When the Trumpeter Ruled the Diamond

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Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, widely recognized as one of the most infuencial musicians of all time. (Image courtesy of C.C. Rider Blues.com.)

 

It has been said that America has given the world three gifts: the Constitution, jazz music and baseball. These are our purely American tenets. The three don’t usually have opportunities to intermingle naturally. How could they? Politics, music and athletics aren’t exactly peanut butter, jelly and bread. For the most part, they’ve remained separate. Yet, for a time in the early 1930’s, one legendary musician expanded his empire to the baseball diamond.

The year was 1931, and the city of New Orleans was absolutely buzzing over baseball. No, not Major League Baseball. The excitement was over Negro League Baseball, which was just about to welcome in a brand new team. Adorned with snow white uniforms (Much of the uniforms at the time were off white due to the material used), the newly-minted club was known as the “Secret Nine”, and was the brainchild of New Orleans’s own pride and joy, Louis Armstrong. As a boy in the Big Easy, the famed trumpeter played on a recreational squad known as the Black Diamonds. He would later grow fond of the New York teams, first the Brooklyn Dodgers, then later the New York Yankees. He was famously in attendance for five games during the 1969 World Series, as the Miracle Mets took home the crown.

Local advertisement for Armstrong’s Secret Nine’s upcoming games against the New Orleans Black Pelicans. (Image courtesy of Smithsonian.com).

The man they lovingly called “Satchmo” built up his team upon his return to New Orleans. He had made a name for himself in New York as one of the most prolific and influential musicians of all-time, and was looking to try his hand at the national pastime. The new club made its debut against the Melpomene White Sox in front of fifteen thousand fans at St. Richmond Park. The proceedings were like that of a parade down Bourbon Street, and the champion trumpeter christened the event by stepping on the mound and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. To top it off, Armstrong delighted the spectators by playing a faux game where he “faced” one batter, striking him out on three pitches.

But the Secret Nine were routed by the White Sox which, unfortunately for Armstrong and the people of New Orleans, was more than common at their games. The team was lackluster at best, and most fans remember the players’ bright uniforms which, according to some murmurs, were resented by the players and opponents alike.

Very little is actually known about Armstrong’s team. How he came to own it is the stuff of debate and myth, and no one is quite sure of the real story. Armstrong’s time as a baseball impresario was short lived, but nonetheless memorable. In a sport whose history is painted with colorful characters, Armstrong is yet another fantastic story in the endless tomes of baseball lore. Let us not forget the days when the trumpeter ruled the diamond

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