SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — It was 86 years ago that a historic baseball game ended in victory even without a single pitch being thrown.
Thirteen years before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, there were trailblazers like Springfield-native Ernest “Bunny” Taliaferro, who dreamed of one day playing baseball without the lingering hate that spoiled the sport he loved.
His teammate Tony King, now 102 years old, hasn’t forgotten what happened when their American Legion team traveled to Gastonia, North Carolina, for the World Series regional in 1934.
“How unfair it was that a colored athlete wasn’t allowed to play,” said King. “They offered $10,000 to Gastonia if they allowed him to play. That’s a lot of money to refuse, especially back then. I was captain of the team, it was my duty to protect Taliaferro.”
In 1934, $10,000 would be almost $200,000 in today’s dollars.
The Springfield team forfeited the game and a potential championship because they refused to play without Taliaferro. A black baseball player with white teammates wasn’t odd in Massachusetts, but was all but outlawed in the Jim Crow South. So the team packed up and headed back to Springfield, where their brave decision is commemorated.
The story resonated with retired major league coach and the first black American Legion player in North Carolina, Elmore Hill.
“Sometimes I heard the N-word so much I thought my father changed my name,” said Hill. “That’s just how bad it was.”
Hill was there when the former mayor of Gastonia organized reconciliation games both in North Carolina and Springfield a few years ago between the current teams.
King threw out a pitch and made a big impression as perhaps the last surviving witness. He continues to honor his teammate’s memory.
“I often wonder why they don’t have a Bunny Taliaferro Holiday,” he said.