Madera County Historical Society
World Heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, donned his softball uniform when he came to Madera in 1937. He played first base with the Brown Bombers in their game against the Rex All Stars on Oct. 3. The Bombers won 6-1.
South C Street has always been a busy place. Today it is home for any number of business establishments and residences, and in the distant past it was the center of Madera’s fledgling Italian community. At one time, it even had a professional softball diamond, and that’s where Joe Louis played when he came to town back in 1937.
It all started when Madera baseball aficionados, Henry Preciado and his brother Ben, learned that world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, had organized a softball team from some of the most talented black athletes in the nation. He called his group the Brown Bombers, and his idea was to go on a good-will tour of the United States, taking on all comers from local teams.
Now, it just so happened that the champ had a manager by the name of Marty Fielder who was putting the fall tour together, and he was good friends with the Preciado family, who seemed to have connections in just about every avenue of human endeavor.
When Henry Preciado learned of the Brown Bombers and their scheduled road trip, he contacted Fielder. Why couldn’t the Champ include Madera on his itinerary along with San Francisco, Sacramento, and Stockton? On Wednesday, Sept. 29, 1937, Preciado got his answer.
“Spoke to Joe Louis,” read the telegram from Fielder. “Told him you are my pal and for him and the Bombers to get ready to play in Madera Sunday night, Oct. 3rd — Glad to play — Arrange for double header — Have your team ready to play Bombers.” (Signed) Marty Fielder.
The Preciado brothers were ecstatic and quickly posted the news on their community bulletin board outside their Rex Theater. James McNally, a local pitcher of considerable renown, was commissioned to gather in the creme-de-la-creme from Madera’s baseball crowd. The Preciados fully intended to send the Brown Bombers out of Madera on the short end of the score.
When word of the impending match spread, all of Madera made ready to host the Champ and his entourage. Charley Marsh, president of the softball association in town, began to work with Henry and Ben to assure that the game was the most successful sporting event in the history of Madera.
The seating capacity of the park was enlarged and details for handling the anticipated crowds, including traffic control, were fine tuned. County Supervisor Ray Adell lent his assistance by insuring that the grounds were properly watered to hold down the dust. Mayor John B. Gordon, who was an ardent booster of softball in Madera, threw the full support of his office behind the event.
By Friday, Oct. 1, Madera was ready for Joe Louis and his Brown Bombers. The local team was dubbed the Rex Theater All-Stars and were practicing their hearts out for the Sunday evening contest.
By 7 p.m., the park was full of spectators. At 7:15, the Brown Bombers took infield practice, and within half an hour, the game was under way.
The Bombers got off to a fast start and never relinquished the lead. In the top of the first, their lead-off hitter singled, stole second and third and then was brought home on a base hit by the man most every one came to see, Joe Louis.
In the second inning, the Bombers made the most of two more singles and some dexterous base stealing to chalk up three more runs. At the top of the third, the score stood 4-1 in favor of Louis’ team. The final tally came in the last inning when H. Larkins tagged one that got past the Madera outfield and rolled to the far reaches of the pasture that served as center field. When the final out was made, the score stood Bombers 6, the Rex All-Stars 1. The Maderans had been held to three hits.
Unlike the gloom that filled Mudville when the “Mighty Casey” struck out, Madera was quite satisfied, even in the face of the loss. They had come to see the famous Joe Louis and they had not been disappointed, even though he left something to be desired as a ball player.
The Tribune reporter wrote of the Champ, “Louis, a big, slow-moving chap, had a hard time hanging onto the ball last night, four errors being chalked up to his credit — or discredit. Three times, when apparent double plays loomed as clinched, the champ dropped easy throws to give Maderans life. At the bat the big boy did somewhat better. He singled over second base in the first inning and then rapped another between first and second in the fourth.”
The local paper claimed that it was the largest crowd ever to assemble for a sporting event in the history of Madera, and that comes as no surprise. To host Joe Louis and his Brown Bombers put our town in a special, select category. It sure would have been nice if photo editor Wendy Alexander of the Tribune had been on duty that Sunday night. We would have some neat photographs of the action on South C Street to go with this little piece.