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We do know that many factors contributed to the BIL's demise, including the Great Depression and World War II, which caused instability in semipro ball across the nation. But also factoring into the extinction of the BIL were the drifting interests of Reilly himself.
In the '40s, he began emceeing boxing matches and and working as a raspy-voiced auto racing PA announcer in the Bay Area. It was as a boxing and race emcee that Reilly becoming known to newer generations of local sports fans. In March 1959, Speed got his due at a testimonial dinner at Topp's Restaurant in Oakland, an event promoted by Tribune sports columnist Alan Ward.
"Over the years Reilly has been a tireless worker for the promotion of sports, devoting time and money to that end," Ward wrote. "It is high time his efforts are receiving the public recognition they deserve."
Speed died on July 12, 1967, in Oakland. A week later, Haywood Daily Review columnist Al Auger rhapsodized about Reilly's career as a car announcer, but the writer's words could easily have been applied to anything Reilly — chameleon, jack of all trades, visionary — did during his roughly 66 years: "Byron 'Speed' Reilly made it seem very easy."
There are still reminders of the league hidden in the East Bay. The building that held the Elks lodge that sponsored the Athens team still exists; it's a designated Berkeley landmark. The Wa Sung Athletic Club disbanded in 1938, but in its place rose the Wa Sung Service Club, first formed in 1952 by members of the old AC. The nonprofit, charitable organization currently exists as the Wa Sung Community Service Club.
There's not much else, though, to recall the BIL. And that begs a few questions: Did the Berkeley International League's example pave the way for big changes in the public's attitude toward race and ethnicity, or push for a more inclusive kind of baseball? Or was the league a curiosity of history, a blip on the athletic and social radar, both in the Bay Area and nationwide? That's hard to judge. It would be almost another decade before Jackie Robinson integrated the majors, and some of the de facto segregation that dominated the first half of the 20th century still exists. But in some small, quirky way, for a couple of lost seasons, maybe the BIL did, in fact, move things forward, even just a little bit.
Now mostly forgotten, the Berkeley International League's brief existence was made possible by the multitude of cultures that migrated to the East Bay, and by a man who saw past the things that kept them separate.
"Byron 'Speed' Reilly, being the entrepreneurial genius he was, brought them together to give players of color a chance to play against white teams," Auther says. "They never would have had the chance otherwise."