The Eastern Interstate League was founded as the Middle States League in 1889. Most of the Middle States League teams did not make it until the end of the season. While teams folded, new teams entered the league from other folding leagues, but most of them folded prematurely. Only three teams made it to the end of the season: The Harrisburg Ponies, the Cuban Giants and the Hazleton franchise.
One year later, the league reorganized and shuffled franchises and changed the name of the league into Eastern Interstate League.
Altoona PA: Altoona Mountaineers
Allentown PA: Allentown Colts
Harrisburg PA: Harrisburg Ponies
Lancaster PA: Lancaster Colts
Lebanon PA: Lebanon Grays
York PA: York (Colored) Monarchs
The league was quite unique as it was a mixed colored league. The two negro teams in the league were the Cuban Giants from York in Pennsylvania and the New York Gorhams. The Gorhams would not play in the league in the 1890 season as they preferred to play as an independent barn storming team. The Cuban Giants would play under the name of York Monarchs for the 1890 season. Despite the name of the league, all teams came from Pennsylvanian towns. The league collapsed when the Harrisburg and Lebanon franchises jumped ships and moved to the Atlantic Association. The Cuban Giants played on as an independent team for the remainder of the season and would join the Connecticut State League in 1891. George Willliams of the Cuban Giants ended up to be the best hitter of the league. He had a .386 average as the league folded. The period that the Cuban Giants played in the EIL was the only time that batting stats of the team were recorded.
Even though the color line was in full swing already and white teams did not want blacks on their roster, it was accepted to play against black teams. The Cuban Giants or the York Monarchs if you want to, were not bothered by the color line that was imposed on baseball as Sol White commented “It can be said for the management of the Harrisburgs, that although fighting the colored team (Monarchs of York) by every conceivable manner on the ballfield , they never drew the color line in any of the league meetings. They would not enter unless their sole colored player Frank Grant was allowed to play.
The name Cuban Giants may be explained as follows: Seldom would the local press refer to a black player as Negro. There were usually “cover” names such as the Spaniard, the Cuban, the Indian, etc. The paper of the visiting team would sometimes refer to colored players. Some historians feel that the Negro dialect might have contributed to the foreign references. Anyway, the Cuban Giants were no more Cuban than the white players in the Eastern Interstate League.
The Harrisburg Ponies didn’t only have Frank Grant as only colored player in their ranks. The team ended on top of the Middle States League in 1899 and was not very happy with the talented team of the Cuban Giants entering the league. The manager of the Ponies, James Farrington, lured the biggest talent of the Cuban Giants to sign with the Ponies, even though he had signed a deal with the Giants already. But also catcher Clarence Williams joined to Ponies for the 1890 season.
According to the Harrisburg Morning Patriot, Grant was the “most famous colored ballplayer in the business” and “when he appeared on the field a great shout went up from the immense crowd to receive him, in recognition of which he politely raised his cap.”
The Cuban Giants would file a lawsuit against the Ponies as they (the Giants) claimed that losing Grant to the Ponies would make them lose a lot of money. The team claimed that it had erected fences and stands for the fans that expected Grant to be on the team. The Giants asked the judge to prevent Grant playing for the Ponies but the judge decided in favor of the Ponies, also because the contract between the Cuban Giants and Grant was fully enforceable because it lacked mutuality. According to the judge the Giants only had the right to cut lose Grant if he would not perform as expected.
The York (Colored) Monarchs were on top of the standings when the Harrisburg Ponies and Lebanon team moved to the Atlantic Association. First the league played on as a four-team circuit but eventually folded completely midway July. The Lancaster Colts first moved to Allentown after Harrisburg and Lebanon left the league, but folded together with the league on July 10.