Foreman: The Park, The Brothers, and Black Baseball in Panama City

Page 1




Foreman: The Park, The Brothers, and Black Baseball in Panama City


Thank you Leon Miller, Dr. Wanda Waters, Nathan Peters Jr., Lorrie Canfijn, Abbie Beck, and the staff of the Local History and Genealogy Division of the Bay County Public Library for your generous donation of time, information, and historical images. ON THE COVER: During Foreman Park’s inaugural season in 1947, the Blue Sox met the Port St. Joe Gulf Coast Sluggers. 2 | Portraits of Black History in Bay County

Table of Contents Foreman Park: A Metaphor for Sport and Race


The Foreman Brothers


The Blue Sox: A Story of Regional and Local Southern Black Baseball


The End of the Foreman Era


Black Baseball in Bay County


A Collective Memory: Bay County Black History


Panama City Black Baseball Team Rosters (1943-1956)


MANAGER FOR THE BLUE SOX: David “Fats” Waitman (first on the left), legendary manager and promoter of the Tampa Pepsi-Cola Giants, accepted Descome Foreman’s offer to manage the Panama City Blue Sox in 1948. Foreman: The Park, the Brothers, and Black Baseball | 3

Palo Alto Ave.

15th St.

Foreman Park


Once located on the corner of Palo Alto and East 15th St. in Panama City’s historic Glenwood neighborhood, Foreman Park served as a symbol of the community’s vibrant economic, social, and cultural history. The games provided top-notch entertainment, and local fans packed the stadium to witness legendary professional Black baseball players display their talent. The crowds these players attracted, as well as the logistics of planning sporting contests, boosted local businesses and contributed to a sense of community pride and solidarity. The stadium suffered its finale in 1951 after the Panama City

Housing Authority converted the field and its surroundings into Massalina Memorial Homes, a segregated public housing project that accommodated low-income families. The transition signified the city’s removal of a vital commercial area and the money-making potential it represented, foreshadowing the community’s future. Foreman Park served as a metaphor of the collision between sport and race in Panama City. When the stadium opened in 1947, Jackie Robinson had already reintegrated Major League Baseball and professional Negro League Baseball had slipped further into decline. African Americans had successfully challenged the color line, a “gentleman’s agreement” of

A SYMBOL OF COMMUNITY: Though Foreman Park's physical structure no longer exists, the stadium once served as a symbol of the community’s vibrant economic, social, and cultural history. It was located at the corner of Palo Alto and East 15th St. in the historic Glenwood neighborhood of Panama City, Florida. 4 | Portraits of Black History in Bay County

Images courtesy of WJHG, Gray Media Group, Inc. A PLACE OF CHANGE: In 1951, Descome Foreman sold Foreman Park to the Panama City Housing Authority, which then become Massalina Memorial Homes later that year. In 2018, the complex suffered extensive damage from Hurriance Michael (pictured at top). In 2020, Massalina Memorial Homes were demolished (pictured above) and construction is currently underway for The Park at Massalina. Foreman: The Park, the Brothers, and Black Baseball | 5

THE DEED: The original deed to the land sold to Farris and Descome Foreman on March 22, 1947. The brothers converted the land to Foreman Park later that year. 6 | Portraits of Black History in Bay County

racial segregation in professional baseball, but the local level functioned differently. This proved especially true in neighborhoods like Glenwood, where entertainment remained racially divided and Black businesses, including the business of Black baseball, struggled financially. According to one Black resident, “we had gambling, baseball, dances, churches, and jukes.” Promoters of Black sports and entertainment chased and captured the segregated dollar to help ensure the economic success of their commercial ventures. The Foreman brothers, Farris and Descome, recognized the financial potential in Black baseball and formed the Panama City Blue Sox in 1947. Though African American ownership of ballparks was rare and most Black

teams leased space from white clubs, the brothers proceeded to purchase land and build a first-rate stadium to serve as the Blue Sox’s homefield. The property was acquired for an estimated $10 on March 22, 1947, from Clyde C. Farris, a local white businessman who later managed the El Dorado Hotel and owned Farris Fish Bait, both located in Lynn Haven, Florida. After the property exchanged hands, the Foremans built an enclosed grandstand behind homeplate, enriched the infield with clay, and carefully manicured the outfield grass. They also reserved a section of the stands for white fans who wished to attend games. The first recorded contest at Foreman Park was held on Sunday, July 6, 1947, against the Montgomery Red Sox. The Blue Sox lost, 5-2.

