The Philadelphia Stars: Philly’s Negro League Baseball Team

Until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, American Major professional baseball had been segregated. African-American baseball enthusiasts were forced to form their own leagues, known collectively as The Negro Leagues. From 1933-1952, the Philadelphia Stars were the team that represented Philadelphia’s black community. They were founded by Ed Bolden, the former owner of the Hilldale Athletic Club. The team was also partially owned and financed by Eddie Gottlieb, the owner of the SPHAS basketball team and the future owner of the Philadelphia Warriors NBA franchise.  They played at 44th and Parkside in West Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Railroad Company YMCA Ballpark, except for on Monday nights, when they played at Shibe Park. In 1933, the Stars were an independent team, meaning they were not part of any official league. However, the next year saw them join the Negro National League, the country’s premier baseball league for African Americans.

That initial NNL season would be a great year for the club. Behind the superb pitching of Stuart “Slim” Jones and the hitting of Baseball Hall of Famers Jud Wilson and Biz Mackey, the Stars controversially won the 1934 National Negro League Championship over the Chicago American Giants. During the 6th game, a scuffle broke out in which a Stars’ player apparently touched the Umpire. As this was an ejection worthy offense, Chicago’s manager protested, but the player was not ejected. The Stars would win game 6 to tie up the series at 3-3. The deciding game 7 would be called due to darkness at 4-4. In game 8, Slim Jones would dominate the Giants lineup, pitching a shutout on the way to a 2-0 Stars victory. However, neither team was pleased. The Stars claimed that the Giants used illegal players, while the Giants were upset that there were games played at night. The NNL commissioner threw out both complaints, and the Stars were declared champions. This championship was to be the team’s only triumph in their history. The team’s fortunes slumped with the performance of Slim Jones. Jones died in December of 1938 of pneumonia at age 25 after, allegedly, selling his coat for a bottle of whiskey.

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Due to the lack of consistent record keeping in the Negro National League, much of the history of the Stars is unknown.  However, what is known is that they played in the NNL until 1948, when the league went under. After Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the talent level in the Negro Leagues declined severely as black players were poached from their Negro League clubs. This left only the Negro American League for the Stars. The Philadelphia Stars played two more seasons in the NAL before the team folded.

The Stars had some notable players not named Slim Jones. They had several Hall of Famers play for them, including but not limited to: legendary pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige (two separate stints 1945, 1950), Philadelphia’s own Roy Campanella (1944), Jud Wilson (1933-39), and James “Biz“ Mackey (1933-1937). Additionally the Stars fielded 1956 MLB All-Star Harry Simpson (1946-1948), and Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, a player-coach for the legendary barnstorming New York Renaissance basketball team. (1940).

RIP Stanley “Doc” Glenn

Former Philadelphia Stars catcher Stanley Doc Glenn passed away a couple of weeks ago. I had the pleasure of interviewing Doc several years ago when I hosted a radio show, and it was one of the coolest interviews I have ever done. I asked him if he played against Satchel Paige. Not only had he played against him, he had caught for him. I asked him if he had played against Josh Gibson. He responded that Gibson had once run over him at home plate. I have the interview saved on cassette somewhere in this house and will not rest until I find it. It wasn’t just the stories, but the enthusiasm and the warmth that went with them that made me extremely sorry to hear that Mr. Glenn recently passed away.

Glenn was born in Wachapreague, Va. and moved to Philadelphia as a youngster. He was a star at Bartram and the Yankees sent out feelers after seeing his stats. When they realized he was black, they backed off (the league was not yet integrated.) He was quickly signed by the local Stars. When the Majors were integrated in 1947, Glenn was signed by the Braves and played in their minor league system before retiring and going into the electrical supply business. In the 1990s, he became President of the Negro League Baseball Players Association, taking the opportunity to speak about the Negro Leagues every chance he got. In an interview he did with sportswriter Chris Murray in 2005, he said of the Negro Leagues,

“Let me tell you something, fella, Negro League baseball was a happening in the Black world. Women came to the ballpark dressed in their Sunday best, high heel shoes, silk stockings and they had hats on their heads on their hats and long-sleeved gloves … Let me tell you something, we married some of the girls. They would be there dressed to kill. You would think you were at a cotillion.”

His enthusiasm for baseball and for life were such that even now, 9 years after I did a 20 minute interview with him, I can hear his voice as clearly in my head as if I just got off the phone with him. In 2006, he wrote a book about the Negro Leagues called “Don’t Let Anyone Take Your Joy Away”. It was the motto Doc Glenn lived by. He dealt with injustice and racism with dignity and self-respect, and when the dust settled, he refused to judge other people the way he had often been judged. Again from the Murray interview,

“Ignorance doesn’t claim any one in particular. If you’re ignorant and your dumb, then you’re just plain ignorant and dumb,” Glenn said.

Stanley Glenn never got a chance to play in the Majors. He was denied the opportunity to sign with the Yankees because of his skin color. He was at times treated harshly by restaurant owners, police, and fans simply because of the color of his skin. But he never stopped loving baseball, never stopped loving people of all backgrounds, never stopped educating people about America’s past, and never let anyone take his joy away. Philadelphia just lost one of a kind. RIP Stanley “Doc” Glenn. This city is a better place for you having lived here.

RELATED: His obituary in the Philadelphia Tribune.