Louisville’s Slugger Museum & Factory is a one-stop shop for all things baseball, so curators were thrilled when they became the new owners of what they thought were snapshots of one Negro Leagues baseball team, the Louisville White Sox.
Little did they know they had stumbled across a rare find.
The pictures, obtained in 2018, date back decades before the Negro Leagues ever existed and long before the integration of baseball, local station WKLY reported. What the faded photos actually showed were uniformed players of a team known as the Louisville Unions.
They stood, posed for action shots: one player pretends to slide into home base while the catcher reaches for the ball.
“There’s still more I’d like to learn about these photos and this team, but it’s so gratifying to know that the Louisville Unions have been rediscovered as a part of baseball’s story, where they belong,” said the museum’s curatorial specialist Bailey Mazik, who unearthed the team’s lost history.
“During a curatorial investigation it’s incredibly rewarding for me to find meaningful connections that broaden the understanding of baseball in our country and in our culture through time,” she added.
Through her research, Mazik learned the Unions were the team to beat and dominated the Southern baseball circuit in 1908. They often outplayed their competitors, winning 24 out of 27 games that same season. A 1908 clipping from the Louisville Courier-Journal lauds them as “the best colored team in the South.”
The Unions even had their own special playing field, ‘ol League Park, where they faced off against semi-professional and amateur teams from in town, including the Reccius Club and City League Stars. Newspaper articles show they also played teams from New York, Indiana and Tennessee.
In examining the photos, Mazik said she knew they held a different story when she noticed the “LU” on the players’ uniforms. She also pointed out several other clues that made it abundantly clear these weren’t Louisville White Sox players.
Her biggest clue? A bourbon distillery pictured beyond the outfield in one of the photos. The Sunny Brook Distillery Co. stood from 1897 until 1909 at 28th and Broadway — what was the team’s playing field, Old League Park or Eclipse Park II, which didn’t quite match with the White Sox time frame.
A faint inscription on the back of one of the photos also helped Mazik nail down a timeline. The image was dated February 22, 1909, well before the White Sox team was established in 1931.
“Original research can be quite tedious because information is often lost or not well preserved through the years,” Mazik wrote, “[because] sometimes the connections I work so hard to find can’t be backed up by evidence. But other times, all the attention to detail, examining every possible aspect, searching from every angle for information pays off in a big way.”
The museum curator said she’s “thrilled” to have recovered the history of a baseball team that was once forgotten and looks forward to learning even more.
“I feel lucky to have these photographs in our archives and I’m excited by the possibility of learning more about them!” she added.
The Louisville Unions Rediscovered exhibit will remain on display through September 7, 2020, according to the museum’s website.
Watch more in the video below.