NegroLeague and Blacks in Professional Major League Teams
Towardsthe end of the 19th century until 1948, the Major League Baseball,also known as the Majors, MLB, or the Big Show, was segregated. Atthe time, the African Americans were drafted and played in the NegroLeagues. They were not allowed to be part of the MLB or otheraffiliate teams of the Major League (Nemec 39). During years, theNegro Leagues existed as a different entity from the MLB, and eventhough it was structured similarly to the Major League teams, therewas no equality.
The primary objective of this paper is to focus on why and how theNegro League teams became part of the MLB and the impact of racialintegration in MLB on some of the prominent Negro League teams. Thethesis will start with a review of a few Negro League teams, whichproduced some of the Major Leaguers, and then move on to theintegration of the Major Leagues, which allow the Negro Leagues andBlacks in professional major league teams (Nemec 43). The paper willconclude by highlighting how the teams were integrated it took awhile before every team follow suit and racially integrate to theprofessional teams.
Negro LeagueBaseball Teams
The Negro League baseball became paramount to the African-Americans,which fielded teams. Because of the segregation of baseball at thetime, it was very crucial for the Negro Leagues to form an organizedentity. According to Riess (71), the Negro Leagues did this byestablishing the kind of league that was similar to that of the MLBand ended the season crowned as the World Series league winners. Backin the early 1990s, the Negro Leaguers became an organized entitywith the establishment of the Negro Southern League and the NegroNational League. These two leagues were active however, there was noactual way to tell which team, in particular, was doing well in theNegro Leagues. In 1937, many teams, which were in the Negro SouthernLeague or independent, became part of the Negro American League(NAL), and thus the Negro Leagues became two. In the end, theseleagues gave the blacks – African-Americans – a feeling of beingin the Majors.
The Kansas City Monarchs
The Kansas City Monarchs ended up being one of the most famous NegroLeague Teams, and throughout its 42 years of existence between 1920and 1942, the team fielded more than 13 future big leaguers, and mostimportant the first black in the MLB, Jackie Robinson. The Monarchswere more than a baseball team since they played a crucial role inthe entire Kansas City, and most importantly the African-Americancommunity. Because of the kind of conditions the Kansas City blackcommunity created, playing as a baseball game became a bigger fit anda dream to every Black athlete (Cash 27). Their status in the Blackcommunity appealed more to the young and aspiring athletes. Moreover,because of racists faced by the Negro League Players and the entireAfrican American Community, there was a need for these playersestablish high standards and become role models for the BlackCommunity.
The Monarchs ended up being one of the most successful teams in theNegro Leagues, and in the completed, a total of 14 future majorleaguers was drafted in the MLB. The team was different in the sensethat their owner was a non-Black. Throughout their run, the team hadmany different promotions becoming the team in Kansas City. JackieRobinson became the most prominent of all the great players thatdonned the Monarch`s jersey. More so, Jackie Robinson crossed thecolor barrier, becoming the first player to play in the Major LeagueBaseball, which incidentally became the end of the Monarchs. Some ofthe Monarchs players that made to the Major Leagues include EugeneWalter Baker, Elston Howard, Willard Jesse Brown, Clifford Johnson,Jr., and Curtis Benjamin Roberts.
The Homestead Grays
The Homestead Grays was another prominent and fruitful team in theNegro League Baseball. Formed in 1912, the Homestead Grays startedout in Homestead, PA, which is a steel region in Pittsburgh. Afterthe 1982 steel strike, most of the African Americans moved toPittsburgh, and most of them working at the Carnegie-Illinois SteelCompany. The Grays became successful playing against some of the mostfamous teams among other Negro League teams (Cottrell 14). Soonerthan expected, the Grays became bigger in Ohio, Pennsylvania, andWest Virginia. Their dominance saw them receive eight straightpennants between 1937 and 1945. Again, nine Gray players wereinducted into the team`s Hall of Fame. Another eight players thatonce worn the Gray jersey jumped the color barrier, becoming addedAfrican Americans playing in the Major League Baseball teams.
Although Jackie Robinson never played for the Homestead Grays, hiscrossing over to play in the MLB affected the Grays significantly.The Grays having started out in the Pittsburgh`s suburbs and wentahead to gain the support they needed by the African AmericanBulletin, "Pittsburgh Courier," the team continued to enjoya great following by the African Americans. The following was feltwith their move to the Washington DC having gotten help from the"Afro-American." Although the team played in the stadiumthat was a segregationist, Griffith, and with the support of both theBlack and White sports writers, the team managed to produce a player– John Wright – who went ahead to play in the mixed minor leaguesin 1946. Following the footsteps of Wright, the Homestead Grayseventually produced a total of eight Major Leaguers.
