Arts and Culture Sports

Louisville has history in baseball. 

Home of the Louisville Slugger, the city also played host to several teams from the Colonels and Eclipses, the Negro League’s White Sox to today’s Louisville Bats.

Photos acquired by the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in 2018 helped curators uncover a team lost to history: the Louisville Unions.

Those photos have been blown up to take up the space of an entire wall. Three pictures display the Unions’ players in various poses, ready to play. In between the sepia images are plaques with information detailing the discovery and history of the team. Large, white lettering reads, “The Best Black Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of.” 

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John Hughes, assistant manager for tours at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, tells guests the story of the Unions.

When museum curator Bailey Mazik first received the photos in 2018, she thought they were of Louisville White Sox players, but upon closer inspection, the details started to paint a different picture. 

“Bailey started doing a lot of in-depth research, including very meticulously looking at the backs of these photographs where there was some hand-written information,” assistant manager for tours at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory John Hughes said. 

Mazik was able to enhance the faded writing enough to get a date, February 22, 1909. That predates the existence of the Negro Leagues by more than a decade and the creation of the Louisville White Sox by even more time.

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Curator Bailey Mazik enhanced writing on the back of one photo which led her to a date, February 22, 1909. While the team played in the 1908 season, Mazik believes the photos were staged the following season to commemorate the team.

Using more clues in the photos, including a bourbon distillery in the background, Mazik was able to find out the Unions played at a field on 28th and Broadway in Louisville’s West End.

Jack Peterson is a museum tour guide, native-Louisvillian and life-long baseball fan. He, like many, had never heard of the Unions but was happy to discover who they were.

“Whenever you find stuff that’s been lost as that story has, it’s just really cool for that to become unlost and back in the minds of people,” Peterson said.

Mazik took the information that she had and went digging to find even more.

Newspaper articles from the time revealed more information about the team. Museum staff were able to learn the names and positions of some of the players, but they also got a glimpse into how their games went.

Not only did the Unions play other Black teams in the region, but they played white teams, something Hughes said was unusual for the time.

According to the reports from the Courier Journal, the Unions were good. Really good.

“They were such a good team that sometimes the white teams would bring in special players to play against them. Pitchers, because they thought it would give them a better chance of winning the games,” Hughes said.

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The Courier Journal reported on the Unions’ games, giving insight into the player, their positions and how the games went.

The Louisville Unions are not only important Black history, in Hughes’ opinion, but important baseball history.

“It’s important that we remember those things, that we not forget what it was like and the experiences those guys had,” Peterson said.

The Unions, and the league they played in at the time, started to establish what would become the Negro Leagues.

“Having our own team that was a part of that developmental history is very exciting,” Hughes said. “Not every city can brag about that.”

Beyond highlighting a lost history, Hughes hopes the display can help the museum find some of the descendants of Unions players. He also hopes that the legacy can help baseball continue to diversify its players and its fans. 

Since the exhibit opened early last year, visitors have been just as surprised by the discovery as museum staff initially were.

Kai Anderson saw the exhibit on Saturday. 

“It makes me wonder what other stuff we haven’t heard of,” Anderson said.

The “Best Black Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of” exhibit will be up until the end of 2022. It’s a part of the Unfiltered Truth Collection several area museums are participating in during Black History Month. Visitors can get a special presentation about the exhibit throughout the day every Saturday.

Breya Jones is the Breaking News Reporter for WFPL.