My great grandfather and my great great grandfather played for the Negro Leagues in their youth. They educated me on the Negro Baseball Leagues when I was a child and I grew up learning about each team and each player. It was an education I cherished as a kid and even more as an adult.
I end my Negro History Month 2017 Series with a tribute to The Negro Leagues.
Most everyone knows that Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play major league baseball during the modern era. Suprisingly, few people have given much thought to how Robinson came to the attention of major league scouts, where he played before signing with the Dodgers, or just what the nature of baseball in the black community might have been before professional baseball’s integration.
In the following paragraphs we’ll take a quick trip through the years of baseball in black America that led up to Robinson’s 1947 debut in Brooklyn. Our tour is intended to introduce those who are just learning about the Negro Leagues to this fascinating era in the history of American sports and society.
There won’t be much here to interest the baseball afficianado — just a brief introduction for those newly discovering Negro League baseball.
1. The Baseball World Before 1890.
While it would be quite a stretch to say that professional baseball in the North was integrated between the end of the Civil War and 1890, quite a number of African-Americans played alongside white athletes on minor league and major league teams during the period. Although the original National Association of Base Ball Players, formed in 1867, had banned black athletes, by the late 1870s several African-American players were active on the rosters of white, minor league teams. Most of these players fell victim to regional prejudices and an unofficial color ban after brief stays with white teams, but some notable exceptions built long and solid careers in white professional baseball.
In 1884 the Stillwater, Minnesota club in the Northwestern league signed John W. “Bud” Fowler, an African-American with more than a decade’s experience as an itinerate, professional player. Fowler, a second-baseman by preference, played virtually every position on the field for Stillwater, enhancing the reputation that had brought him to the attention of white team owners. Fowler’s baseball career continued through the end of the 19th Century, much of it spent on the rosters of minor league clubs in organized baseball.
In 1883 former Oberlin College star Moses “Fleetwood” Walker began his professional career with Toledo in the Northwestern League. A more than average hitter, Walker was among baseball’s finest catchers almost from the beginning of his career. When the Toledo club joined the American Association in 1884 Walker became the first black player to play with a major league franchise.
In 1886 both Walker and Fowler were in the white minor leagues along with two other black stars, George Stovey and Frank Grant. Doubtless, many other black players were playing with teams in the “outlaw” leagues and independent barnstorming clubs. At least in the North and Midwest the best black players found a measure of tolerance, if not acceptance, in white baseball until the end of the 1880s. But in 1890 this situation abruptly changed.
As the season of 1890 began there were no black players in the International League, the most prestigious of the minor league circuits. Without making a formal announcement, a gentlemen’s agreement had been made which would bar black players from participation for the next fifty-five years. Though black players continued to find work in lesser leagues for a time, within only a few short years no team in organized baseball would accept black players. By the turn of the century the color barrier was firmly in place.
2. Professional Black Baseball Comes To The Fore
While Fowler, Walker, Grant and others were working to find a spot (and keep it) in organized baseball, other black players were pursuing careers with the more than 200 all-black independent teams that performed throughout the country from the early 1880s forward. Eastern teams like the powerful Cuban Giants, Cuban X Giants and Harrisburg Giants played both independently and in loosely organized leagues through the end of the century, and in the early 1900s professional black baseball began to blossom throughout America’s heartland and even in the South.
The early years of the 20th Century saw an emergence of several powerful black clubs in the Midwest. Teams like the Chicago Giants, Indianapolis ABCs, St. Louis Giants and Kansas City Monarchs rose to prominence and presented a legitimate challenge to the claim of diamond supremacy made by Eastern clubs like the Lincoln Giants in New York, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Cuban Stars and Homestead (Pa.) Grays. In the South, black baseball was flourishing in Birmingham’s industrial leagues, and teams like the Nashville Standard Giants and Birmingham Black Barons were establishing solid regional reputations.
By the end of World War I black baseball had become, perhaps, the number one entertainment attraction for urban black populations throughout the country. It was at that time that Andrew “Rube” Foster, owner of the Chicago American Giants and black baseball’s most influential personality, determined that the time had arrived for a truly organized and stable Negro league. Under Foster’s leadership in 1920 the Negro National League was born in Kansas City, fielding eight teams: Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Kansas City Monarchs and St. Louis Giants.
