The Negro League of Baseball in America

PICTURED ABOVE JUDY JOHNSON SAID TO HAVE BEEN

“THE GREATEST 3RD BASEMAN TO HAVE EVER PLAYED THE GAME”

JUDY JOHNSON SCOUTED ME WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL AND AMERICAN LEGION. HE WAS A SCOUT FOR THE PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES.

GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT:

The Negro Leagues of baseball in America flourished for years before the integration of the game. Moses Fleetwood Walker played for the Toledo Blue Stockings, a major league team, in the 1880’s. At that time there were about 50 black players who integrated baseball, playing baseball along with whites in the 1870’s and 1880’s. However, there was resentment for teams who hired black players. The owners made a “Gentleman’s Agreement” not to sign any blacks until the agreement was broken in 1947 when Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was then that the color barrier was broken and America began living up to its creed. One of the first steps in racial equality in the United States took place in baseball in 1947.

MOSES FLLETWOOD WALKER

Jackie Robinson had a passion and was devoted to the Civil Rights Movement long before he started his baseball career. In 1944 Jackie was in the Army. As he stepped on a bus at Fort Hood, Texas, he was told to go to the back of the bus by the driver. Robinson refused to move as military buses were thought to be desegregated. He was taken from the bus and faced a court martial charge. His commanding officer opposed the charge and did not sign the court martial order. Jackie was charged with a lesser infraction of insubordination by military officials. In court, nine judges ruled Robinson not guilty. Jackie later said, “It was a small victory, for I had learned that I was in two wars, one against a foreign enemy, the other against prejudice at home.”  

There is another huge part of baseball history for which there are no statistics written. However, it contains great traditions, tremendous players and a lot of Pride! To America’s Creed that “all men are created equal” this part of baseball history was ruled by ignorance and prejudice. Players were denied access to play baseball because of the color of their skin. The black players also played for the love of the game and hoped things would change. As far as baseball talent, the Negro League players were as good as any of the white major league players. Many All-Star games were played in the off-season and white teams did not do very well against the black teams. Maybe this instigated the “no blacks in major league attitude”. Were they afraid of the competition?

JACKIE ROBINSON

One pioneer in the black baseball leagues was Bud Fowler, a black baseball star. In the 1880’s and 90’s, black teams flourished. A big distinction in black baseball from the majors was roster numbers. Major leagues used a 25-man team and the Negro League used a 14-man roster. At this time, 1880’s to 1890’s, some blacks played with whites in the major leagues as we mentioned, but by the end of the 19th century it ended…..ended by the “Gentleman’s Agreement”. It was 47 or more years until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier to play baseball in the white man’s major leagues!

Banned by the MLB agreement, Rube Foster, a great baseball star, started the Negro National League in 1920. Each Negro team was paid $2,000 annually and it was divided up among the players.

The first Negro League World Series was played in 1924. Foster helped to make Negro League baseball a good livelihood. The league peaked just before World War II. Negro baseball leagues were in the top five of negro businesses in the USA. They rode on nice buses. Many of the players went to black colleges and it was there they received their minor league training. The negro teams drew huge crowds of up to 40,000 fans. Big league stadiums like Yankee Stadium rented to these black leagues. The money was lucrative as some black stars were paid as much, and some more, than their white counterparts in MLB.

RUBE FOSTER

The Negro baseball league had some great players. “Satchell” Paige, actually Leroy Paige, is believed to be one of the all-time great pitchers. Unfortunately, statistics were not kept in the black leagues. Satch was said to have pitched in at least 2,500 games and won 2,000 of them. In 1948 he signed with the Cleveland Indians. He was 42 years old. Paige was a self-promoter, showman, and ruled the mound with a fastball over 90 MPR. Satchell had a double pump motion and hesitated in his delivery, using an assortment of pitches never seen in the MLB.

SATCHEL PAIGE

If Paige had a huge lead in a game, he was known to remove all of his fielders except his catcher as he was sure he could dominate the hitter by striking them out. He usually did. In his early years with the Homestead Grays in Pennsylvania, he was paid $1,500 a month….more than many MLB players at that time.

Josh Gibson, Paige’s catcher, was said to be the Babe Ruth of the Negro Leagues. He was thought to be the best hitter. It was believed he hit 75 homeruns in 1931 and 932 for his entire career. Gibson was proud to say he “didn’t break bats, he wore them out”. Dying of a stroke in 1947 at only 35 years old, he never played in the MLB. Gibson’s teammate, William “Buck” Leonard tried out for the Washington Senators in 1943. The owner was not ready to sign black players. It has been said by baseball historians that if the owner, Clark Griffith would have signed some black players who tried out (there were 4 black players from the Grays considered) the color barrier would have been broken and the Senators would have had a shot at the pennant against the Yankees. The future would have seen a competitive team in DC for many years.

JOSH GIBSON

There were many great players in the Negro League. Oscar Charleston of the St. Louis Giants was a center fielder, said to be in the category with the Great Willie Mays.

OSCAR CHARLESTON
WILLIE MAYS

Shortly after 1947 when Jackie Robinson began in the Majors, the Negro Leagues began to fade away. In 1953 four teams remained. However, a new day for racial equality in baseball started with Jackie Robinson, #42, and the hope that America was living up to her creed.

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