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Seattle Steelheads: The pro baseball team history nearly forgot

Seattle's only professional all-black baseball team existed for less than two months in 1946.
Credit: AP Images

SEATTLE — When American baseball began its new, transformative post-war era of the 1940's, a meeting on the West Coast was also in the works that would change the course of history. 

At an Elks Club in Oakland California in October of 1945, a minor league player named Eddie Harris proposed an idea to start a West Coast Negro League. He connected with businessman Abe Saperstein and recruited Olympian Jesse Owens to help. And the league was born.

Sixteen teams were a part of the new league. The Seattle Steelheads were among them.

"Seattle and Oakland were actually fairly successful and profitable and winning teams," said baseball historian Dave Eskenazi. "The rest of the league kind of struggled putting together the financing and getting the schedule."

But the league decided to play 110 games, which was considered optimistic.

The "Steelies" first game was in Portland against the Portland Rosebuds. The Steelheads won by a large margin.

Then the first home game on June 2, 1946 was played at Sick's Stadium in South Seattle against the San Diego Tigers.

"There were about 2,500 fans, which was considered good," Eskenazi said.

But the league was on a rocky financial footing. And at the same time, Jackie Robinson was signed as the major league's first black player.

"So the handwriting was on the wall, that if the major leagues were going to be integrated in a major way, that that would kind of lead to the decline and demise of the classic Negro Leagues," Eskenazi said. "And that included this brand new West Coast Black Baseball League." 

After just a month and a half, the Steelheads were no more and the players went back to barnstorming for other teams across the nation.

Even today, there is very little physical evidence the team even existed. Eskenazi is one of the few historians that have unearthed any pictures or artifacts from a Seattle sports team nearly forgotten.

"It's important that we learn more about the Steelheads," Eskenazi said. "They should be celebrated."

In 1995, the Seattle Mariners first honored the Steelheads at a home game by wearing their iconic jersey's.

The Mariners plan to honor the Steelhead's for a fourth time on Juneteenth this year. The team is offering the first 10,000 dad's a replica Steelheads hat.

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