In the same year Thomas T. Wilson, owner of the Nashville Elite Giants, organized the Negro Southern League with teams in Nashville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Montgomery and New Orleans. Only three years later the Eastern Colored League was formed in1923 featuring the Hilldale Club, Cuban Stars (East), Brooklyn Royal Giants, Bacharach Giants, Lincoln Giants and Baltimore black Sox.
The Negro National League continued on a sound footing for most of the 1920s, ultimately succumbing to the financial pressures of the Great Depression and dissolving after the 1931 season. The second Negro National League, organized by Pittsburgh bar owner Gus Greenlee, quickly took up where Foster’s league left off and became the dominant force in black baseball from 1933 through 1949.
The Negro Southern League was in continuous operation from 1920 through the 1940s and held the position as black baseball’s only operating major circuit for the 1931 season. In 1937 the Negro American League was launched, bringing into its fold the best clubs in the South and Midwest, and stood as the opposing circuit to Greenlee’s Negro National League until the latter league disbanded after the 1949 season.
Despite the difficult econmic challenges posed to the entire nation by the Depression, the three major Negro League circuits weathered the storm and steadily built what was to become one of the largest and most successful black-owned enterprises in America. The existence and success of these leagues stood as a testament to the determination and resolve of black America to forge ahead in the face of racial segregation and social disadvantage.
3. The Golden Years Of Black Baseball
When Gus Greenlee organized the new Negro National League in 1933 it was his firm intention to field the most powerful baseball team in America. He may well have achieved his goal. In 1935 his Pittsburgh Crawfords lineup showcased the talents of no fewer than five future Hall-Of-Famers – Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson and Oscar Charleston.
While the Crawfords were, undoubtedly, black baseball’s premier team during the mid-1930s, by the end of the decade Cumberland Posey’s Homestead Grays had wrested the title from the Crawfords, winning 9 consecutive Negro National League titles from the late 1930s through the mid-1940s. Featuring former Crawfords stars Gibson and Bell, the Grays augmented their lineup with Hall-Of-Fame talent such as that of power-hitting firstbaseman Buck Leonard.
Contributing greatly to the ever-growing national popularity of Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s was the East-West All-Star game played annually at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Originally conceived as a promotional tool by Gus Greenlee in 1933, the game quickly became black baseball’s most popular attraction and biggest money maker. From the first game forward the East-West classic regularly packed Comiskey Park while showcasing the Negro League’s finest talent.
As World War II came to a close and the demands for social justice swelled throughout the country, many felt that it could not be long until baseball’s color barrier would come crashing down. Not only had African-Americans proven themselves on the battlefield and seized an indisputable moral claim to an equal share in American life, the stars of the black baseball had proven their skills in venues like the East-West Classic and countless exhibition games against major league stars. The time for integration had come.
4. The Color Barrier Is Broken
Baseball’s color barrier cracked on April 18, 1946 when Jackie Robinson, signed to the Dodgers organization by owner Branch Rickey, made his first appearance with the Montreal Royals in the International League. After a single season with Montreal, Robinson joined the parent club and helped propel the Dodgers to a National League pennant. Along the way he also earned National League Rookie Of The Year honors.
Robinson’s success opened the floodgates for a steady stream of black players into organized baseball. Robinson was shortly joined in Brooklyn by Negro League stars Roy Campanella, Joe Black and Don Newcombe, and Larry Doby became the American League’s first black star with the Cleveland Indians. By 1952 there were 150 black players in organized baseball, and the “cream of the crop” had been lured from Negro League rosters to the integrated minors and majors.
During the four years immediately following Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers virtually all of the Negro Leagues’ best talent had either left the league for opportunities with integrated teams or had grown too old to attract the attention of major league scouts. With this sudden and dramatic departure of talent black team owners witnessed a financially devastating decline in attendance at Negro League games. The attention of black fans had forever turned to the integrated major leagues, and the handwriting was on the wall for the Negro Leagues.