Birmingham Blacks Barons
In the South, the Birmingham Black Barons was the most prominent teamin the Negro League Baseball. The Black Barons had the most number offuture Major Leaguers of all the entire Negro League teams after theMonarchs and the Grays with seven African American players making itto the Big Show. Always winning against the big teams, the BlackBarons attracted large crowds, and the team ended up staying longerin the Negro League Baseball than their counterparts (NLBPA 18).Additionally, church life became a huge part of the African Americancommunity around the Birmingham area. For instance, churches aroundthe area ensured that their services ended up much earlier to allowthe members to attend the Black Barons games. It ended up being areal sign of pride in the Birmingham community.
By the end of their dominance in 1960, the Black Barons had turnedout to be a dominant team in the South and the entire Negro LeagueBaseball. The Black Barons became an integral part of the Birminghamway of life of the African American community. The team ended upreceiving a huge black following, especially during their homematches at the Rickwood Field (NLBM 10). It drew huge following thesame the White Birmingham Barons did, coupled with equal presscoverage. Five of the Black Barons players made it to the Hall ofFame, for example, Willie Mays, Willie Wells, Satchel Paige, MuleSuttles, and Bill Forster. The same players, at some point, crossedthe color barrier and went ahead and become an integral part in theMajor League.
In 1947, theMajor League Baseball was officially integrated when Jackie Robinsonpremiered with the Brooklyn Dodgers – a league professional team –on the opening day. Though it did not happen until that moment, therewas a feeling throughout the 1940s that both the Major and MinorBaseball leagues would be integrated sooner that it was expected.Some of the factors, which contributed to this, were the continuedpressured from the World War II, advocacy for integration, and JudgeKenesaw Mountain Landis`s death (Snyder (34). The baseball executivesseemed to have thought about the idea of the African-American playingin the Major League Baseball leagues. However, before theintegration, they appeared to have felt that the public was not yetready for the experience.
In 1939, FordFrick, the then the National League President, claimed, "manyMLB fans think that the league does not want the African Americans,but that`s not the case." (Powell 21). He said that the fans aremore interested to see the Blacks in the professional leagues, buthave not gotten used to them because the general public has not beeneducated enough to place them on the same level as the White players.However, the Minor League Baseball seemed to have made progresstowards the integration of the Blacks, professionally, in 1943. Thiswas so when the Los Angeles Angels offered tryouts to three AfricanAmerican baseball players, then playing (LA Angels) on the PacificCoast (McNary 24). These players were Howard Easterling, Chet Brewer,and Nate Moreland. After the LA Angels canceled potential tryout forChet Brewer, another team, Oakland Oaks, playing in the Pacific CoastLeague, give him a possible tryout.
This moveappeared to be daunting for the Black baseball players who hoped tobreak through the color barrier to play in professional major leagueteams, and with the aim of proving that they were good enough to playas professionals in the White-dominated Major League teams. As muchas there was still a lot of segregation felt throughout the countryat the time, the fact that two professional baseball leaguesattempted to offer potential tryouts to Black players, it appearedthat those Black players exhibited a sign that integration was apossibility, and the process towards the objective was in theprocess.
1944 was theyear that was more crucial towards the Black players playingprofessionally in the major leagues, and the color barrier eventuallygetting broken. That year, two major events took place, whichaccelerated hopes for most African American players that one day,they may get a chance in the Major`s (Nemec 46). The first one wasthe World War II, which was in full effect. Additionally, with boththe Major and Minor League Baseball league rosters continuing to bedepleted with the players fighting for the country (America), someleague owners looked at the chances of the African Americans fillingthe available slots in the rosters. The wars also became importantconsidering many of the Americans realized that the Blacks along withthe Whites fighting for America had to be segregated with baseball athome.
The secondoccurrence in 1944, which helped push for the Blacks playing for asprofessionals in the Major League Baseball was the death of Landis,the league commissioner. He was the head of the Major League Baseballbetween 1920 and 1944. He was known to be a staunch segregationist,but more often than not, stated often that there were no rules put inplace to prevent the African Americans play as professionals in theMajor League (Riess 78). When people started talking about how theAfrican American players were better set to be part of the Majors butthe commissioner was thought be standing in the way of the merger.However, Landis responded that Negroes are not blocked from playingas professionals in the Majors and never has he over the past 21years as a commissioner.
With thesupport of Albert Benjamin Chandler, Sr. the new MLB Commissioner, hesigned Jackie Robinson, the African-American player, making him playfor the Whites team, the Dodgers. Later on in his biography, thecommissioner wrote that even though he risked his job, he would nothave been in a clear conscience that the African-Americans could notplay with the Whites having fought them alongside in the World WarII. After the color barrier was broken, the Black media engagedextensively by playing a significant role in the involvement andintegration of the league (Cash 29). Again, with the African Americannewspapers covering the Negro Baseball Leagues extensively, therewere better understanding and strong following of the Black players.The publications, for example, the "Pittsburgh Courier" andthe "Afro-American" in Washington D.C., and "The Call"had some of the African American columnists covering their hotbedsextensively in baseball.
