by Terry Rogers
During World War II, baseball was a diversion from the casualties of war. At the time, teams were segregated with African-Americans unable to play in the white baseball leagues leading to the creation of the Negro American League. From 1942 to 1944, one of these teams, the Milford Yanks, drew large crowds to Milford’s baseball fields, managed by the late Frank Fountain.
The team was created from area residents and college students at Delaware State College as well as some all-black Maryland colleges. Many of them played in Milford in order to raise money to head down south to play bigger name teams like the Black Barons of Birmingham. During this time, black teams earned between $300 and $400 per game in Milford which was a large sum for them in the 1940s. Players could not travel like athletes do today nor could they stay in expensive hotels. Most Negro teams traveled in ramshackle buses that they often slept in because they were not welcome in hotels or motels around the fields where they would play.
In interviews before his death, Fountain often talked about the fact that the Milford Yanks fielded some of the greatest players in the game, commenting that he often heard that they were the greatest semi-pro team to pass through Delaware. Players like George Brown who Fountain said would have gone straight to the majors with his outstanding fastball. Walter Reed, a catcher with the Yanks, received offers to play on other Negro teams, but with a family, he was not interested in living life out of his suitcase.
White players joined the Class D Eastern Shore League which fielded teams in Milford, Dover, Salisbury and Federalsburg. There were strong rivalries along the eastern seaboard between teams. However, World War II reduced the number of players available for the league as men headed off to war. This allowed the Milford Yanks a chance to play, although teams that challenged them were scarce. Often, the team played sandlot teams with second string players in the afternoon, returning at night to play a stronger team with better players.
Despite segregation, Milford’s baseball fields filled with both white and black spectators. Fountain often said that baseball seemed to bring people together. When Satchel Page pitched a game in Milford, the stadium filled completely and the gate rose to $1,000 or more. Fountain called Page a “show pitcher who called in his fielders to strike out the side.” Fountain recalled Page’s famous “hesitation pitch” and remembered him as being an engaging man who was true to his beliefs. Page had a strict no alcohol rule and Fountain, who owned the Moonlight Grill and Fountain’s Package Store attested to be true, claiming that Page never took a drink and never “even asked for one.”
When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947, the Negro league fell apart. In fact, the Yanks stopped playing in 1944, but Fountain never forgot his years managing the league.
“I didn’t make any money in it,” Fountain said in an interview with the Delaware State News in 1990,” In fact, I probably lost a good bit. But it didn’t matter. I was young and it was baseball. I loved it.”
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