The Negro National League disbanded after the 1949 season, never to return. After a long and successful run black baseball’s senior circuit was no longer a viable commercial enterprise. Though the Negro American League continued on throughout the 1950s, it had lost the bulk of its talent and virtually all of its fan appeal. After a decade of operating as a shadow of its former self, the league closed its doors for good in 1962.
5. Only The Beginning Of The Story…
This brief narrative only capsulizes the story of Negro League baseball. Delving further into this fascinating era in American sports will reveal a rich and colorful story which had profound impact not only on our national pastime, but upon America’s social and moral development. It is a story you won’t want to miss!
|African-Americans began to play baseball in the late 1800s on military teams, college teams, and company teams. They eventually found their way to professional teams with white players. Moses Fleetwood Walker and Bud Fowler were among the first to participate. However, racism and “Jim Crow” laws would force them from these teams by 1900. Thus, black players formed their own units, “barnstorming” around the country to play anyone who would challenge them.
In 1920, an organized league structure was formed under the guidance of Andrew “Rube” Foster—a former player, manager, and owner for the Chicago American Giants. In a meeting held at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Mo., Foster and a few other Midwestern team owners joined to form the Negro National League. Soon, rival leagues formed in Eastern and Southern states, bringing the thrills and innovative play of black baseball to major urban centers and rural country sides in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. The Leagues maintained a high level of professional skill and became centerpieces for economic development in many black communities.
In 1945, Major League Baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers recruited Jackie Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson now becomes the first African-American in the modern era to play on a Major League roster.
While this historic event was a key moment in baseball and civil rights history, it prompted the decline of the Negro Leagues. The best black players were now recruited for the Major Leagues, and black fans followed.
The last Negro Leagues teams folded in the early 1960s, but their legacy lives on through the surviving players and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Through the inspiration of Horace M. Peterson III (1945-1992), founder of the Black Archives of Mid-America, a group of local historians, business leaders, and former baseball players came together to create the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in the early 1990s. It functioned out of a small, one room office in the Lincoln Building, which is located in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District of Kansas City, MO. It quickly incorporated, built a board of directors and staffing, and created a licensing program to support operations.
In 1994, it expanded to a 2,000 square-foot space in the Lincoln Building, which include a number photographs and interactive displays. Designed by ESA Design of Abilene, KS, this exhibit became the flagship for redevelopment in the historic district. Several hundred visitors, including school groups and dignitaries, marveled at this once “untold American history.”Highlights of our stay in the Lincoln Building included the 75th Anniversary Reunion of the Negro Leagues and a visit from Vice-President Al Gore.
The 18th & Vine historic district was the center for black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s-1960s. It was the hub of activity for homeowners, business, jazz music, and baseball enthusiast. Just outside of the district stands the Paseo YMCA building, which was built as a black YMCA in 1914. It served as temporary home for baseball players, railroad workers, and others making the transition to big city life in the Midwest. It was here that the Negro National League was founded in 1920. Although the district and the YMCA building were becoming blighted by the 1980s, they were recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
During the late 1990s, plans were underway by city officials to create a new home to showcase Kansas City’s jazz heritage and to revitalize the Historic District. City officials and the mayor worked to raise over $20 million in bonds to build a new facility to host the new American Jazz Museum and a new, permanent and expanded, home for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. This new 50,000 square-foot building opened in September 1997 and the Baseball Museum opened in November.
Our permanent home uses 10,000 square feet of the new space. Also designed by ESA Design, the new exhibit features multi-media computer stations, several film exhibits, hundreds of photographs, Field of 12 bronze sculptures and a growing collection of baseball artifacts. The museum raised over $2 million dollars to complete design and construction of this space. It has also welcomed several thousand visitors and dignitaries since, including Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, General (Ret.) Colin Powell, Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou, Judith Jamison, Mike Dukakis, Walter Cronkite, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barry Bonds, Tony Larussa, Isaac Hayes, Ossie Davis, Sinbad, and many, many others.