A FIERCE RIVALRY: The Panama City Blue Sox enjoyed its fiercest rivalry against the Port St. Joe Sluggers led by the team’s player-manager Nathan Peters.

Foreman: The Park, the Brothers, and Black Baseball | 7

Image courtesy of Historic St. Andrews A LOCAL BUSINESSMAN: Historic St. Andrews Marina in 1953. During the 1950s, Farris Foreman owned and managed several beer parlors and juke joints in the Glenwood and St. Andrews districts.


The Foreman brothers’ story, and the sources for the money they invested, is a familiar one in the Black South. Descome was born in 1899 and Farris in 1900 to James and Lara Foreman in Waycross, Georgia. The family remained in the South during The Great Migration — the relocation of more than 6 million African Americans from the rural South to Northern, Midwest, and Western cities beginning in 1916. The brothers labored in nearby turpentine and lumber camps until Descome joined millions of Americans employed in government sponsored work projects under the direction of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression. By 1940, both brothers sought improved economic opportunity in Florida. 8 | Portraits of Black History in Bay County

SERVING THE COUNTRY: World War II Draft Registration Cards issued to Descome and Farris Foreman.

Farris, better known as Frog, relocated to Panama City and became involved in the production and sale of illegal moonshine. Moonshine production supplemented the incomes of many

local residents, both Black and white. Farris had the business acumen to use his illicit operations to build several enterprises including juke joints — bars featuring music on a jukebox and dancing — and beer parlors in the Glenwood and St. Andrew’s districts. Farris enjoyed a supportive and protective relationship with local law enforcement. In 1941, Farris and Bay County Sheriff John Scott were placed on trial for liquor-related bribery and conspiracy charges. Scott reportedly paid the rent on a property leased by Foreman, and one witness stated that Farris “talked like he was the deputy.” Both men were acquitted of all charges. Farris again faced similar charges in 1943. Despite his legal disputes, Panama City Commissioners issued Farris retail beer and wine licenses for several establishments including the Foreman Café on 15th Street across from Foreman Park. Farris provided financial support for other African Americans that could not secure loans from local banks and lending institutions. His economic support also extended to his brother, Descome. Upon his arrival in Panama City, Descome became a barber at the Royal Service Barber Shop located on

IN MARRIAGE: A copy of the marriage license for Descome (Descum) Foreman and Melvina Holt, who married in Gainesville, Florida, on December 22, 1931. The couple resided in Newberry, Florida, before moving to Panama City, Florida. Farris Foreman married Pecola Darby on February 22, 1938. The couple divorced in 1949.

Cone Avenue. By 1943, he managed the barber shop and represented Glenwood in the Community Chest War Fund Campaign during World War II. In 1947, he joined with his brother to purchase the land for Foreman Park. The following year, Descome became the owner of Foreman Cabins, located a block from the ballpark, and sole proprietor of Ideal Dry Cleaners on 7th Street. Farris assisted and looked after his brother’s economic interests. However, when Farris faced murder charges in 1949, most of the land he owned transferred to Descome.

Foreman: The Park, the Brothers, and Black Baseball | 9

NEGRO LEAGUES: Pictured above, on April 11, 1948, The Panama City News Herald reported that “Lefty Raydell Maddix and his Panama City Blue Sox defeated the Homestead Grays, members of the Negro National League, 10-9 at a game in Foreman Park.” Luke Easter (second from left) starred for the Grays. Pictured at far right, Raydell “Left Bo” Maddix, the most accomplished pitcher in Blue Sox history, joined the ranks of Professional Negro League baseball as a member of the Cleveland Buckeyes. PUBLICITY AND THE GAMES: Pictured at right, Jack M. Hunt, publicity manager for the Blue Sox from 1947 to 1951, advertised and scheduled games with prominent national and regional Negro League ball clubs. 10 | Portraits of Black History in Bay County


