there were small white town hecklers at the ball .