Negro League Baseball
The Negro leagues were United States professional baseball leagues comprising teams predominantly made up of African Americans and, to a lesser extent, Latin Americans. The term may be used broadly to include professional black teams outside the leagues and it may be used narrowly for the seven relatively successful leagues beginning in 1920 that are sometimes termed “Negro Major Leagues”.
In 1885 the Cuban Giants formed the first black professional baseball team. The first league, the National Colored Base Ball League, was organized strictly as a minor league but failed in 1887 after only two weeks owing to low attendance. The Negro American League of 1951 is considered the last major league season and the last professional club, the Indianapolis Clowns, operated as a humorous sideshow rather than competitively from the mid-1960s to the 1980s.
History of the Negro leagues
Because blacks were not being accepted into the major and minor baseball leagues, they formed their own teams and had made professional teams by the 1880s. The first known baseball game between two black teams was held on November 15, 1859, in New York City. The Henson Base Ball Club of Jamaica, Queens, defeated the Unknowns of Weeksville, Brooklyn, 54 to 43.
Immediately after the end of the American Civil War in 1865 and during the Reconstruction period that followed, a black baseball scene formed in the East and Mid-Atlantic states. Comprising mainly ex-soldiers and promoted by some well-known black officers, teams such as the Jamaica Monitor Club, Albany Bachelors, Philadelphia Excelsiors and Chicago Uniques started playing each other and any other team that would play against them.
By the end of the 1860s, the black baseball mecca was Philadelphia, which had an African-American population of 22,000. Two former cricket players, James H. Francis and Francis Wood, formed the Pythian Base Ball Club. They played in Camden, New Jersey, at the landing of the Federal Street Ferry, because it was difficult to get permits for black baseball games in the city. Octavius Catto, the promoter of the Pythians, decided to apply for membership in the National Association of Base Ball Players, normally a matter of sending delegates to the annual convention; beyond that, a formality. At the end of the 1867 season “the National Association of Baseball Players voted to exclude any club with a black player.” In some ways Blackball thrived under segregation, with the few black teams of the day playing not only each other but white teams as well. “Black teams earned the bulk of their income playing white independent ‘semipro’ clubs.”
Baseball featuring African American players became professionalized by the 1870s. The first known professional black baseball player was Bud Fowler, who appeared in a handful of games with a Chelsea, Massachusetts club in April 1878 and then pitched for the Lynn, Massachusetts team in the International Association. Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother, Welday Wilberforce Walker, were the first two black players in the major leagues. They both played for the 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings in the American Association. Then in 1886 second baseman Frank Grant joined the Buffalo Bisons of the International League, the strongest minor league, and hit .340, third highest in the league. Several other black American players joined the International League the following season, including pitchers George Stovey and Robert Higgins, but 1888 was the last season blacks were permitted in that or any other high minor league.
The first nationally-known black professional baseball team was founded in 1885 when three clubs, the Keystone Athletics of Philadelphia, the Orions of Philadelphia, and the Manhattans of Washington, D.C., merged to form the Cuban Giants.
The success of the Cubans led to the creation of the first recognized “Negro league” in 1887 – the National Colored Base Ball League. It was organized strictly as a minor league and founded with six teams: Baltimore Lord Baltimores, Boston Resolutes, Louisville Falls Citys, New York Gorhams, Philadelphia Pythians, and Pittsburgh Keystones. Two more joined before the season but never played a game, the Cincinnati Browns and Washington Capital Cities. The league, led by Walter S. Brown of Pittsburgh, applied for and was granted official minor league status and thus “protection” under the major league-led National Agreement. This move prevented any team in organized baseball from signing any of the NCBBL players, which also locked the players to their particular teams within the league. The reserve clause would have tied the players to their clubs from season to season but the NCBBL failed. One month into the season, the Resolutes folded. A week later, only three teams were left.
