February is Black History Month and at this time of year it is natural to focus our thoughts on the contributions of such luminaries of the Civil Rights Movement as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.
But as momentous as their contributions were,
it must also be remembered that there were many heroes at the local level as well. In every community across North America there were Blacks who, long before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, were blazing a trail through the repressive bounds of racial
prejudice. One could argue with some justification that the equality enjoyed by all today is more a result of their aggregate efforts than any other factor.
For a local example one only needs to harken back to 1934 when the entire Chatham-Kent area,
like the rest of the world, was deep within the throes of the Great Depression. There was little joy to be found in those days as unemployment and poverty in the entire region was rampant.
Nevertheless, during that summer excitement was at a fever pitch
as the area could boast the best amateur baseball team in the province. At a time long before Blacks were accepted into most organized sports, this team was unique because each and everyone of its members was an outstanding athlete, and all were Black
That fall the Chatham Coloured All-Stars went on to capture the Ontario Baseball Association’s title in the Intermediate “B” division after delighting fans around the province that summer with a quality of baseball many
say has not been seen since.
While the team consisted entirely of star players, there is one who stands out in the memories of local residents, the legendary Earl “Flat” Chase. Chase was born in 1910 in the settlement of Buxton, a few miles
south and west of Chatham, but his family moved to Windsor when he was quite young. His interest in baseball also came at an early age. He lived across the street from a ball park and as a small boy spent most of his spare time there,
honing his baseball skills, eventually becoming proficient in all aspects of the game.
During the 1920s, 30s, 40s, prior to the advent of TV and other diversions, baseball was king in North America and personalities such as Babe Ruth became an inspiration
for young men everywhere. Consequently, nearly every city and small town fielded a men’s baseball team which competed with other communities. Chatham was no exception and it somehow lured the mighty Flat Chase to join the ranks of its All-Star
By all accounts Chase was the most versatile of players who could pitch, catch, and play all infield positions with equal adroitness. His name also became legend around the province as a long home-run hitter and he came to hold records
for the longest balls hit in Sarnia, Strathroy, Welland, Milton and Chatham.
In 1934, he led the City League in hitting with a .525 average and that same year in the finals against Penetang, out pitched Phil Marchildon, who later starred with the Philadelphia
Athletics in the American League.
Gwen Robinson, former manager of the Chatham-Kent Black History Room, remembered Flat Chase as a jovial man who in later years worked in the garbage pick-up for the City of Chatham. “He would always call out and
toot the horn when he passed our place, he was quite friendly,” she said. “He was an exceptional talend and really all of those players (the Chatham Coloured All-Stars) would have been in the major leagues had Jackie Robinson broke through a little
In a 1985 interview, the late Kingsley Terrell of Chatham, a star athlete in his own right, talked about his friend and team mate. “He got the name Flat because he walked as though he had flat feet, but boy could he run,”
said Terrell. “There was not a better second baseman around, he was a good pitcher and God knows there was nobody around the country that could hit a ball any better or farther than he could . . . he could have been in the major leagues but he was
the wrong colour at the wrong time.”
Dresden resident Bruce Carter also recalled Flat Chase and noted that he often watched him play in Dresden. He was a major league quality player,” said Carter, who recalled seeing Chase hit a ball at
the west side of Jackson Park in Dresden that cleared the roof of the town’s library, a significant distance to the east. “He hit balls they still haven’t found.”
Clayt Mifflin, who grew up in Dawn Township but is now
a resident of Chatham, recalled seeing Chase play an exhibition game at the Oakdale picnic during the 1940s. A life-long baseball enthusiast, Mifflin recalled that there were few who wanted to bat against Chase’s powerful pitching style. “He
would throw a ball 80 to 100 miles an hour and nobody wanted to stand up to that,” he said.
Mifflin said there was little doubt that if it were today all the players on the Chatham Coloured All-Star Team would be drafted into the major leagues.
“Unfortunately, they were before their time and that in itself was a travesty,” he said.
That statement roused another of his baseball memories.
“You know I can recall exactly where I was when Jackie Robinson broke
into the major leagues in 1947,” he said.
“I was sitting in a car in Dresden talking baseball with my brother and Gerald Cook (another local baseball legend) and it was announced on the radio that Jackie Robinson had been accepted into the
major leagues . . . and we all cheered.”
Earl “Flat” Chase died in Windsor in 1954. In 2001, he was posthumously inducted into the Chatham-Kent Sports Hall of Fame.