The Centralia Colored Giants were more than just a baseball club. In fact, they were both an athletic
team and an entertainment troupe rolled into one. Led by manager Henry Leake, the Giants not only
fielded one of 1930's-40's Southern Illinois' most competitive semi-pro baseball squads, but also
enthralled spectators with pre and post game string band concerts which never failed to leave those
crowds laughing, tapping their feet and singing along with joy.
Just a few locals today can recall having actually seen the Colored Giants in action, but their
recollections, along with some documentary information, can summon to our imaginations today a few
fleeting glimpses of the Colored Giants in action. Perhaps if we try hard enough we can see them in their prime.
It's just after a brief summer shower on a humid, hot afternoon in July, 1937, and a capacity crowd is on hand at Carlyle to see the local club take on the famed Centralia Colored Giants.
The visiting Giants have just concluded a rollicking concert near the grandstand and now both clubs are on the field for pregame contests. As the sun bakes down, Giants and Carlyle players race around the bases. They throw for distance in the outfield, and fire the ball from short center on a line toward a barrel at home plate. The Giants are real showmen and enjoy joking and doing stunts, but they're going all out now. We blink our eyes just once and it's already the third inning.
There's the Giants' catcher, "Wild Bill Locke" with "Thou Shalt Not Steal " on his chest protector. He calls out to his pitcher, "Sad Sam" Burris, " Pitch to Me Little Train! " and Burris kicks and fires one past the Carlyle hitter for strike one. The crowd murmurs. Looks like Burris is really strong out there today.
Only an instant more and it's late afternoon, the seventh inning, and the score is knotted at 3-3 It looks like the starting pitchers are still in there.
Both teams are now sweaty in their thick, flannel uniforms and have mud in their cleats and half way up their socks. The field's only marginally playable, but the Giants and Carlyle are locked in an old time thriller. It's nearly 98 degrees, but not a soul in the crowd has headed for home.
Overseas, Europe is hurtling toward chaos. In St. Louis , Dizzy Dean is shutting out the Phillies. Government scientists in Washington are trying to figure out why the Hindenberg crashed. But nobody here cares. This game's too good.
Two out, two men on... Line drive! The burly Carlyle third baseman has met a Burris curveball solidly and has driven it deep, over the Giants' shortstop, out toward Centralia 's Bob Norwood in left field.
The players and crowd rise as one, and Burris, Locke and the Centralia players pound their gloves and plot the race between the streaking baseball and Norwood who is dashing across the steaming, patchy outfield grass toward the painted board fence in left center. For two seconds more the sphere streaks overhead, a lonely white pellet floating across a deep blue sky, and then slowly it descends near the top of the wall where Norwood is leaping high with his glove extended.
But our vision recedes...
Today there are only faded clippings and box scores of this game and a hundred more like it, but the Centralia Colored Giants, those peerless athletes and entertainers of yesteryear, live on both in the memories of those who were lucky enough to have seen them play, and in the Centralia Sports Hall of Fame.