A Salute to the Wa Sung Athletic Club,

By Roland Hui

One day in the fall of 1951, 16 young men of Chinese descent gathered at a restaurant in Orinda for a reunion. These men, now in their 30's and 40's, with families and well established in their respective professions, were all former members of the Wa Sung Athletic Club baseball team which had disbanded 13 years earlier, in 1938. Amidst all the merrymaking and reminiscing, one guy mentioned that he had heard about some families who were low on food for Thanksgiving. They quickly decided to make some food baskets and delivered them to those needy families. They felt so good afterwards that they wanted to do it again the following year. Thus, the Wa Sung Service Club was born, officially in July 1952 but I think the idea was sparked at that reunion. Their mission? Community service.

So we as a club owe our existence to the vision and altruistic spirit of the men of the Wa Sung Athletic Club. But how did the Wa Sung Athletic Club come about? To answer that question we need to go back a few more years to the early 1920's when a group of poor Chinatown kids who called themselves "Chinese Nine" regularly got together and played sandlot baseball at Auditorium Field, where Laney College is now. In 1923, they organized themselves as the Wa Sung Baseball Team. They must have become very popular because many kids wanted to join their activities but didn't want to play baseball. To accommodate them they changed the name to Wa Sung Athletic Club in 1926.

1926 Wa Sung Athletic Club Baseball Team

The original Wa Sung A.C. baseball team in 1926 was managed by Ed Bowen and coached by Al Hue and Gay Wye. Players on this team included Al Bowen (P), George Bowen (C), Henrye Bowen (P), Ben Chan (3B), George Chan (Captain, SS), Homer Chan (2B), Al Chinn (1B), Art Chinn (OF), Ernest Chinn (OF), Fred Chinn (OF), Al Jung (P), Newell Kaikee, George Lum (OF), Henry Lum (C), and Wing Yick (OF). Allie Wong was the team “mascot”.

The Wa Sung A.C. baseball team played throughout California and also in Nevada and Oregon, in several leagues, against other semi-pro teams, city teams, and college varsity teams. The team did not have a sponsor like most other semi-pro teams, so to help cover their expenses, they would pass a hat at the end of each game to collect money from spectators. Although not dominating, they were competitive among their peers, compiling an overall record of 76 wins, 70 losses, and 5 ties during the seven seasons from 1926 to 1932. Because of their long history and quality of play, they were considered one of the “cornerstone” franchises of the Berkeley International League where they fell one game short of reaching the championship series in 1936. (The series was later cancelled due to scheduling delays, and the two teams that made it to the final were declared co-champions.)

Wa Sung A.C. baseball team in action

But when it comes to playing against other Chinese teams, the Wa Sung A.C. was literally in a different league. The scores tell the story: 20 to 1 over the Waku A.C. (6/12/1927, "Waku" is probably short for "Wa Kiu", Cantonese meaning overseas Chinese); 18 to 1 over the Nanking A.C. (8/14/1927); 10 to 2 over the Fresno Chinese (4/29/1928); and 29 to 2 (sic) over the San Francisco Chinese (7/13/1930). These were not mere victories, but total annihilations. It was only fitting that they were dubbed the unofficial "champions" of Chinese baseball in California. The team became quite popular within the Chinese community, as quite a few people followed them around on their Sunday barnstorming trips.

A lesser known fact about the Wa Sung A.C. is that they also fielded a basketball team called the "Chinese Five". Some baseball team players played on this team during the off season.

More than just an athletic club fielding ball teams, the Wa Sung A.C. was involved with many other activities reflecting the cultural heritage of its members. They staged an "Oriental act" at eh opening ceremony of the 1935 season of the Berkeley International League. When not playing baseball, the club held parties, social meets, hot dog sales, spaghetti feeds, and variety shows. In 1935, they staged a benefit match against the San Francisco Seals' AA team to raise money for the refugee relief fund in war-torn China.

Over the 12 years of its existence the Wa Sung A.C. had some excellent players, the most accomplished of whom was Al Bowen, the star pitcher. Al was so good that he was signed to pitch for the pro team Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in 1932. Allie Wong, another star player, was also offered a pro contract but reportedly his father turned it down behind his back.

The Wa Sung A.C. brought a sense of identity and pride to the Chinese community at a time when they faced enormous economic and social challenges. After all, their playing days were during the Great Depression when public financial support was hard to come by and when there was much racial segregation in the communities. Since baseball was a national pastime, it offered one of the few avenues through which Chinese Americans could relate to Main Street America and yet maintain their own identity. Not surprisingly, many members of the Wa Sung A.C. developed a strong sense of community through playing against teams of other ethnic groups and that led to the formation of the Wa Sung Service Club. The Wa Sung A.C. had in some measures fulfilled a historical mission of elevating the stature and projecting a positive image of Chinese Americans. For that, it should be accorded at least an honorable mention in the annals of Chinese American history.