Because the original Cuban Giants were a popular and business success, many similarly named teams came into existence—including the Cuban X-Giants, a splinter and a powerhouse around 1900; the Genuine Cuban Giants, the renamed Cuban Giants, the Columbia Giants, the Brooklyn Royal Giants, and so on. The early “Cuban” teams were all composed of African Americans rather than Cubans; the purpose was to increase their acceptance with white patrons as Cuba was on very friendly terms with the US during those years. Beginning in 1899 several Cuban baseball teams played in North America, including the All Cubans, the Cuban Stars (West), the Cuban Stars (East), and the New York Cubans. Some of them included white Cuban players and some were Negro Leagues members.
The few players on the white minor league teams were constantly dodging verbal and physical abuse from both competitors and fans. Then the Compromise of 1877 removed the remaining obstacles from the South’s enacting the Jim Crow laws. To make matters worse, on July 14, 1887, Cap Anson‘s Chicago White Stockings were scheduled to play the Newark Giants of the International League, which had Fleet Walker and George Stovey on its roster. After Anson marched his team onto the field, military style as was his custom, he demanded that the blacks not play. Newark capitulated, and later that same day, league owners voted to refuse future contracts to blacks, citing the “hazards” imposed by such athletes.
In 1888, the Middle States League was formed and it admitted two all-black teams to its otherwise all-white league, the Cuban Giants and their arch-rivals, the New York Gorhams. Despite the animosity between the two clubs, they managed to form a traveling team, the Colored All Americans. This enabled them to make money barnstorming while fulfilling their league obligations. In 1890, the Giants returned to their independent, barnstorming identity, and by 1892, they were the only black team in the East still in operation on a full-time basis.
On May 2, 1920, the Indianapolis ABCs beat the Chicago American Giants (4–2) in the first game played in the inaugural season of the Negro National League, played at Washington Park in Indianapolis. But, because of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, the National Guard still occupied the Giants’ home field, Schorling’s Park (formerly South Side Park). This forced Foster to cancel all the Giants’ home games for almost a month and threatened to become a huge embarrassment for the league. On March 2, 1920 the Negro Southern League was founded in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1921, the Negro Southern League joined Foster’s National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs. As a dues-paying member of the association, it received the same protection from raiding parties as any team in the Negro National League.
Foster then admitted John Connors’ Atlantic City Bacharach Giants as an associate member to move further into Nat Strong‘s territory. Connors, wanting to return the favor of helping him against Strong, raided Ed Bolden‘s Hilldale Daisies team. Bolden saw little choice but to team up with Foster’s nemesis, Nat Strong. Within days of calling a truce with Strong, Bolden made an about-face and signed up as an associate member of Foster’s Negro National League.
On December 16, 1922, Bolden once again shifted sides and, with Strong, formed the Eastern Colored League as an alternative to Foster’s Negro National League, which started with six teams: Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Baltimore Black Sox, Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Cuban Stars, Hilldale, and New York Lincoln Giants. The National League was having trouble maintaining continuity among its franchises: three teams folded and had to be replaced after the 1921 season, two others after the 1922 season, and two more after the 1923 season. Foster replaced the defunct teams, sometimes promoting whole teams from the Negro Southern League into the NNL. Finally Foster and Bolden met and agreed to an annual Negro League World Series beginning in 1924.
1925 saw the St. Louis Stars come of age in the Negro National League. They finished in second place during the second half of the year due in large part to their pitcher turned center fielder, Cool Papa Bell, and their shortstop, Willie Wells. A gas leak in his home nearly asphyxiated Rube Foster in 1926, and his increasingly erratic behavior led to him being committed to an asylum a year later. While Foster was out of the picture, the owners of the National League elected William C. Hueston as new league president. In 1927, Ed Bolden suffered a similar fate as Foster, by committing himself to a hospital because the pressure was too great. The Eastern League folded shortly after that, marking the end of the Negro League World Series between the NNL and the ECL.
After the Eastern League folded following the 1927 season, a new eastern league, the American Negro League, was formed to replace it. The makeup of the new ANL was nearly the same as the Eastern League, the exception being that the Homestead Grays joined in place of the now-defunct Brooklyn Royal Giants. The ANL lasted just one season. In the face of harder economic times, the Negro National League folded after the 1931 season. Some of its teams joined the only Negro league then left, the Negro Southern League.
On March 26, 1932 the Chicago Defender announced the end of Negro National League.
Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Gus Greenlee
Just as Negro league baseball seemed to be at its lowest point and was about to fade into history, along came Cumberland Posey and his Homestead Grays. Posey, Charlie Walker, John Roesnik, George Rossiter, John Drew, Lloyd Thompson and L.R. Williams got together in January 1932 and founded the East-West League. Eight cities were included in the new league: “Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, Newark, New York, and Washington, D.C.”. By May 1932, the Detroit Wolves were about to collapse, and instead of letting the team go, Posey kept pumping money into it. By June the Wolves had disintegrated and all the rest of the teams, except for the Grays, were beyond help, so Posey had to terminate the league.
Across town from Posey, Gus Greenlee, a reputed gangster and numbers runner, had just purchased the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Greenlee’s main interest in baseball was to use it as a way to launder money from his numbers games. But, after learning about Posey’s money-making machine in Homestead, he became obsessed with the sport and his Crawfords. On August 6, 1931, Satchel Paige made his first appearance as a Crawford. With Paige on his team, Greenlee took a huge risk by investing $100,000 in a new ballpark to be called Greenlee Field. On opening day, April 30, 1932, the pitcher-catcher battery was made up of the two most marketable icons in all of blackball: Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.
In 1933, Greenlee, riding the popularity of his Crawfords, became the next man to start a Negro league. In February 1933, Greenlee and delegates from six other teams met at Greenlee’s Crawford Grill to ratify the constitution of the National Organization of Professional Baseball Clubs. The name of the new league was the same as the old league Negro National League which had disbanded a year earlier in 1932. The members of the new league were the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Columbus Blue Birds, Indianapolis ABCs, Baltimore Black Sox, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Cole’s American Giants (formerly the Chicago American Giants) and Nashville Elite Giants. Greenlee also came up with the idea to duplicate the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, except, unlike the big league method in which the sportswriters chose the players, the fans voted for the participants. The first game, known as the East-West All-Star Game, was held September 10, 1933 at Comiskey Park in Chicago before a crowd of 20,000.
End of the Negro leagues
Some proposals were floated to bring the Negro leagues into “organized baseball” as developmental leagues for black players, but that was recognized as contrary to the goal of full integration. So the Negro leagues, once among the largest and most prosperous black-owned business ventures, were allowed to fade into oblivion.
First a trickle and then a flood of players signed with Major League Baseball teams. Most signed minor league contracts and many languished, shuttled from one bush league team to another despite their success at that level. But they were in Organized Baseball, that part of the industry organized by the major leagues.
The Negro National League folded after the 1948 season when the Grays withdrew to resume barnstorming, the Eagles moved to Houston, Texas, and the New York Black Yankees folded. The Grays folded one year later after losing $30,000 in the barnstorming effort. So the Negro American League was the only “major” Negro League operating in 1949. Within two years it had been reduced to minor league caliber and it played its last game in 1958.
The last All-Star game was held in 1962, and by 1966 the Indianapolis Clowns were the last Negro league team still playing. The Clowns continued to play exhibition games into the 1980s, but as a humorous sideshow rather than a competitive sport.
Negro major leagues
While organized leagues were common in black baseball, there were only seven leagues that are considered to be of the top quality of play at the time of their existence. None materialized prior to 1920 and by 1950, due to integration, they were in decline. Even though teams were league members, most still continued to barnstorm and play non-league games against local or semi-pro teams. Those games, sometimes approaching 100 per season, did not count in the official standings or statistics. However, some teams were considered “associate” teams and games played against them did count, but an associate team held no place in the league standings.
- Negro National League (I), 1920–31.
- Eastern Colored League, 1923–28.
- American Negro League, 1929; was created from some of the ECL teams but lasted just one season.
- East-West League, 1932; ceased operations midway through the season.
- Negro Southern League, 1932; incorporated some teams from the NNL(I) and functioned for one year as a major league, was otherwise a minor league that played from 1920 into the 1940s.
- Negro National League (II), 1933–48.
- Negro American League, 1937–60 or so; after 1950, the league and its teams operated after a fashion, mostly as barnstorming units, but historians have a hard time deciding when the league actually came to an end.
