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MLB – Special – History Of Black Players In Baseball – The Boys In The Field Of The Negro Leagues


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.”.

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….which was played at Washington Park in Indianapolis….but, because of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919….the National Guard still occupied the Giants’ home field at Schorling’s Park (formerly South Side Park)….which forced the cancelation all the Giants’ home games for almost a month….which threatened huge embarrassment for the league. On March 2, 1920 the Negro Southern League was founded in Atlanta, Georgia….then In 1921, the Negro Southern League joined Foster’s National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs.where as a dues-paying member of the association, it received the same protection from raiding parties as any team in the Negro National League.

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….which included Posey, Charlie Walker, John Roesnik, George Rossiter, John Drew, Lloyd Thompson and L.R. Williams….who got together in January 1932 and founded the East-West League….which included 8 cities 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….but across town from Posey was a reputed gangster and numbers runner….Gus Greenlee….who had just purchased the Pittsburgh Crawfords….as his main interest in baseball was to use it as a way to launder money from his numbers games….and after learning about Posey’s money-making machine in Homestead….Greenlee became obsessed with the sport and his Crawfords. On August 6, 1931, Satchel Paige made his first appearance as a Crawford….so 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….so, 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 was known as the East-West All-Star Game….and was held September 10, 1933 at Comiskey Park in Chicago before a crowd of 20,000.

With the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States was thrust into World War II….so, remembering World War I….black America vowed it would not be shut out of the beneficial effects of a major war effort: economic boom and social unification….and just like the major leagues….the Negro leagues saw many stars miss one or more seasons while fighting overseas….while many players were over 30 and considered “too old” for service like Monte Irvin, Larry Doby and Leon Day of Newark….Ford Smith, Hank Thompson, Joe Greene, Willard Brown and Buck O’Neil of Kansas City….Lyman Bostock of Birmingham….and Lick Carlisle and Howard Easterling of Homestead all served….for the result was that the white majors were barely recognizable….while the Negro leagues reached their highest plateau….as millions of black Americans were working in war industries and making good money….so they packed league games in every city. Business was so good that promoter Abe Saperstein of the Harlem Globetrotters fame….started a new circuit, the Negro Midwest League, a minor league similar to the Negro Southern League. The Negro World Series was revived in 1942, this time pitting the winners of the eastern Negro National League and midwestern Negro American League….which continued through 1948 with the NNL winning four championships and the NAL three.  In 1946, Saperstein partnered with Jesse Owens to form another Negro League, the West Coast Baseball Association (WCBA)….where Saperstein was league president and Owens was vice-president and the owner of the league’s Portland (Oregon) Rosebuds franchise….but the WCBA disbanded after only two months.

The 1st Commissioner of Major League Baseball….Judge Kenesaw M. Landis….was an intractable opponent of integrating the white majors….so, during his 25 year tenure…..he blocked all attempts at integrating the game. A popular story has it that in 1943, Bill Veeck planned to buy the moribund Philadelphia Phillies and stock them with Negro League stars…..however, when Landis got wind of his plans….he and National League president Ford Frick scuttled his offer in favor of another bid by William D. Cox.

After Landis’ death in 1944, Happy Chandler was named his successor….as Chandler was open to integrating the game….even at the risk of losing his job as Commissioner. He later said in his biography that he could not in good conscience tell black players they couldn’t play baseball with whites when they’d fought for their country….so, in March 1945, the white majors created the Major League Committee on Baseball Integration….whose members included Joseph P. Rainey, Larry MacPhail and Branch Rickey….but because MacPhail was an outspoken critic of integration and thus kept stalling….the committee never met. Under the guise of starting an all-black league, Rickey sent scouts all around the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico jus looking for the perfect candidate to break the color line. His list eventually was narrowed down to three, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson…..so on August 28, 1945, Jackie Robinson met with Rickey in Brooklyn….where Rickey gave Robinson a “test” by berating him and shouting racial epithets that Robinson would hear from day one in the white game….and having passed the test, Robinson signed the contract which stipulated that from then on that Robinson had no “written or moral obligations” to any other club….and by the inclusion of this clause….precedent was set that would raze the Negro leagues as a functional commercial enterprise.

To throw off the press and keep his intentions hidden, Rickey got heavily involved in Gus Greenlee’s newest foray into black baseball, the United States League….which he started in 1945 as a way to get back at the owners of the Negro National League teams for throwing him out. Rickey saw the opportunity as a way to convince people that he was interested in cleaning up blackball and not integrating it….then in mid-summer of 1945, Rickey, almost ready with his Robinson plan, pulled out of the league. The league folded after the end of the 1946 season….as Jackie Roosevelt Robinson would be signed by Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers late in 1945.

Early in 1946, Rickey signed four more black players….Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, John Wright and Roy Partlow….this time with much less fanfare. After the integration of the major leagues in 1947….which was marked by the appearance of Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers that April….interest in Negro league baseball waned….which led to black players who were regarded as prospects being signed by major league teams….often without regard for any contracts that might have been signed with Negro league clubs. Negro league owners who complained about this practice were in a no-win situation….as they could not protect their own interests without seeming to interfere with the advancement of players to the majors. By 1948, the Dodgers, along with Veeck’s Cleveland Indians had integrated.

The Negro leagues also “integrated” around the same time, as Eddie Klep became the first white man to play for the Cleveland Buckeyes during the 1946 season.  These moves came despite strong opposition from the owners; Rickey was the only one of the 16 owners to support integrating the sport in January 1947. Chandler’s decision to overrule them may have been a factor in his ouster in 1951 in favor of Ford Frick.

Any way you cut the pie….this video has some “priceless rare footage” that is worth seeing over and over again….for it is just another “golden nugget” in the Imasportsphile treasure chest.


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