Descome handled the day-to-day business operations of the Blue Sox and was the original manager for the team. With ready access to Farris’s bankroll, he quickly built “one of the strongest colored nines in the state.” Descome signed the region’s most talented pitcher, Raydell “Bo” Maddix, a lefty who later played professionally for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. Maddix recalled that his

greatest personal achievement was “pitching back-to-back no hitters in Luther Williams Stadium (Macon, Georgia) for the Panama City Blues.” Descome added power to his lineup with Charles “Hawk” Marvray, a hard-hitting first baseman from Pensacola who left the Blue Sox in 1949 to join the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League. Ralph “Big Cat” Johnson joined Marvray in the infield at third base. Johnson spent several years in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Black Barons, Indianapolis Clowns, and Kansas City Monarchs. The “Big Cat” confessed that “the best team I played with was a semi-pro team called the Panama City Blue Sox… that was a good team.” Descome also persuaded David “Fats” Waitman, the popular and successful manager of the Tampa Pepsi-Cola Giants, to join the Blue Sox as its new skipper. In 1948, The Panama City News Herald declared the Blue Sox as the best “colored team in the state.” Descome made an instrumental move when he hired Jack M. Hunt, a well-known and respected member of the Glenwood Community, as the team’s publicity agent. Hunt, originally from Alabama, served as secretary of the Black Elks Club. As secretary, Hunt booked professional entertainers to perform at the Elks

Foreman: The Park, the Brothers, and Black Baseball | 11

IN THE BIG LEAGUES: Panama City baseball fans captured a preview of future Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays at Foreman Park in 1949 as a member of the Birmingham Black Barons.

Club and other local venues. Over the years, Hunt played a pivotal role in bringing high caliber performers, like Ike and Tina Turner and James Brown, to Panama City. He showcased similar skills with the Blue Sox when he arranged games with Black barnstorming — sports teams or individual athletes that traveled to various locations to stage exhibition matches — and professional clubs 12 | Portraits of Black History in Bay County

which attracted large numbers of fans. Hunt also helped make travel arrangements for visiting teams, which typically included eating and drinking at Foreman Café and lodging at Foreman Cabins. On days when the Blue Sox hit the road for away games, Hunt leased the stadium to the white Spartans, members of the local Panama City USO League. He also helped schedule games at Foreman Park for Bay High School.

Both Descome and Hunt represented the community as members of the Panama City Negro Improvement Association. Foreman Park expressed the popularity and multifaceted history of Black baseball at the national, regional, and local levels. In 1948, the Homestead Grays visited Foreman Park for a contest against the Blue Sox. The Grays represented baseball

played at its highest level in the professional Negro National League (NNL). Thrilled fans watched their hometown Blue Sox defeat the Grays in a closely fought game that ended in a 10-9 score. Later in the season, the Grays would capture the coveted NNL Championship with marquee veteran players such as Hall-ofFamer Buck Leonard and “Luscious” Luke Easter. The Gray’s roster also included Bob Tice, the first African

Foreman: The Park, the Brothers, and Black Baseball | 13

“The Panama City Blue Sox kept the community together. Anytime somebody was coming to town, all the community would go out to the ballpark and have a social, good time. They enjoyed baseball — that was a community outlet for them at that time.” — Bay County resident Leon Miller American to play for white Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Athletics. The following year, the Birmingham Black Barons challenged the Cleveland Buckeyes in an equally star-studded exhibition game that packed grandstands and jammed concession stands. Both teams were members of the professional Negro American League (NAL). Billed as the “top game of the year at Foreman,” local fans seized the opportunity to watch the Black Baron’s newest sensation, centerfielder Willie Mays.

Foreman Park also hosted teams that played in the regional Negro Southern League (NSL). This League operated as a minor league to both the NNL and NAL. African American players showcased their talent in the NSL and prepared to sign major league contracts with professional Black teams. In April 1949, the Blue Sox hosted the Mobile Shippers (later to become the Mobile Bears) in an exhibition game played approximately a month before the Shippers/Bears open the official NSL season on May 22, 1949. Additional


Foreman Park 1947






Brothers Farris and Descome Foreman build Foreman Park and form the Black baseball team, the Blue Sox.

The Blue Sox host professional Negro National League’s Homestead Grays, winning 10-9.

