ball has captured the imagination of Americans. Tales of Babe Ruths towering blasts, TyCobbs daring on the base paths, Joe DiMaggios grace in the field, and Ted Williamss sweet batting stroke are passed down from generation to generations. The legend and lore of baseballs history give the sport a stature and majesty that other games in the United States lack. What I have to say is a part of baseball history that is seldom told. It is a story of great ballplayers who played in obscurity. Because of the color of their skin, these men were not allowed to play on the Yankees or the Dodgers or any other team in Major league baseball.
The very existence of these great ballplayers was ignored by the great newspapers of their day. Although they perform some of the most remarkable feats baseball has ever known. There were so many outstanding players whose accomplishments, because they were achieved in the Negro Leagues, have been l! argely ignored. Their story is tied up with the history of this nation. And because the Negro Leagues was part of history of this nation, the Leagues changed the way baseball was played and it also changed the Americans views on the black society. Baseball was first played in the 1840s in New Jersey and New York City.
It does not seem likely that any one person invented the game. Many baseball historians think the game may have developed from an English childrens game called “rounders,” which uses a bat and ball, and was usually played by girls. It was during the Civil War years (1861-1865) that baseball began to spread rapidly across the nation. The war brought people from all over the United Stated into close contact. A baseball match between teams from the 165th New York Volunteer Infantry in Hilton Head was watched by some 40000 soldiers. The game was played in many military camps, and was introduced to new areas by soldiers returning home from the war.
By the late 1860s, there were baseball teams all over the country, and the first professional teams were beginning to form. Although racial prejudice was strong in the early years of professional baseball, social codes were not as rigid as they would later become. In fact, during these early years, a number of African-American ballplayers managed to play alongside whites in some of the top professional leagues in the country. The first African-American to play Major League baseball was Moses Fleetwood Walker. After graduating from Oberlin College in Ohio, Walker played during 1884 for the Toledo team in the American Association, one of the two major leagues of the day. Walker, a player of only average talents, played professional baseball through 1890.
Because of his race, he faced constant abuse from fans, teammates, and opponents. Only a few black players were given an opportunity to play in high-level professional leagues in the nineteenth century. Their best chance to show their talents playing alongside whites came in the late1880s. some of the best African-American player from baseballs early integrated days were Bud Fowler, who played for dozens of teams all across the United Stated.
Pitcher George Stovey, who played for Jersey City in the Eastern League and later for Newark in the International League; and Frank Grant, most notably the star of the buffalo team in the International League. There were black baseball teams playing as early as the 1860s. The first black professional team of note was the Cuban Giants, formed in the 1880s and playing out of Trenton, New Jersey. The players where African-American, not Cuban. They may have chosen their name to make themselves seem foreign and exotic and escape some of the prejudice faced by blacks native to the United States.
Among the Cubans top players was Frank Grant, who had starred for Buffalo before being forced off the team. Another player was the infielder Sol White. One of the main reasons people know about this early chapter of baseball history at all is because White wrote about it in 1906 in his The History of Colored Baseball. In1887, the Cuban Giants played an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers, winners of a World Series and considered baseballs world champions. The Giants led the game going into the eighth inning before eventually losing to the Tigers.
Other excellent black players joined together to form their own teams. The best clubs were in New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Although at the turn of the century most blacks still lived in the South, tens of thousands were heading north every year looking for better economic opportunities and hoping to escape the strict and pervasive racial oppression that still existed below the Mason-Dixon line. The most successful teams arose in cities with African-American communities who had the economic means to support them.
By the end of the World War I, the top white semi-professional teams the American Giants played in the Chicago area were becoming less popular. In 1919, race riots broke out across the United States, with some of the worst in Chicago. The return of Fosters team to Chicago that year was delayed as National Guard troops camped out in the American Giants stadium. Rube Foster was a great pitcher, an innovative teacher and manager, a shrewd businessman, and a superb organizer.
He is often referred to as the father of black baseball. The successful black teams in the region, with the encouragement of Foster, began to think about forming their own league. Foster wrote in his column for the Chicago Defender, one of the nations leading black newspapers, that a Negro League would help keep players salaries down by making it illegal for teams to steal each others best players. A league could also determine a championship team that might be able to challenge the Major League champion.
On February 13th, 1920, owner of the top Midwest black clubs met at a YMCA in Kansas City. They agreed to establish an eight-team league make up of the American Giants, St. Louis Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Cuban Stars, a team most of the players actually were Cuban, Chicago Giants, and Dayton Marcos. The owners named it the Negro National League, and it marked the birth of the Negro Leagues. The following year two East Coast teams, the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants and Philadelphia Hilldale Athletics, were made associate members of the league. The two East coast clubs would occasionally play games against the other teams in the league, when scheduling and travel costs allowed.
In 1926, organized black baseball suffered a serious blow when Rube Foster had a mental breakdown. Perhaps the stress and pressure of running a league and managing his team finally became too much. Foster began hallucinating. While in his apartment, he began imagining he saw fly balls along Madison Avenue. Foster also had a recurring vision that he was needed to pitch in a World Series games.
Fosters wife finally had him committed to the state insane asylum at Kankakee, Illinois, and Dave Malarcher took over managing the Chicago American Giants. Foster sent the final four years of his life at Kankakee. He died on December 9, 1930. Under Fosters leadership, baseball had become the most popular game in the black community. At his funeral, more than 3,000 people stood for hours in pouring rain and snow. Among the impressive floral displays was a 200-pound arrangement of white chrysanthemums in the shape of baseballs, with red roses for the balls seams, donated by the National ! Negro League owners.
A long procession followed Fosters casket to Lincoln Cemetery. Foster had succeeded in establishing baseball as an institution in the African-American community. Although his league would suffer its demise during the Great depression, black organized baseball would be part of the American landscape until the Major Leagues where finally integrated.