Florida newspapers are starting to run articles about the upcoming Florida Grapefruit League. Professional baseball has a long history in the state. The first exhibition game took place in Jacksonville in 1888 between the Washington Nationals and New York Giants.
Connie Mack, who was a player on the first visit, was manager in 1900 when the Nationals returned to spring train in Jacksonville. Mack felt the lack of good competition and distance from major cities made Florida a poor choice to play baseball. He could hardly imagine his grandson Connie Mack III would one day be a U.S. Senator from Florida.
It was not until 1913 when the Chicago Cubs and the St Louis Browns came to Tampa that Florida spring training was reborn. The next year the St. Louis Cardinals arrived in Saint Augustine and the Philadelphia Athletics selected Jacksonville.
One hundred years ago a real spring baseball league was scheduled for these four teams, but they weren’t the only professional league in Florida. For ten years the Palm Beach resort hotels – the Breakers and the Royal Poinciana – had operated baseball games with their African-American employees to entertain the winter guests.
In 1915 the Breakers hired players from the Lincoln Giants of the Negro League while the Royal Poinciana recruited players from the Indianapolis ABCs. Although outscored 61 to 49 in the contests, the Breakers Hotel team won the series 9 games to 6 games.
The 1915 Breakers team: 4 Hall of Fame Players
Led by pitcher Joe “Smokey” Williams, the Breakers team had four players (Williams, Pete Hill, Louis Santop, John Henry Lloyd) now in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The top hitter for the Poinciana team was Ben Taylor, another Hall of Famer.
One hundred years ago, spring professional baseball exhibition games were both black and white. Interestingly, the tourist elite of Vanderbilts, Astors, and Morgans were watching the black teams.