Farris faces murder charges in 1949 and transfers ownership of his land to Descome.

14 | Portraits of Black History in Bay County

teams from the NSL, including the nearby Pensacola Sea Gulls, visited Foreman Park regularly.

and the Tampa Pepsi-Cola Giants, represented by well-known manager David Waitman.

Foreman Park also offers insight into the little-known Negro American Association (NAA), which fielded minor league Black teams in the region between 1948 and 1949. The Blue Sox carded games with the Jacksonville Eagles and Richmond Giants, both NAA members.

Foreman Park’s history is truly the story of regional and local southern Black baseball, a story overshadowed by the attention given to Black teams in the Northeast and Midwest that largely comprised Black major league baseball.

Statewide, the Blue Sox participated in the highly competitive Florida State Negro League and Florida West Coast Negro League. Panama City earned the honor to host the first West Coast Colored League All-Star Game which was held at Foreman Park on July 4, 1951. The Blue Sox developed strong rivalries with the Port St. Joe Sluggers, led by player and coach Nathan Peters,


The Foreman brothers’ dream of establishing a profitable Black baseball business ended when Farris died in 1950 in a vengeful altercation linked to his indictment for murder the previous year. At the time of his death, Farris may have added Bolita, or Cuban tickets, to his business dealings. Bolita, an illegal lottery or numbers game, was brought to







Farris dies in a altercation linked to his indictment for murder.

Foreman Park hosts the first West Coast Colored League All Star Game on July 4, 1951.

The Park is sold to the Housing Authority at the end of the 1951 season. Massalina Memorial Homes are built later that year.

Foreman: The Park, the Brothers, and Black Baseball | 15

Tampa, Florida, in the 1880s, and is speculated to have hit the streets of Panama City around the time of Farris’ death.

white sportswriters during that time has made it difficult to fully comprehend the context of the Black game.

Without access to his brother’s financial resources, Descome was forced to sell Foreman Park to the Panama City Housing Authority at the end of the 1951 season, resulting in the end of the Foreman era.

The first local Black baseball team to garner attention was the Panama City Tigers. The Tigers operated between 1940 and 1943 and performed home games at Pelican Park. The team’s roster included several notable players in the region. Charles “Two Sides” Wesley, a former member of the Birmingham Black Barons, and Sylvester “Good Black” Owens, also a Black Baron, anchored the team along with rookie pitcher Charles McCoy, who later managed the revitalized Blue Sox. In 1943, the Tigers traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, to play a memorable game against the city’s Negro All-Stars at Rickwood Stadium, the oldest professional baseball park in America.

For a brief two-year period between 1953 and 1954, the Panama City Stars represented the city’s Black community in the West Coast Negro League. In 1956, former Blue Sox manager Charles McCoy attempted to revive the Blue Sox name with local Bay County players including high school sensation William Miller at third base and veteran Carl “Cash” McLane on the mound. The revitalized team completed its final season that year playing on an unfamiliar diamond at Lions Park in Panama City. The park was demolished in 1966. BLACK BASEBALL IN BAY COUNTY

The story of the Blue Sox fits within the broader background of Black baseball in Bay County. Unfortunately, the absence of an African American newspaper and the lack of coverage by local 16 | Portraits of Black History in Bay County

The Shinetown Crackers fielded a team for one season after the Tigers disbanded. The arrival of Tyndall Field in 1941 added another feature to local Black baseball. Segregation within the Armed Forces extended to recreational sport and African American servicemen created the Tyndall Red Caps to play other military bases. Wartime travel constraints made it challenging

Below: An advertisement in The Birmingham News for the Panama City Tigers vs. the Negro City All-Stars August 22, 1943, doubleheader.