Colored and Negro World Series
Negro minor leagues
Early professional leagues cannot be called major or minor. Until the twentieth century, not one completed even half of its planned season.
- Southern League of Colored Base Ballists, 1886.
- National Colored Baseball League, 1887.
- International League of Independent Professional Base Ball Clubs, 1906.
- National Association of Colored Baseball Clubs of the United States and Cuba, 1907–09.
Eventually, some teams were able to survive and even profit by barnstorming small towns and playing local semi-pro teams as well as league games.
Early Negro leagues were unable to attract and retain top talent due to financial, logistical and contractual difficulties. Some early dominant teams did not join a league since they could pull in larger profits independently. The early leagues were specifically structured as minor leagues. With the integration of Organized Baseball, beginning 1946, all leagues simply lost elite players to white leagues, and historians do not consider any Negro league “major” after 1950.
At least nine leagues from the major-league era (post-1900) are recognized as Negro minor leagues, as is the one of two 1940s majors that continued after 1950:
- Denver City League, 1930.
- Texas–Louisiana League, 1931.
- Texas Negro League, 1924–31.
- Texas–Oklahoma Negro League, 1933–35.
- Negro Major Baseball League Of America, 1942.
- Negro Southern League, 1920–45 (major in 1932)†
- West Coast Baseball League, 1946.
- United States Baseball League, 1945–46.
- Baseball Association Of America, 1949.
- Negro American League, 1951–60 (previously major)‡
† The Negro Southern League was considered a de facto major league in 1932 because it was the only league to play a full season schedule, and many players (and a few teams) from the original Negro National League played there. A new Negro National League was established in traditionally “major” cities for 1933, also attracting the elite players and teams from the NSL.
‡ The Negro American League is considered a major league from 1937 until integration diminished the quality of play around 1950. Riley’s Biographical Encyclopedia draws the line between 1950 and 1951.
The Negro leagues and the Hall of Fame
In his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966, Ted Williams made a strong plea for inclusion of Negro league stars in the Hall. After the publication of Robert Peterson‘s landmark book Only the Ball was White in 1970, the Hall of Fame found itself under renewed pressure to find a way to honor Negro league players who would have been in the Hall had they not been barred from the major leagues due to the color of their skin.
At first, the Hall of Fame planned a “separate but equal” display, which would be similar to the Ford C. Frick Award for baseball commentators, in that this plan meant that the Negro league honorees would not be considered members of the Hall of Fame. This plan was criticized by the press, the fans and the players it was intended to honor, and Satchel Paige himself insisted that he would not accept anything less than full-fledged induction into the Hall of Fame. The Hall relented and agreed to admit Negro league players on an equal basis with their Major League counterparts in 1971. A special Negro league committee selected Satchel Paige in 1971, followed by (in alphabetical order) Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Martín Dihigo, Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard and John Henry Lloyd. (Of the nine, only Irvin and Paige spent any time in the major leagues.) The Veterans Committee later selected Ray Dandridge, as well as choosing Rube Foster on the basis of meritorious service.
Other members of the Hall who played in both the Negro leagues and Major League Baseball are Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson. Except for Doby, their play in the Negro leagues was a minor factor in their selection: Aaron, Banks, and Mays played in Negro leagues only briefly and after the leagues had declined with the migration of many black players to the integrated minor leagues; Campanella (1969) and Robinson (1962) were selected before the Hall began considering performance in the Negro leagues.
From 1995 to 2001, the Hall made a renewed effort to honor luminaries from the Negro leagues, one each year. There were seven selections: Leon Day, Bill Foster, Bullet Rogan, Hilton Smith, Turkey Stearnes, Willie Wells, and Smokey Joe Williams.
In February 2006, a committee of twelve baseball historians elected 17 more people from black baseball to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, twelve players and five executives.
