The Giants Choose Arizona Over Florida

Bill Veeck, in his autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck, writes that avoiding racism was one reason the Cactus League was established.  In the early 1940s, Veeck was the owner of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers and the team trained in Ocala, Florida.  Veeck one day inadvertently sat in the segregated section of the stands and engaged in conversation with a couple of African-American fans.  According to Veeck, the local police told him he could not sit in that section, and then called over the Ocala mayor when Veeck began to argue with them.  The mayor finally backed down when Veeck threatened to take his team elsewhere for spring training and promised to let the country know why.  (Veeck’s account was the subject of much debate after his autobiography was published, but later investigations proved his story to be mostly accurate.)

Veeck sold the Brewers in 1945 and bought the Cleveland Indians in 1946.  He bucked tradition and arranged for the Indians to train in 1947 in Tucson, Arizona, near a ranch he and his wife had bought using some of the proceeds from their sale of the Brewers.  Ever mindful of how to generate crowds and make money, Veeck invited the Giants to train in Phoenix, so that the two clubs could barnstorm across the country on their way back east for opening day in April.

Aside from the money to be made with the Indians, Horace Stoneham, the Giants owner, was attracted by a mineral springs in Mesa, the Buckhorn Baths. Each spring until 1972, the Giants would spend their first week in Arizona at the Buckhorn Baths, soaking in the soothing waters of the mineral springs before reporting to Phoenix for training in earnest.  Stoneham enjoyed Arizona so much that the Giants made Phoenix their permanent spring-training site, except in 1951, when they traded sites with the Yankees, spending that spring in St. Petersburg, Florida, so Yankee owner Del Webb could show off his team in his hometown.  (Coincidently, the Yankees and Giants would meet in the World Series at the end of that season.)

By 1953, five of the seven teams with African-Americans on their rosters trained in the West.  Although Arizona was better for African-Americans than the South, Phoenix was, Monte Irvin claimed, “an almost completely segregated city.”  He and Kenny Washington, the All-American who had played football with Jackie Robinson at UCLA, were one night denied admission to a movie theater.

In Arizona segregated housing remained the rule.  Not until 1952 did the Indians house all their players under one roof in Tucson.  It was nearly 1960 before the Adams Hotel in Phoenix, where the Giants stayed during spring training, would admit African-Americans.  (Once it did, Willie Mays still refused to stay there.)  And even then, the Adams desegregated sequentially: First African-Americans could stay as guests; later they could eat in the dining room; and still later, they were allowed to swim in the pool.

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