From the Archives
Published in TBR News Media
May 12, 1994
By Jane S. Gombieski
Almost a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in National League and Larry Doby and Satchel Paige did so in the American, the Setauket and Port Jefferson athletic clubs became integrated.
In baseball's early days, an unwritten code referred to as the "gentlemen's agreement" barred men of color from playing on white teams. Soon after Andrew "Rube" Foster founded the first Negro National League in 1920, Suffolk men of Native American and African descent formed independent teams like the Colored Giants of Huntington, Miller Place and Smithtown and the Suffolk Giants of Setauket. More than 30 years later, sons of the Treadwell, Bunn and Edwards families -- families with deep roots and long traditions in Suffolk County's north shore -- made the transition to integrated baseball, awakening the spirit of democracy with each crack of the bat.
From their first games in the 1920s, the black Suffolk Giants were hailed for spectacular pitching, "homers" that skyrocketed out of ballparks, and awe-inspiring fielding.
Home field was the farmland behind the present Edwards grocery store. Away games were played on diamonds set in cow pastures and potato fields. The crowd-pleasing, semiprofessional Giants drew a big gate, making them sought after opponents by white teams as well as black, since teams shared the proceeds of admission charges.
A huge crowd gathered for the Giants' Labor Day 1921 game against the Colored Giants of Huntington on Echo Field, next to the Lace Mill in Port Jefferson Station. Playing for Setauket were Morton, James and George Treadwell, B. Mackay, J. Hart, B. Bunce, C. Haynes, and F. Conklin. On July 4, 1923, the white Port Jefferson team resorted to ringers (non-member professional players) to beat the Giants in an extra inning before a wildly cheering crowd.
Irene Treadwell Bunn, whose father Morton was a star catcher for the Giants in the 1920s, recalls those days well.
"We lived in St. James then," she said. "My grandfather's birthday fell on the fourth of July, so my father always played his heart out on those days."
"Hub" was the nickname of Carlton Edwards, the sensational pitcher for the Setauket Giants in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. Edwards was given his nickname after Carl Hubble of the New York Giants, who in 1934 successively struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Fox, Al Simmons, Joe Cronin and Lefty Gomez. Edwards' penchant for pitching no-hitters -- including one game in which he struck out 19 batters in a row -- made him as well-known locally as his great-great-grandfather, "Grandpa Levi," the last Indian medicine man on Long Island, and a descendant of Rhode Island's King Philip.
Today, Edwards is custodian at Ward Melville High School and runs the after-school teen sport center there.
"We had great games against Mount Sinai and the Ronkonkoma Pirates, which was a white powerhouse team with some real good Polish hitters, like Carl Yastrzemski [of Bridgehampton] who later played for the Boston Red Sox." Edwards reminisced. "I struck him out."
Edwards speaks modestly about his own career, but acknowledges the limitations the color bar placed on the careers of others. Jim Treadwell, an ace pitcher who played well into his fifties, was Edwards' uncle.
"Uncle Jim could easily have made the major leagues if the color line wasn't there back then," he said.
Others are more expansive about Edwards' own talents.
"He was superb," said Theodore Green, archivist for the Setauket Bethel African Methodist Episcopalian Church. "In the mid-1950s, he was so good that Guy Castro Sr., co-manager of the Setauket A.C. [Athletic Club], invited him to join the team."
Castro recalls the invitation.
"Hub was playing with my son Guy Jr. and I said 'Why not come play with us?' In fact, his uncles Ralph and William Bunn and his brother 'Beeb' Leroy Edwards joined. We never had any trouble. Maybe some were jealous that we had terrific players, but no racial problems."
Recalling the road from school to Giants to Setauket A.C., Carlton Edwards pointed out that there was never a color line at Setauket High School. He remembers just one racial incident at a game, adding that on that day, "maybe sometimes we slid a little harder than we had to."
Today, Edwards maintains, all the baseball trophies he won are secondary to the pleasure he finds in still living in the Three Village community.
"I really love it here," he said. "We have such great people and kids who know the value of family and baseball."