Archive for the ‘Negro Leagues’ Category

Negro Leagues: Early Troubles and the Golden Age

April 15, 2009
Now, it’s an organization, but for how long?

On May 2, 1920, Rube Foster’s Negro National League began with the Indianapolis ABC’s beating his Chicago American Giants 4-2 in the first game ever. The idea was such a good one that a group of teams in the South created the Negro Southern League as well in 1920, and they would join Foster’s league the following season. However, a bitter feud was boiling between Foster and fellow owner Nat Strong. Strong created a second league, the Eastern Colored League in 1922 to counter Foster’s, and the Negro National League began losing teams. In 1924, the two sides finally came to an agreement, and they decided to have Negro League World Series. After a gas leak nearly killed Foster, his behavior became erratic and harmful, leading him to be sent to an asylum in 1926. Without him in the picture, the owners were happier, but the leagues were beginning to decline. The Eastern League would have to close down in 1927, but the American Negro League replaced it with almost the same teams. Unfortunately, finances weren’t any better, and the league folded after one season. The Negro National League would succumb to the pressures of the Great Depression and went out of business in 1931.

When one door closes, another one opens and new men take center stage. Cumberland Posey took over the Homestead Grays, and after the Negro National League failed, he tried to start a new league, but it failed after one season. A year later, Gus Greenlee bought the Pittsburgh Crawfords, and Satchel Paige made his debut. In 1933, Greenlee created a new Negro National League. The teams involved included some old and some new faces: Pittsburgh Crawfords, Columbus Blue Birds, Indianapolis ABC’s, Baltimore Black Sox, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Cole’s American Giants (formerly the Chicago American Giants), and the Nashville Elite Giants. One of the most innovative things coming from this was the East-West Game, which was the counter to the All-Star Game, but it allowed the fans to choose the participants instead of the sportswriters as was the case in the major leagues.

The league continued fairly well for a few years, but World War II brought its really profitable years. Just as it happened during World War I, the demographics shifted again during the second war. As more men went off to fight, more blacks came from the South to take their places in factories in the North. With a larger fanbase, the league made more money. Although the Negro National League lost some players to the war effort, the league remained fairly recognizable while the white leagues were losing quite a few of their stars. The Negro National League was even starting to compete with the American and National Leagues. Along with this success came tough questions. African-Americans had shown themselves in the battlefield, the factories, and the ball field, so why were they still second-class (at best) citizens?

Unfortunately, integration, in baseball terms, would have its costs. On one hand, integration meant that African-American players would finally get the credit they deserve. On the other hand, one successful player would mean many more would follow. Therefore, the best players would leave and the stars would be gone. Without those stars, attendance was sure to drop. That meant one thing — the end.

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Negro Leagues: The Beginning

April 13, 2009
Possibly the first professional African-American player — Moses “Fleetwood” Walker.

In honor of Jackie Robinson, this will be “Jackie Robinson Week” here. You might have noticed that I haven’t included any Negro League posts, but I figured this would be a good time to start. There should be some interesting posts for the next week, and we’ll start with the beginning of the Negro Leagues.

From the end of the Civil War to the late 1800’s, whites and blacks often played on the same amateur teams. Though they weren’t quite “integrated”, a number of African-Americans played on teams with whites. In 1867, the National Base Ball Players Association banned African-Americans, but blacks still found their way on to numerous minor-league teams. John “Bud” Fowler is the actual first known professional baseball player to break the color barrier when he played in Massachusetts in 1878, and six years later, he moved to Stillwater, Minnesota. Joining Fowler in the Northwestern League (remember, the United States wasn’t that developed at that point and the Mid-West was the West to those citizens), Moses Walker, George Stovey, and Frank Grant also played in white minor leagues.

But those leagues weren’t the only ones with teams. As those four worked in the Mid-West, around 200 other teams were all-black and playing against each other. Black baseball began to move throughout the Mid-West and even the South. In the East, the Homestead Grays, Cuban Giants, Cuban Stars, and the Brooklyn Royal Giants were the main teams. In the Mid-West, the Chicago Giants, St. Louis Giants, Indianapolis ABC’s, and Kansas City Monarchs began to rival their northeastern rivals. Even the South, with the Nashville Standard Giants and Birmingham Black Barons, began to have legitimate foundations for teams.

After World War I, black baseball was a major pastime for urban neighborhoods. This move coincided with the emergence of a very important, though arrogant, man — Rube Foster. Frank Leland had started the movement for a black major leagues, it was Foster who made it possible. Foster was originally a very talented pitcher early in the century, but he would take control of the Leland Giants (Frank Leland’s team) in 1907, and he forced Leland to step aside and relinquish all roster and bookkeeping controls. Owner of the now Chicago American Giants, Foster used his prominence to organize the Negro National League in 1920. Foster took advantage of the demographic shift caused by World War I. Blacks began moving en masse to the North to take available factory jobs, and with a larger fanbase, the time was ripe.

Eight teams composed the first Negro National League: the Cuban Stars, Chicago American Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago Giants, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABC’s, and St. Louis Giants (Giants was apparently a very popular name). Of course, Foster had to have control. He became league president, forced teams to buy his equipment, and took 5% of all gate receipts of every team. But he was the man who made this league possible, and for now, things were looking promising for black baseball.