DENVER - For almost 62 years, one of Denver's greatest athletes and also one of the most unknown figures in Colorado sports history laid in an unmarked grave.
Theodore M."Bubbles" Anderson was the only Denver-born baseball player to play in the Negro Leagues, and he did so when he was in his teens.
Anderson was born on Nov. 4, 1904 in Denver. His parents, George and Hattie Anderson, lived in a little white-framed house at 2550 Clarkson Street, just a few blocks from where Five Points stands today.
It isn't known how or why Anderson received the nickname "Bubbles," but it was a memorable nickname that followed him throughout his childhood.
Playing For Denver White Elephants
The smooth-fielding, long ball-hitting second baseman began his professional baseball career for the Denver White Elephants in 1920.
"Bubbles was 15, playing amongst grown men and he was one of the stars of that team," said baseball historian Jay Sanford.
The White Elephants were the longest-lasting African-American team in Colorado. Owned by businessman, politician and avid baseball fan A.H.W. Ross, the White Elephants were active for 21 seasons from 1915 through 1935.
Teenager In The Negro Leagues
In 1922, as the Kansas City Monarchs were barnstorming through Denver, they discovered Bubbles and signed him to a contract even though he was only 17.
Once he signed on with the Monarchs, Anderson would once again find himself as the only teenager on a roster filled with adults.
"Teenagers playing in the Negro Leagues were uncommon, but not unprecedented," said Negro League Museum President Bob Kendrick.
For example, teen phenomenons like Willie Mays played for the Birmingham Barons at the age of 17 and Roy Campanella, who dropped out of high school, played for the Baltimore Elite Giants at the age of 15.
Even though the younger Anderson was a threat to any older player, the Monarchs made sure that they nurtured Bubbles Anderson into a man on and off the field.
"Those Monarch players were pillars of professionalism," said Kendrick. "They took those young players under their wings and taught them the ropes. Taught them how to grow up, taught them how to dress and taught them how to be men."
Negro Leagues Career
Anderson played 19 games at second base during his first season with the Monarchs in 1922.
Anderson compiled a .212 batting average, knocking in only 1 RBI and committing 5 errors from the field, according to the stats collected from Gary Ashwill with the Negro Leagues Database.
In the next season, Bubbles' playing time would greatly increase as he saw the field in 61 contests. This time he would play two games apiece at third base and shortstop while still primarily starting at second base.
Bubbles' numbers would also improve, as he posted a .275 batting average with 22 RBIs and 3 stolen bases.
After two seasons with the Monarchs, Bubbles moved east and started the 1924 season at second base with the Washington Potomacs, but he was released and finished the season with the Birmingham Black Barons.
In 1925, Bubbles finished his career with the Indianapolis ABCs.
During Bubbles' four seasons in the Negro Leagues, he played with Baseball Hall Of Fame members Wilbur "Bullet" Rogan, Jose Mendez and Norman "Turkey" Stearnes.
Illness Forces Bubbles Back To Denver
On a road trip to Kansas City to face the Monarchs, Bubbles left the Indianapolis ABCs and returned home to Denver due to an illness.
Many of Bubbles' teammates believed that he left the team because of a venereal disease, but it was just a virus that weakened his body, said Sanford.
In the following years, Bubbles never married nor had any children. He worked as a janitor and returned to the baseball diamond in a second stint with the White Elephants in 1932 and 1933. His professional baseball career ended in 1935.
Anderson later served in the United States Army during World War II.
Gastric Ulcer Ends Bubbles' Life
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier by taking his position at first base with the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves. This momentous day was one that Bubbles never got to witness.
On March 14, 1943, around 6 a.m., Theodore "Bubbles" Anderson died from a gastric ulcer. He was only 38.
His body was laid to rest four days later in an unmarked grave at the Fairmount Cemetery.
It wasn't until 2005, with the help of Jay Sanford and the Fairmount Heritage Foundation, that Bubbles Anderson received a headstone.
It was a fitting end for an African-American baseball pioneer, a World War II veteran, and a hero to current generations of Denver baseball fans.