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Jess Elster is Dead

Jess Elster is Dead

GRHC - January 6th, 2014

Jess Elster was a symbol of semi-pro baseball. He came to Grand Rapids in 1904 and played his first season as a catcher the next year. When he died in December of 1950, he had been "Mr. Baseball" of the city for almost 50  years.


That was the headline on the Grand Rapids Herald sports page in December of 1950. Who, you may be asking, was Jess Elster? He had been “Mr. Baseball” of the city. Jess and his Colored Athletics had been synonymous with Grand Rapids sports for almost half a century.

Elster was a symbol of semi-pro baseball. For 46 years he managed and fathered the Colored Athletics who would play almost anybody, anywhere. Up and down the back roads of Western Michigan they went, meeting little teams and big teams, playing special games on holidays and entertaining thousands of people through the years with their own special brand of baseball.

The Colored Athletics were never a prosperous team. They didn’t belong to a league and other strong semi-pro outfits usually pirated Jess’ better players. But the Colored Athletics, or the Elsters as many people called them, kept right on playing.

Jess came to Grand Rapids in 1904 and played his first season as a catcher in 1905. In 1906 he took over the Colored Athletics, who had been organized here before the turn of the century. He bought the team their first uniforms and for many years they were one of the Midwest’s leading semi-pro clubs. When they played at Ramona Park his Athletics drew crowds of more than 2,000 people on Sunday afternoons.

Full Details

TitleJess Elster is Dead
KeywordsWYCE; radio; Grand Rapids; Historical Commission; Jess Elster; baseball
Pubdate StringJanuary 6th, 2014

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