Our Michigan Baseball Heritage series explores the rich cultural history of professional baseball in the state of Michigan of which the Detroit Tigers are a part.
For those seeking a way to place the Page Fence Giants on the black baseball continuum, the task is a diﬃcult one. Figuring out why no one has ever written on book on this championship baseball team may be a bit easier to discern. Here are my thoughts as to why this team has been ignored throughout baseball history.
Playing in Adrian, Michigan, a small Midwestern town, they were stuck between the big city teams from Chicago and the eastern powerhouse Cuban Giants and Cuban X Giants. While baseball had been played in Michigan since the time of the Civil War, the state’s most inﬂuential city, Detroit, mostly ignored the team for the ﬁrst two years of the Giants’ existence. Unlike today, where about 90 percent of Detroit consists of black residents, during the 1890s that population demographic numbered only a few thousand. So, news coverage from the state’s most prominent city was left to a white-owned newspaper in a still mostly white town.
When Bud Fowler’s grandiose and latest baseball scheme was revealed in the summer of 1894, the Page Fence Giants emerged. This club wouldn’t be conﬁned to playing the adjacent villages of Lenawee County for their competition. Instead, they would venture across a dozen Midwestern states and Ontario, Canada, all while traveling in an expensively and palatially furnished train car. A pre-game bike parade and singing and clowning on the ball ﬁeld became part of the Page Fence Giants show, similar to the Harlem Globetrotters of later basketball fame. While this all-star contingent of black men would play against town clubs, they also spent a sizable portion of their schedule facing major league, minor league and semi-professional teams, some armed with hired ringers to attempt to defeat the mighty Giants.
Excerpt from the preface of The Page Fence Giants, A History of Black Baseball’s Pioneering Champions, published in 2018 by McFarland Publishing. Winner of a 2019 Michigan Notable Book Award. Used by permission of the author.
Mitch Lutzke is the author of The Page Fence Giants: A History of Black Baseball’s Pioneering Champions, published by McFarland (2018). Earlier this year the book was named a recipient of a Michigan Notable Book Award. His website is www.mitchlutzke.com.