John Roesink arrived in Detroit from Grand Rapids in 1900 and established a haberdashery on Gratiot near Rivard. His business boomed, and by the time of the Depression, I believe that he owned a chain of six clothing stores located near downtown Detroit. His passionate interest was baseball. At that time, many stores and firms sponsored semi-pro baseball teams, so there was lively competition in the Detroit area.
In 1914, Roesink built a substantial baseball park at Mack and Fairview with seating for 6,000, using both bleacher- and theater-style seats. His own semi-professional team played there. Until the development of strong players unions, major league teams scheduled games with minor league teams and semi-pro teams on their off days to generate revenue. Lou Gehrig ended his string of consecutive games with the Yankees when they visited Detroit on May 3, 1939. However, on June 12th of that year, the Yankees played their minor league team in Kansas City and that was the very last baseball game for Lou Gehrig . In the World War I era, Roesink succeeded in booking the Boston Braves, the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Brooklyn Dodgers into his Mack Park to play his high caliber team. Roesink also ingratiated himself with the Detroit Tigers. In 1915, the new Federal League sought to place a franchise in Detroit using Mack Park. Roesink turned them away.
Negro teams had played baseball since the late Nineteenth Century, often challenging the best white teams, including those in the major leagues. In 1918, Rube Foster—a black sports promoter and baseball aficionado from Chicago—knew that the migration of many African Americans to northern cities meant that black baseball might prosperous if it were more organized and better promoted. He established a Negro National League and sought to locate franchises in northern cities with large black populations. Interestingly, he owned the contracts of all the league’s players and, at least at the start, dominated the league. He wanted a chance to make money in booming Detroit and knew that Mack Park was the only venue with sufficient seating.. It was not in the east side black neighborhood. Indeed, it was in the middle of a German neighborhood, but it was not far from the Paradise Valley along Hastings Street where many Detroit blacks lived.
For reasons not well understood, Foster selected John T. Blount to head the Detroit Stars at their start. Apparently, Blount was basically a figurehead. He was thought to be an honest man working in the numbers game and had the advantage of being very light skinned, so he readily attended meetings and did business with whites who would not recognize his race. Foster made the most important decisions and Roesink ran the park where the team played for eleven years. The Detroit Stars prospered playing league games on weekends—their home schedule included about 30 dates—and challenging local teams at other times. In 1925, Roesink replaced Blount as the president, making him the third white man to own a Negro League franchise.
On Sunday July 7, 1929 the Detroit Stars were scheduled to play the Kansas City Monarchs at Mack Park. It had rained on Saturday and again on Sunday. Just before game time, Roesink himself was working with the ground crew to spread gasoline on the field so that the doubleheader might be played. He had stored more cans of gasoline under the stands. Apparently, a carelessly tossed cigarette ignited gasoline on the field, but the fire quickly spread to the stored cans of gas. No fans were killed, but 220 were injured when the grandstand collapsed. The fire ended the use of Mark Park by Negro League baseball teams. The Detroit Stars finished their 1929 home schedule by playing at Dequindre Park. Roesink was widely criticized by many in the black community. Apparently, as rain delayed the start of the doubleheader, many fans sought to turn in their tickets for a refund. Roesink refused. Then he was viewed with contempt for neither offering condolences to those who were injured nor compensation.
Roesink continued to own the franchise and the Detroit Stars, in 1930, played home games in Hamtramck Stadium which was located where Keyworth Stadium is. The Depression, however, pretty much closed down the Negro baseball leagues and Roesink himself ran into severe financial difficulties, ending his support for baseball teams.
Mack Park was eventually rebuilt for use by the nearby Southeastern High School baseball teams. This continued into the early 1960s. Then federal monies became available to Detroit in great amounts. The Democratic Party recognized that the strength of the New Deal coalition depended upon the votes of blue-collar workers, white ethnics and blacks. Indeed, candidates Kennedy and Johnson both began their national campaigns for the White House in Detroit and the UAW was probably the largest single contributor to the Democratic Party in the 1960s. Nevertheless, officials in Washington recognized that Detroit and other older cities were potentially troublesome places with very old infrastructures and at risk of violent racial conflict. The solution was to channel a substantial flow of federal dollars to selected cities. In the 1960s, I believe that only New York and Chicago obtained more federal funds for revitalization than Detroit. Federal dollars were available to build a housing complex on the east side, so Mack Park was razed and replaced by the Fairview Homes that you see. This is a well-kept attractive development resembling a modest suburban condo complex that provides housing for older residents of the city.
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