St. Louis, Missouri
Good Earth Flour Production Mill A
By Steve Meyers
“If I have to lift one more sack of 100 LB. flour today, well, I don’t know what I’ll do”, said the tall man as he gently set the bulky sack of wheat flour onto the pallet. He was the oldest of the two men in conversation. His lean frame almost disguised his strong core of muscles that hid under his baggy clothing. He wiped his brow before looking left and right. “I believe it’s time for a short break gentleman.”
The shorter of the two, dressed in overall jeans like his work buddy, declared, “You don’t have to twist my arm. I am dragging today.”
He joined the tall man, each perched atop one of the bags of flour, so they were facing each other. “Any of you guys got a spare cigarette?” Virgil directed the inquiry to include the third man in the room who was sitting by himself on a pallet of bagged sugar.
“Again?”, said the tall man, “Don’t you ever buy your own?”
“Sure, I buy my own. I just happened to be forget to buy them today. Is that a crime?”
The tall one let out a sarcastic laugh, “Hell no, it ain’t no crime, Virgil. The crime is you got the gumption to ask that question twice a day every day of the work week. That, there, is the crime of it.“
“Never mind then, Earl, don’t need no handouts from you, anyway. You make such a federal case about a single smoke.”
Virgil looked over to the youngest man in the group. The quiet one sitting by himself. He was reading a book. Neither Virgil nor Earl could read proficiently, so they often referred to Jacob, as ‘the bookworm’, when he wasn’t within listening distance.
Virgil got up and walked over to Jacob, and, in his kindest and most respectful voice, asked, “Say Jacob, do you think I could borrow one of your cigarettes? Just until tomorrow. We get paid tonight and I was gonna pick me up some smokes over there at the city market.”
Jacob looked up from his book for the first time since the group had been on break. Virgil figured he was about 20 years old, maybe 21, tops. But, neither Virgil nor Earl knew much about ‘the bookworm’. He kept to himself. When asked by others if the ‘quiet one’, aka the bookworm, was friendly, Virgil would usually reply, “Don’t really know the answer to that question. Now, if you was to ask me if he was unfriendly, I would say ‘no, not at all’.
The quiet young man who was a good 6 foot 3 inches, and nearly a half foot taller than Virgil, closed the book creating a soft ‘puff sound’. It was then that Earl saw the title of the book, American Baseball by Henri Whittier. The cover was frayed around the edges. It was a thick publication that looked as old as the game itself.
Jacob, looked Virgil straight in the eye and, in a voice so soft Virgil had to lean closer to hear the words, said, “I don’t use tobacco.”
“Oh, well, that’s fine. Wasn’t really sure if you did or not, Jacob. It’s hard to remember who does and who doesn’t, if you know what I mean.”
There was a quiet moment between the men. Virgil feeling awkward, ready to break eye contact, Jacob looking like he was about to add something else. He just kept staring at Virgil. Not unfriendly like, but, almost as if he was debating whether to continue.
Virgil, spoke, “What is it, man. Did you want to say something else? You can speak up here, just me and Earl.”
After a short pause, “You guys are ball players, right? You and Earl? I mean you guys are on the St. Louis black ball players team, right?”
“Yeah, we’re on it. Earl pitches and I play shortstop. Actually, any place in the infield except catcher. You ain’t gonna get me behind that dish.”
Ignoring Earl’s last comment, Jacob continued, “So, here’s the thing. There is this league about to commence that is to take the place of the one that folded last year. They referred to it as the National League.”
“Yeah, we knew about the National League. Bunch of so-so players that couldn’t be on the same field as Earl and me. Yeah, I knew that league.”
“Well, I just came from the Hotel there in downtown St. Louis, you know the Diplomat Hotel?”
Earl starting to get interested asks, “Yeah, we been there, what about it?”
“When I was delivering the flour and sugar bags to the kitchen, I could overhear the conversation of the executives in the private room in back. They had the side door open for fresh air. It’s right next to the kitchen. I was chatting with the cook there but then I got wind of a pretty big story. A pretty big baseball story. So, I did a fair amount of eavesdropping before I headed back here.”
Virgil and Earl spoke at the same time, “What did you hear?”
“OK, they are talking about forming a new league. Pro baseball. New cities, new managers, and new players.”
“Ah, it would be the same old group, Jacob. They give those so-so players a new uniform and call them a fancy new name, but nothing would change. Same stuff.” Virgil spat on the ground in disgust.
“That’s where you are wrong, Virgil. Because, you see here, this new league is going for the best players in the country. If I may quote one of the executives, I heard speaking inside the room, ‘the damn best ballplayers we can find’.”
Jacob paused and looked hard at both men. Neither Earl or Virgil had ever seen him so determined and intense. It was almost scary, but, neither man was actually, scared. They were intrigued.
“Here is the kicker gentleman. You ready?”
“Damn, we’re ready”, Virgil was practically shouting while waving his hands, “speak up son, what do you have?”
“Yeah, we want to know what you got”, from Earl.
“This part, I swear it’s true because I heard it not two hours ago. The thing is they are really going to go for the very best players. You know what that means? It means any color, nationality, is open to being on the team.”
The two men just stared at Jacob. “Don’t you get it? It means any of us, all of us, can play pro ball in this league. We don’t have to have our own league playing for peanuts. We can be one of those pro’s that people pay good money to watch perform in big ballparks.”
“What kind of sucker are you, Jacob, they ain’t gonna let no black man on the field in their league”, spoke Virgil.
“And, I was thinking you had something exciting for us, Jacob”, a deflated Earl added.
“What, you gentlemen don’t believe me? I can see you don’t. Maybe you will believe this?”
Jacob reopened his book. He flipped the pages until he came across a folded piece of paper. He carefully removed the paper and opened it up so that it was one full page. It made a crinkle sound as he smoothed it out. The two men quickly went to each of his sides so that they could see the paper.
“That say what I think it says, Earl?
“Well, I’ll be damned. Look at that Virgil. Those pictures of the ballplayers have black men in the group. You can see it plain as day.”
“That’s right, gentleman, this is an advertisement for players for the new league.”
Virgil, looked up at Jacob and asked, “So we can tryout for this team? And, get paid money to play?”
Jacob smiled and said, “The first tryout is March 1. Oh, and Virgil?”
“What’s that, Jacob?”
“Don’t forget to bring your glove.”