Jackie Robinson`s success in the Major Baseball League opened thefloodgates for a firm and steady streaming of the African Americanplayers in the professional major league teams. After his move to theDodgers, Robinson was shortly followed by Roy Campanella, anotherNegro League star in Brooklyn. The Cleveland Indians also announcedthat they have drafted three African American players, Joe Black,Larry Doby, and Don Newcombe becoming the first Blacks in theAmerican League (Cottrell 15). By the end of 1952, there wereapproximately 150 Black players into professional major league teams.Again, the cream of the crop had since been lured to ply their tradeaway from the Negro League rosters into the integrated ProfessionalMajor League Baseball.
Following thefour years after Jackie Robinson`s debut in the Major`s the Dodgers,it became evident that all the Negro Leagues` crème de la crème hadalready moved on to greener pastures or had grown old enough toattract the unwavering attention of the scouts from the Major`s(NLBPA 19). With these dramatic and sudden departures of top talent,the owners of black teams experienced a financial devastation, whichdeclined in attendance at the Negro League games. The Black fans`attention has turned to the professional teams forever, and thehandwriting had already on the wall for all the Negro League teams.
The disbandmentof the Negro National League after 1949 season meant that the leaguewould never return. Following a successful run by the Blackbaseball`s circuit by the seniors, the end of the 1949 season saw theend of a viable and profitable commercial business. Although theNegro Baseball League continuity through the 1950s, the league hadirredeemably lost its bulk of talented players and virtually theentire fan base. Additionally, after a whole of the decade of theNegro League operating as the shadow of its initial glory, the entireleague eventually closed its doors in 1962, for good.
What transpiredto the Negro Baseball League after the season ended in 1962 has sincebeen shadowed with mystery. Unraveling of this mystery, two of themajor areas saw the Center for Negro League and Dr. Revel focusing onthem. These involved interviewing the baseball players that played inthe 1961-1962 season and studying the newspapers at the time. Morethan a decade later, no article in the paper showed that there was aNegro Baseball League in 1963 (NLBM 12). The players who took partuntil the season were interviewed to get their personal recollectionof what could have happened to this league after the end of 1962season.
From theinterview, and apart from the few Blacks drafted in the professionalmajor league teams, some of them went their way to do other things.Henry Elmore, a Black Baron player in 1962 said that the entire teamand the league disintegrated, and most of the players went to playand work in the Birmingham Industrial League. He emphasized thatthere was no Black Baron team after the 1962 season. For Elmore, hewent ahead to play for the Stockham from 1963 up to the 1980s.
All the players that were interviewed gave the same story, and fromthe interview, there was no Negro Baseball League after the 1962season. The players` consensus is that they appeared to bebarnstorming rather than playing. No single player interview was in aposition to remember that the Negro Baseball League existed 1963.According to Snyder (35), all the Black players were in an entirelyemphatic mood that at the season`s end, the teams were simplybarnstorming.
The baseballgame knows no barriers regarding color, age, and other limitingfactors. For instance, if one knew how to play the game, it did notmatter what age one were or the color a player had. However, it longfor the African Americans to be accepted into the professional majorleague teams. But in the Negro league teams, it did not matter, andit saw baseball become number one in America (Powell 23). Prior tointegration, baseball played a bigger part in the black community asa social interaction tool. Larger towns had some clubs playing in theindustrial league baseball. Again, many companies offered theirsponsorship to the black teams. Additionally, there were weddings andbeauty pageants before the game, and in short, baseball games werebiggest in towns across the country.
Integration of Negro Baseball League players into two majorprofessional teams was no longer a subject of discussion after JackieRobinson had been signed to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Beforethat, the Major League Baseball was closed to people of colorhowever, baseball was already integrated into all areas of semiproand amateur baseball teams (McNary 28). For instance, both White andBlack baseball players often engaged together on the town and localteams at the college and university level. It had reached a timewhere the black players were allowed to interact and play asprofessionals in the Majors.
The AfricanAmerican baseball players suffered long enough before eventuallytaking in the Major League Baseball as professionals. Even though theBlacks played a part in the Majors briefly after the Civil War, itwas until Jackie Robinson became integrated into the Major`s in 1945that the color barrier was finally broken. Of importance to note isthat the Negro League Baseball provided a sense of organization tothe Negro Leagues. In these leagues, the Blacks played full seasonsthe same way the Major Leagues were structured. A taste ofprofessional teams was when the Blacks engaged in barnstorm with theMajor Leagues making extra money. During this time, the Blacks andWhites would come up together to play by creating all-star teams.
Additionally, the integration of the Blacks in the Major`s wasbecause of Landis, the MLB commissioner who moved swiftly to advocatefor owners of the Major`s to sign players from the Negro LeagueBaseball. He was known to be a segregationist, and during his tenure,a lot of Black players moved to play in both the Major and MinorLeagues. Although no actual rule had been drafted against the AfricanAmericans to play in the Majors, the commissioner, and other ownersexercised a gentleman`s agreement to make sure baseball, as apopular game, remained segregated as long as possible.
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