- Negro league players (7)
- Ray Brown; Willard Brown; Andy Cooper; Biz Mackey; Mule Suttles; Cristóbal Torriente; Jud Wilson
- Pre-Negro league executive, manager, player, and historian (1)
- Sol White
The committee reviewed the careers of 29 Negro league and 10 Pre-Negro league candidates. The list of 39 had been pared from a roster of 94 candidates by a five-member screening committee in November, 2005. The voting committee was chaired by Fay Vincent, Major League Baseball’s eighth Commissioner and an Honorary Director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Last Negro leaguers
Hank Aaron was the last Negro league player to hold a regular position in Major League Baseball.
Minnie Miñoso was the last Negro league player to play in a Major League game when he appeared in two games for the Chicago White Sox in 1980.
Buck O’Neil was the most recent former Negro league player to appear in a professional game when he made two appearances (one for each team) in the Northern League All-Star Game in 2006.
2008 Major League draft
On June 5, 2008, Major League Baseball held a special draft of the surviving Negro league players to acknowledge and rectify their exclusion from the major leagues on the basis of race. The idea of the special draft was conceived by Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. Each major league team drafted one player from the Negro leagues. Bobo Henderson, Joe B. Scott, Mule Miles, Lefty Bell, James “Red” Moore, Mack “The Knife” Pride and Charley Pride (who went on to a legendary career in country music), were among the players selected. Also drafted, by the New York Yankees, was Emilio Navarro, who, at 102 years of age at the time of the draft, was believed to be the oldest living professional ballplayer.
Postage stamp recognition
On July 17, 2010, the U.S. Postal Service issued a se-tenant pair of 44-cent U.S. commemorative postage stamps, to honor the all-black professional baseball leagues that operated from 1920 to about 1960. The stamps were formally issued at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, during the celebration of the museum’s twentieth anniversary. One of the stamps depicts Rube Foster.
Negro League Baseball Museum: Kansas City
As they say, “great things come in small packages” and this is true for the Negro League Baseball Museum or NLBM for short. The NLBM was founded in 1990 and moved to its current location in 1997, but you would have thought that it just opened yesterday. Everything in the museum looks crisp and brand new. It was a wonderful experience and Karen and I would put it on a do not miss list for Kansas City.
The NLBM is full of interesting information, autographed baseballs, uniforms, and probably the best timeline that I have ever seen in a museum. The timeline charts the progress of the Negro Leagues in such an interesting way that Karen and I just wanted to keep reading. The cutouts and writing were not just flat against the wall they popped out at you and were coupled with a great color scheme and artifacts, the whole thing was very well made. It was also interesting to see the game worn uniforms, cleats, and gloves of some of the best baseball players in the Negro Leagues or for that matter, in baseball in general.
It was awesome to see all that information about the stars of those leagues and read and see videos about them. My favorite story, and something I read about when I was child, was how Cool Papa Bell was. He was so fast he could turn the light switch off and be in bed before the room got dark. It was also fun telling Karen and my mom, who was tagging along with us for the day, about how Babe Ruth was the “White Josh Gibson. “
Karen’s favorite thing was the sign that had Satchel Paige’s rules for living. 1. Don’t Look Back. Something might be gaining on you. 2 If your stomach disputes with you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts. 3 Avoid running at all times (which I think is her favorite). 4 Go very lightly on the social vices such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful. 5 Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently when you move (Karen likes to jangle). 6 Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
There were also several different interactive displays and touch screens. Many of them were question and answer games where it would give you a feat that the player had done and you have to answer which player accomplished this feat. The best interactive area was a small baseball field with bronze statues of some of the players and behind the catcher and pitcher there were computers where you could pick a certain pitch to throw to the batter, which was pretty cool.
The Negro League Baseball Museum was wonderfully set up and maintained. Karen and my mom must have commented several times that everything looked brand new. If you are ever in the Kansas City area and a fan of history, sports, or just want a good over-coming the odds story then you will want to check out this museum.
Negro League Baseball Museum
Located at 1616 E 18th St. Kansas City, Mo
Hours of Operation Tuesday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday 12:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Cost as of 2011 – Adults 12 and over are $8.00 and Children 5 to 12 are $3.00 it is $10.00 total for adults if you buy a ticket for the adjoining Jazz Museum
For more information visit their website at http://www.nlbm.com/