Some of the founders and players of the Henry County Black Baseball League marked the league's 60th anniversary in November, during an induction ceremony honoring volunteerism. The league was formed in 1949, with teams from McDonough, Ola, Kelleytown, Hampton, and Locust Grove.
By Valerie Baldowski
Charlie Tomlinson and Doug Cloud remember growing up in the 1950s, playing baseball with their friends, traveling to makeshift ball fields, and playing on several different teams -- all for the love of the game.
Tomlinson and Cloud, both 63, are two of the members of the Henry County Black Baseball League. Tomlinson, a McDonough resident, played in the league from 1957 to 1964. Cloud, an Ola resident, played from 1959 to the early 1960s.
"It was a bunch of boys, who got together and played on the weekends," said Tomlinson, a member of the Browntown Sluggers. "It was something to do to occupy your Sunday evenings."
He said until the 1960s, the area bordered by Lemon Street, McGarity Road and Eastlawn Cemetery was owned by the Brown family, thus the name "Browntown."
Baseball was strictly segregated during those years, said Tomlinson. "Most of the communities in the black areas would put together teams," he said.
"We were farmers, and we had to have something to do on the weekends," said Tomlinson, whose team played on a field on McGarity Road in McDonough.
In November, the league celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding, during a special ceremony hosted by the Henry County Parks and Recreation Department to honor volunteerism.
During its existence, the league included such teams as the McDonough Sluggers, the Hampton Panthers, and the Locust Grove Cubs. Other all-black teams were formed by residents in Ola, Kelleytown, and students from the old Lemon School in McDonough.
Cloud was one of the players on an Ola team. "Back in those days, that was about all there was to do," said Cloud. "It was a very inexpensive sport."
The only equipment many teams had were a ball, a bat and gloves, said Tomlinson.
Cloud's grandfather, Walter Banks, and uncle, D.C. Banks, built Ola's first baseball field in 1949. "Most of the fields were just basically cow pastures," he said.
There were eight or nine teams in the league. Team schedules were not like they are today, and back then, there was no such thing as a game schedule planned in advance, said Cloud.
"The managers would just call each other during the week, [to plan a game]," he said. "We would play all over."
Cloud said most games were played in Henry County, although, occasionally, Henry teams would play teams from Covington, Porterdale, Jackson, or Butts County.
"Players, at times, played for different teams, just for the opportunity to play," he said. "We played wherever we could."
Tomlinson said, during the years he played in the league, there was no protective padding or catchers' face masks. He recalled playing one game in the 1950s, during which the catcher was hit in the eye by a baseball. "His eye jumped out, then jumped back in," Tomlinson said.
The catcher was not severely injured, and did not lose sight from that eye. "I've never seen anything like that," he added. "It was a miracle."
Tomlinson said the league was disbanded in the 1960s, when the players grew up and moved away from the area.