Above: The Birmingham News features the Panama City Tigers vs. the Negro City AllStars double-header at Rickwood Field to be held on August 22, 1943. Rickwood, homefield for the Birmingham Black Barons, is the oldest professional ballpark in the United States.

to travel, so the Red Caps played civilian teams, including the Panama City Tigers. The Red Caps roster included Black baseball talent from across the nation and included two members of the Ethiopian Clowns, a professional Black ballclub. A COLLECTIVE MEMORY: BAY COUNTY BLACK HISTORY

The history of Foreman Park and the stories it holds continues to inform our collective memory and

awareness of African American life in Bay County. Its narrative reminds us that local “kingpins” like Farris Foreman provided an economic lifeline to Black-owned business and entertainment at a time when white controlled banks ignored the interests of African Americans. The community ran its own barbershops, dry-cleaners, bars, and restaurants with the segregated dollar. Likewise, in the mid-twentieth century South, baseball still offered an avenue for Black commercialized entertainment.

Foreman: The Park, the Brothers, and Black Baseball | 17



Manager: R. B. Johnson Players: Position: Willie Simpson first baseman Bell pitcher Winder pitcher Johnson third baseman Taylor catcher Deacon Webster pitcher Baxter pitcher Murray pitcher James Harris pitcher


Managers: David “Fats” Waitman (formerly with the Pepsi-Cola Giants) Allen Spottford Players: Position: Dittyboy Birdsong pitcher Raydell “Lefty Bo”Maddix Bill Spottford Lefty Perry Westcott Ralph Johnson third baseman Dean Deacon Weston pitcher Williams shortstop Leonard Williams first baseman Noah Taylor third baseman Charles Marvray outfield


Manager: Fisher Players: Rudolph Stepps Weston McGill Fisher Richardson 18 | Portraits of Black History in Bay County


Manager: Descum David Foreman Players: Hunter Charlie Wills Garrett Patterson Mozelle Neeley/Nealey


Manager: Charles McCoy Players: Position: Carl “Cash” McLane pitcher Robinson pitcher Bronson catcher Lanphus first baseman Mozelle Neeley/Nealey second baseman Hank Young shortstop William Miller third baseman Timothy Locklear outfield Barnes outfield Lipston outfield


Manager: Chester Byrd Players: Position: Marbley Winder Lucian Williams Felix Patterson Hardy William Miller third baseman Carl “Cash” McLane James Davis pitcher Eddie Smith Mozell Neeley/Nealey Charles McCoy

P A N A M A C I T Y S T A R S (PANAMA CITY COLORED ALL-STARS) Mozelle Neeley/Nealey baseman Hank Young William Miller Timothy Locklear W. H. Barnes Lipston Joe Landry Sam Baskin Woods Foster Lambert


Players: H.A. Tibbs Mozelle Neeley/Nealey Timothy Locklear Charles McCoy Simmons Brown Willie Jackson Johnson


Players: Carl “Cash” McLane Ray Jones Brown

Position: pitcher

second shortstop third baseman outfield outfield outfield first baseman catcher first baseman


Manager: Charles McCoy Players: Position: Carl “Cash” McLane pitcher catcher “Lucky” Whatley 1953 Chester Byrd Manager: Charles McCoy Foster Mozelle Neeley/Nealey Players: Position: Charles Garrett Carl “Cash” McLane pitcher Campbell catcher Callaway pitcher Landry Robinson pitcher Callaway pitcher Bronson catcher Lanphus first baseman Landers


1943 Players: Position: Charles (Two Sides) Wesley Sylvester (Good Black) Owens Charles McCoy James (Neck Bone) Davis J.B. Hampton Bill “Wild Bill” Wright pitcher George Young Owens center field

Wesley Hampton Dixon Gilchrist (Gilcreist) Williams Snow Davis McCoy Bill Sam Hariston

first baseman shortstop right field third baseman left field center field pitcher pitcher pitcher

Foreman: The Park, the Brothers, and Black Baseball | 19

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Robert Cvornyek, Ph.D., is an assistant teaching professor at Florida State University Panama City specializing in sport history. He received his doctorate in History from Columbia University and has written extensively on the intersection of race, sports, and cultural expression. Cvornyek is currently curating "Portraits of Black History in Bay County," an oral history project that captures the collective memories and history of African Americans in Bay County, Florida. Cvornyek also co-directs the program “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing: Baseball, Jazz, and Black Cultural Expression," which focuses on the parallel story and experience of Black baseball players and Black musicians from the 1910s through the 1940s.

On the back cover: The Pensacola Sea Gulls battled the Mobile Bears at Foreman Park in a Southern Negro League Contest in 1949.

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.