Learn about the Harrisburg Giants, the city’s Negro League baseball team.
Giants once roamed City Island.
Before the giant bobble heads. Before the Monkey Cowboy Rodeo. Even before Milton Bradley knocked a homer over the left-field fence.
The Harrisburg Giants were part of both the Eastern Colored League and Eastern Negro League. You can see some of their likeness on the wall where the batting cages used to be.
I’m assuming many reading this might already know this. For those that don’t, please do not expect a dissertation on the legendary men who called City Island home. Instead, I’ll give a short history and then my personal connection with these Giants.
The Harrisburg Giants
The Harrisburg Giants played their inaugural season in 1890 in the Negro League. This was 23 years after an effort by the Philadelphia Pythians to potentially integrate Base Ball in 1867, which ultimately failed.
The Giants came to prominence in 1924 when they had a star player who would ultimately end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Oscar Charleston was the manager and outfielder for the team.
The team had great success. They had two Hall of Famers, an amazing outfield with Charleston, and the second-best record in the Negro League during that time.
Some baseball historians even make the claim they had the best outfield in the history of baseball.
Fats Jenkins, another team standout, is in the Basketball Hall of Fame as apart of the New York Rennaissance or the “Rens.”
Many say that the Harrisburg Giants were a major league-caliber team playing at the Negro League level.
Despite the success, they didn’t last long and folded after just a few years on the scene before making their reprise in the 1950s.
Making history in Harrisburg
In 1954 the Harrisburg Giants became the first Negro League team to integrate white players. They actually had their first tryouts the day the Supreme Court announced its decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.
The Black players, from what I am told, had some hesitation about allowing white players at first, but they were quickly assuaged.
Players were picked based on talent alone and not the color of their skin. It was simple — if they could play, they played.
The team and the league itself did not last long after 1954. The landmark court decision paved the way for major-league baseball’s further desegregation.
My personal connection
The first caucasian player credited with signing with a Negro League team? Daniel H. Werner, a pitcher.
That was my grandfather.
While I was growing up, I remember the annual event of Negro League Day at Harrisburg Senators games. I got to meet so many players that my grandfather played with and share memories of his playing days.
My dad would travel the region with my grandfather to other such gatherings. From Delaware to Lancaster and a few spots in between.
I still have this vivid memory of getting the grey jersey with “Harrisburg” written in big block letters. Or, running around behind the concourse getting all the players to sign my baseball.
My grandfather died in 2016. It’s memories and connections like these that keep me in Harrisburg.
While I haven’t been to a Negro League Day celebration at City Island since he died, I hope to get to the first one when they return.
Harrisburg Connection Series
I love Harrisburg and its surrounding areas for many reasons.
One reason is the deep connection so many residents have with moments in history. Families and individuals have stories like mine that tie them to Harrisburg whether through a historical event, long-standing businesses, or person of prominence, and I’d love to hear them!
I am starting my Harrisburg Connections Series with this story about my own connection to the Harrisburg Giants, but I’d like to expand it and hear from you.