Arts & Culture

Uncovering a Forgotten Chapter in Baseball History

A century-old photo sparks new research on the Louisville Unions, a black baseball team—one of the best in the South—with a story almost lost to time

When two antique photographs of African American baseball players arrived at the Louisville Slugger Museum in June 2018, curators assumed the shots depicted athletes on the Louisville White Sox, the Negro National League team that played in the city during the 1930s. But work as a historian often involves investigation, so as she does with every newly acquired artifact, curatorial specialist Bailey Mazik began digging into the details and detected something amiss.

photo: Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory Archives
A photo of the Louisville Unions, a pre-Negro Leagues baseball team dubbed one of the best in the South in 1908.

“I noticed the Sunny Brook Distilling Co. in the background, and the letters LU on the uniforms,” Mazik says of details incongruent with the White Sox’s stadium location and gear. “And I began realizing things were not adding up to the items’ original description.” Mazik soon uncovered that the men in the photos played for the Louisville Unions, a team that predated the Negro leagues, and whose story had been lost over time. Recently unearthed 1908 newspaper articles called the Unions one of the best teams in the South, and the Unions played both black and white semiprofessional and amateur teams throughout Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio, and even as far away as New York.

photo: Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory Archives
Three Louisville Union players in 1908.

On exhibit through September, the photographs can also be found on the museum’s website alongside an in-depth story of how Mazik made this discovery—and how she hopes to learn more soon. “No one we can find today knows anything about them,” Mazik says. “We see this as the start of an under-researched chapter we can start to uncover.” 

The Louisville Slugger Museum is scheduled to reopen on Thursday, June 11. The Louisville Unions Rediscovered will run until September 6.