1928 Philadelphia Tigers
Philadelphia has a proud and deep historical connection to the expansive world of Negro League baseball, but the story of Smittie Lucas reads like a theatrical script. It's also an interesting footnote in the history of baseball in the Quaker City. 

The Eastern Colored League, founded in 1923 as a competitor to the Negro National League, was teetering on the verge of collapse entering the 1928 season. Lack of trust between owners, raiding of rosters, and the lack of enforcement of contracts put the ECL in a precarious position. 

An angry and dissatisfied Ed Bolden pulled his Hilldale franchise, arguably the best on the east coast, from the ECL before the 1928 season. Bolden's club had won two ECL pennants and a Colored World Series in 1925; his franchise was the model that other owners and entrepreneurs aspired to follow, so the loss of his franchise was a significant blow to a league facing an uncertain future. 

Bolden was a marketing genius. He grew up in Delaware County and spent nearly three decades helping proliferate baseball in the Black community, first with ownership of the Hilldale franchise in Darby and later with his creation of the Philadelphia Stars. He put the fans above all else and required his players play "clean" baseball. 

Aware of Bolden's concerns and facing their own challenges, the franchises in Brooklyn and Harrisburg also vacated their standing in the ECL before the 1928 season. 

With three departures, the ECL consisted officially of only the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, the Baltimore Black Sox, the Cuban Stars, and the Lincoln Giants. 

Lucas, a South Philly native with connections to the gangster underworld, recognized the ECL's desire for a team to represent Philadelphia following Hilldale's departure and organized a club in March of 1928 that he called the Eastern League Stars. His Stars club played an exhibition doubleheader against the Lincoln Giants at the Protectory Oval in the Bronx on April 8, 1928, splitting the day with a 14-4 victory and a 7-4 loss. 

The Stars club was built with players from other Negro League clubs and billed as a spring touring team, so Lucas had to retool and build a roster with available talent to compete in the ECL, and that club became the Philadelphia Tigers. 

Outfielder George Johnson was the most notable player on the Tigers, but at 38 years old was a shell of the player he was earlier in the decade. Other veterans on the roster included Namon Washington, Toussaint Allen, and Bunny Downs, all of whom spent time with Hilldale earlier in their careers. 

Lucas secured Pencoyd Field in the Manayunk section at Wissahickon and Ridge Avenues as the Tigers' home field. 

The ECL opened the regular season in late April, but the campaign fell apart five weeks later as owners and players failed to uphold their contracts. According to the last published account of the ECL standings in the Pittsburgh Courier on May 26, 1928, the Tigers played four league contests and were 2-2. 

The Tigers opened their ECL schedule on May 10, 1928, with a 10-6 loss at the hands of Atlantic City at Pencoyd Field. The club hosted Baltimore two days later when hurler Wilbert Pritchett tossed a complete game shutout, scattering seven hits while delivering the game-winning hit in a 1-0 10-inning victory. The Tigers headed south on May 13, 1928, and split a doubleheader with Baltimore at Maryland Park, dropping the first contest 9-1 while winning the second 12-8. 

The twin bill in Baltimore marked the final mention in the press of the Tigers playing an ECL contest before the definitive fall of the league in early June of 1928. 

The Tigers moved on to play as an independent team through the summer of 1928, facing local amateur clubs such as Bridesburg, Harrowgate, and Camden before disbanding at the end of the season. 

Though it never spilled into the press, Bolden and Lucas likely had a tenuous relationship. It doesn't appear that the Tigers faced Hilldale during the 1928 season, an extremely odd occurrence considering the proximity of the two clubs and the potential ease of scheduling exhibitions, particularly after the fall of the ECL. 

Lucas stepped away from baseball following the demise of the Tigers, yet found himself in the local newspapers two years later for his involvement in a murder at a prominent Camden nightclub.

According to the Philadelphia Tribune, Lucas was the mastermind behind a holdup on Easter morning in 1931 at the Rest-A-While Club on Kaighn Avenue in the Gateway section of Camden. The victim was hit by a bullet from a sawed-off shotgun and died at a nearby hospital. 

It's not entirely clear what happened in the club the night of the shooting, though it seems Lucas and his three conspirators were attempting to steal cash from a wealthy sports bettor. 

Lucas was arrested at his home on the 500 block of South 17th Street in Southwest Philadelphia several weeks after the shooting and indicted in early June. He eventually received a 30-year prison sentence for conceiving the plan. 

It appears Lucas died while in prison in 1951 at the age of 61. 

Strangely enough, Abe Manley owned the building that housed the Rest-A-While Club at the time of the shooting. A year later, the building was bombed, forcing Manley to leave Camden for New York City, where he met his eventual wife in Effa. Together, the Manley's purchased the Newark Dodgers and restructured the club to become the Newark Eagles, one of the top Negro clubs in baseball during the 1940s.
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