Racial segregation started to become a custom in baseball about the time that eight members of the Browns withdrew from playing exhibition game in September against the New York Cubans, a prominent 'colored' team. During this time, it was a popular practice to refer to teams of African American players as Cuban, Hispanic, or Arabian to deflect the racial stigma of the time, even though many were predominantly none of the three. News accounts reported that "for the first time in the history of base ball the color line has been drawn, and that by the St. Louis Browns, who have established the precedent that white players must not play with colored men."
The Browns were in Philadelphia with plans to travel to New York City to play the Cuban Giants in an exhibition game. Scheduled long in advance with a "big guarantee," a crowd was anticipated in excess of 15,000 spectators. However, the night before departure to New York, eight Browns players signed a letter addressed to Von der Ahe and delivered it in person. The letter read:
We, the undersigned, members of the St. Louis Baseball Club, do not agree to play against negroes to-morrow. We will cheerfully play against white people at any time, and think, by refusing to play, we are only doing what is right, taking everything into consideration and the shape the team is in at present.
Manager and first basemanCharlie Comiskey was reportedly unaware of the letter and Ed Knouff refused to sign it. The Cuban Giants had previously played numerous exhibition games against other 'white' teams including Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Louisville, Philadelphia. This was the first reported account that any club refused to play them because of their race.
The cancellation of the game with the Cuban Giants was merely symptomatic of a larger trend occurring in professional baseball. The boycott occurred during the same season in which Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings threatened not to play any 'white' professional teams who hired black players and just months after the International League prohibited further signing of black players. Clearly the tide was moving toward segregation in baseball, so the St. Louis Browns' withdrawal brought wider attention to what was to become a norm in the United States. Ironically, it would be by an act 60 years later by then-former Cardinals executive in Branch Rickey that broke the color barrier in MLB when he débuted Jackie Robinsonin 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.