A small item in the Louisville Courier-Journal near the end of the 1893 season created a major stir. And while the story was almost immediately shown to be untrue, several books and articles over the years have tried to imply that it’s still an open question.
The story about George Treadway was written by Courier-Journal Baseball Editor Sam McKee who was traveling with the Baltimore Orioles of the National League:
“There can be little doubt that Treadway, Baltimore’s right fielder is a Negro…all the players say he is.”
Treadway attributed the story to a former teammate he refused to name, and told The Baltimore News:
“The story is the result of a piece of spite work on the part of a former member of the Baltimore team, and knowing the man as I do, I am not surprised that such a thing could emanate from him.”
Treadway went on to say that he had information about the player which would “Kill him eternally, as far as the baseball profession is concerned, but I prefer not to act in that underhanded way.”
Treadway said the story about him came out of an incident when he was playing with Denver in the Western Association when an opposing player had directed a racist epitaph at Treadway.
Both The Baltimore Afro-American and baseball columnist O.P. Caylor reported that the story was investigated and was untrue. At the same time, it came to light that Baltimore owner Harry Vonderhorst and manager Ned Hanlon had heard similar rumors and investigated before signing Treadway, The Sporting Life said:
“Manager Hanlon felt satisfied the report was without truth and Treadway was made a member of the team.”
The story quickly went away, but in recent years has been revived, and mostly in the absence of the facts. For example:
“. . . the writers . . . compared Joe (Jackson) to Treadway . . . but they did not mention that Treadway had been driven out of baseball by opposing players and fans who bombarded him with taunts and slurs about his alleged or real Negro blood.” — From Say It Ain’t So, Joe!: The True Story of Shoeless Joe Jackson
This reference to Treadway, like most, ignores critical facts. The taunts and slurs must not have been very effective — Treadway remained in the Major Leagues for two full seasons, and part of a third after the story broke, and he was “driven out of baseball” a full 11 years later at the age of 37.
Had there been any evidence that Treadway was African American his tenure in professional baseball would have been similar in length to that of William Clarence Matthews a decade later.
As the starting shortstop for Harvard University, Matthews faced four years of racial tension and boycotts — when the Crimson faced Georgetown in 1903 Georgetown’s manager, and the team’s catcher, Samuel H. Apperious (Baseball Reference lists him as “William”) refused to participate in the game.
After graduating Matthews attempted to play professional baseball, signing with the Burlington team in the Vermont-based “outlaw” Northern League. Upon arriving in Burlington Matthews was faced with another player boycott led by the same Sam Apperious, who was playing for the Montpelier-Barre team in the lead. While there were rumors that Matthews might play Major League ball it never rose beyond speculation.
Matthews was, in effect, “driven out of baseball.”
Treadway was in and out of professional baseball until 1904, but his absences were about the economics of early baseball and not questions about his race: from 1899–1901 He played baseball for various teams in the Chicago area, including the White Rocks in the Chicago City League, while working for the Pullman Palace Car Company.
After leaving Chicago, Treadway played in the Pacific Northwest League and Pacific Coast League. He stayed on the West Coast and settled in California until his death in 1928.
Matthews became an attorney, was actively involved in politics, and served as legal counsel for Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. He also died in 1928.