CityDig: In the 1920s, L.A.’s All-Black White Sox Had Their Own Boyle Heights Ballpark

It was an era of segregation, but that didn’t stop baseball legends like Oscar Charleston and Biz Mackey
White Sox Park, Baist Atlas, Sheet 25, 1921

Photograph courtesy LAPL

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Some of the best baseball ever played in Los Angeles took place at the forgotten White Sox Park just east of the river near the railroad tracks in Boyle Heights. It may not be visible on this 1921 map, but a historic field did indeed exist there, and it played host to many a spirited ballgame.

Long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, outstanding black players performed out West during the winter months. They played against big league talent that barnstormed where the sun shone in Southern California. Black ballplayers played all over the L.A. area—in Chutes Park, Washington, Vernon—but White Sox Park was the only facility constructed specifically for a black team. Built with gargantuan dimensions—455 feet to left center, 546 feet to center, and a short porch in right at 430 feet—White Sox Park was hardly a launching pad in the dead-ball era.

Diagram by baseball historian Larry Zuckerman
Diagram by baseball historian Larry Zuckerman

Image courtesy LAPL

The White Sox were a formidable club led by the great Oscar Charleston, who, in the summer, played for the St. Louis Giants of the Negro leagues. Charleston is widely considered the greatest player in the history of the Negro leagues, and as a center fielder, he was a true five-tool player. In 1921 with the Negro National League, he batted .426, with ten triples, 14 homers, and 28 stolen bases. Charleston is also reputed to be the man who recommended Jackie Robinson to the Majors in 1947.

The White Sox throttled most local opponents and were a true all-star team. Players included hall of famer Biz Mackey at catcher and “Bullet” Rogan, who was both a great pitcher and a masterful hitter. The team was owned by produce vendors/baseball impresarios Joe and John Pirrone and was managed by the sagacious Alonzo Alfred Goodwin. Satchel Paige often pitched against the White Sox. The California Eagle newspaper followed the team, and announced their five-month schedule from October to December of the California Winter League season.

It seems highly unlikely that in the dark days of segregation, a black team would play a white team. But that’s exactly what happened one day, when a black team coming out to play the White Sox got stuck in a train station. Joe Pirrone threw together a white team of minor and major leaguers to get a game going. Baseball fans enjoyed the contest, and the idea of integrated games became accepted—at least in this small sliver of L.A.

Baseball business was good for the Sox and the Pirrone bros., who actually built a another ballpark over on 38th (now 41st) and Compton with much friendlier confines for hitters. Over the years, the greats of baseball stopped by to demonstrate their skills, among them hall of famers “Cool Papa” Bell, Josh Gibson, and Willie Wells. By the mid-1930s restrictions against the very popular black stars eased a bit, and they were allowed to play in the Pacific Coast League parks like Wrigley and Gilmore. As a result, White Sox Park faded away, but not without leaving behind many memories of great baseball.

Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.