A chimp, Shoeless Joe, Babe Ruth, suicide, the Black Pelicans, and a civil rights boycott. When it comes to stories, baseball and New Orleans both deliver.
I was at the corner of Tulane and Carrollton when I saw a historical marker for Pelican Stadium. “Cool. I never knew there was old ballpark here. I’ll look it up when I get home.” That was a worthwhile endeavor.
First, the basics: The original Pelican Park stood on Carrollton between Banks and Palmyra, and began hosting games in 1908. A.J. Heinemann, whose first baseball job was selling peanuts at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis (with the help of a chimpanzee delivery system), was part-owner of the New Orleans Pelicans and announced plans for a new stadium at Tulane and Carrollton. Teams of mules moved sections of the grandstand down Carrollton to their new home, which was named Heinemann Park until the untimely death of its namesake. The Pelicans played there until 1957, when a combination of the TV broadcasts of major league games and a boycott by the African-American community over the segregated seating, concessions and bathrooms caused attendance to plummet. The stadium was demolished in 1958 and replaced by the Fountainbleau Hotel. Now there’s a Burger King and self-storage at the corner.
If you find this kind of history cool, I strongly recommend you read this fantastic article in the Society for American Baseball Research. Baseball people love their history, and the article gives all sorts of background on the relationship between baseball and New Orleans. For instance, New Orleans was the first spring training destination, beginning in the late 1800s. At various times, the Chicago White Stockings, Boston Beaneaters, New York Giants, Cincinnati Red Stockings, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn Robins, New York Yankees (with The Babe and Lou Gehrig) and Boston Red Sox all held spring training here. When the Pelicans were out of town, the New Orleans Black Pelicans of the Negro Southern League played at the park, along with several other black teams from New Orleans.
I’ll let you read the rest of the details in the article. The future of baseball in New Orleans Is murky, made even more so by the pandemic and MLB’s intention to significantly downsize and regionalize its minor league system. Once that all shakes out, there apparently are investors ready to create a AA Southern-League affiliate in New Orleans. In the meantime, enjoy some baseball history to go with the last few days of the World Series.