Black baseball historian Gary Ashwill recently posted a fascinating profile of Halley Harding, who played Negro league baseball between 1926-31, and for the Kansas City Monarchs 1928-30. Harding also played football and basketball, did some acting, and in later life became a sportswriter. The whole post is interesting and worth a read, but I was especially intrigued by the mention of Harding and Buck O'Neil trading barbs in the press in 1950. Harding penned a column disparaging the Negro leagues for the Los Angeles Sentinel that was also published in The Sporting News soon after. Ashwill mentions and quotes some of a letter to the editor published in The Sporting News that Buck wrote in response to defend the leagues that he was so passionately proud of. Here is that letter in full, from the May 10, 1950 issue:
In a recent issue, Halley Harding, news editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel, seemed to derive much pleasure--laughs he calls it--in taking a 'crack' at Negro league baseball in his article: "Negro Club Played Game on Way to Training Camp."
In his attempt to ridicule colored league baseball and its training program, Harding's loud laughs are based on complete ignorance of certain facts. As a newspaper man and as a former participant in Negro baseball, he should be better informed and weigh the pertinent facts before going into hilarity over his misinformation.
In your time, Mr. Harding, the Negro league teams, as well as some of the major league teams, trained from three to four weeks before playing exhibition games because the players required that much time, if not more, to sweat the winter beer out of their systems. The American boys of today report in much better condition.
The teams that played a regulation game while en route to training camp, of which you speak and from which you get such glee, probably was an incident which happened once in a lifetime. It might have happened with either Negro teams or white teams and most likely resulted from impulse or conditions about which neither you nor I know about.
But it is a fact that the major league teams started exhibition games after being in camp only 12 days, which was three days sooner than some of the Negro teams.
You may have another laugh, Mr. Harding, when you learn that the major league teams started training on March 1 and began paying salaries on April 18. Negro league teams, particularly the Kansas City Monarchs, started training April 1 and salaries start on May 1.
Your charge that players in Negro league baseball must play whether ill or injured is not true. And the fact that you had to play while suffering from the flu is no proof in point. It might have been that you merely thought you had the flu.
Here is more news for you, Mr. Harding. Organized Ball is not killing the Negro game, and it never will. The cities that lost Negro franchises were never good baseball towns.
There are approximately 200 men in the Negro league now. They earn from $200 to $800 monthly for five months. Some 80-odd of these will draw this amount from Winter League baseball. These salaries, of course, will not compare to those of Williams or DiMaggio with their multi-thousand-dollar draws. But it beats hell out of loafing on Central avenue or Beale street or Eighteenth and Vine.
JOHN (BUCK) O'NEILManager of the Kansas City Monarchs