When Jesse Owens Brought Baseball to Portland

Today is the birthday of one of the most important athletes of all time, Jesse Owens.  His story is an incredible one, with an interesting  baseball twist that not many people know.

Jesse Owens was the grandson of a slave who grew up in rural Alabama picking ten pounds of cotton a day.  When he was 9, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  There, Jesse worked every day after school at jobs like shoe repair, in a steel mill, and delivering groceries.  In his P.E. class, the track coach saw how talented he was, and asked him to come out for the team.  Jesse said he had to work every day after school, so the coach arranged to meet Jesse before school for practice.  It was also at this middle school that Owens met a girl named Minnie Ruth.  They would get married in 1935, and remain married until his death in 1980.

After High School, Jesse would go on to Ohio State University, where he would win eight national track and field championships, and become known as the “Buckeye Bullet.”  He was still not given a scholarship, and when the team travelled, he often had to eat at separate, “Blacks only” restaurants.

He then wold make the United States Olympic team.  His four gold medals at the 1936 olympics in Berlin beautifully shot a hole into Adolph Hitler’s premise of Aryan superiority right in front of his Nazi eyes. It was one of the greatest moments in sports history.

At the conclusion of the olympics, President Roosevelt invited all of the athletes who won gold medals to the white house for dinner, except for the black ones.

Jessie Owens, one of the greatest athletes of all time, not allowed to go to the White House, not allowed on the front of the bus. He was also not offered commercial endorsements or lucrative jobs after the olympics. He had to perform gimmicks like racing against horses to make money. At one point, he would work as a gas station attendant.


Abe Saperstein was the owner of the Harlem Globetrotters.  He wanted to create a professional Negro baseball league to play in six cities on the west coast, including Portland and Seattle.  He sought out Jesse Owens to own a team, and that team became the Portland Rosebuds.  They would play their first game June 4, 1946 at Vaughn St. Park, located at the corner of Northwest 24th and Vaughn.Steelheadsowens-e1359933816990Vaughn Street park had a capacity of a little over 12,000.  Unfortunately, only 1500 people showed up to watch the Rosebuds play the Los Angeles White Sox.  Before the game, Owens demonstrated his speed to the fans by sprinting around the field.  The local media gave the team very little attention, as Portland baseball fans were already loyal to their Portland Beavers.The league didn’t fair well in the other cities either, and disbanded after only two months. Jesse would go on later to spend a short time as the running coach for the New York Mets.THE REST OF THE STORY FOR JESSE OWENSMr. Owens bounced from job to job for the rest of his life.  He worked for the Ford Automobile Company, ran a dry cleaning business, and tried his hand at several promotions and gimmicks.  In 1965, he filed for bankruptcy.
Owens was not recognized by an American President until Gerald Ford did it in 1975.
When he died in 1980, President Carter said, “Perhaps no athlete better symbolized the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry.”

History is complicated, sometimes uncomfortable, and often interesting.Follow the unfinished pyramid on twitter at https://twitter.com/unfinishedpyr

Purchase Bob Hammitt’s new trivia book on Amazon by clicking on the picture below:

For further reading on Jesse Owens, also available on amazon:


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