Fighting To Prevent Segregation
On June 19, 1846, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York played the New York Base Ball Club in the very first baseball game at Elysian Fields. Black baseball began fourteen years later, as the Colored Union Club (New York) was defeated 11-0 by the Weeksville of New York in a full nine-inning contest. By 1865, black teams were cropping up all around the Eastern United States, including the Monitor Club of Jamaica Jamaica, NY, the Bachelors of Albany, NY, the Excelsiors of Philadelphia, PA, the Blue Sky Club of Camden, NJ, the Monrovia Club of Harrisburg, PA, and the Unique Club of Chicago, IL. In the late 1860s, the first true black baseball power, the Pythians, was established by a pair of former cricket players, James H. Francis and Francis Wood.
In 1867, the teams began playing regularly, the Pythians going 9-1 with the sole loss to the Bachelors, who dominated both they and the Excelsiors on the same day. This could not have been easy, since the Pythians sported outfielder John Cannon, with whom the white players were impressed, and pitcher George Brown who was called the best amateur pitcher of his day, as well as a good hitter and excellent fielder.
The first black championship was played for in 1869. Pythians promoter Octavius Catto dubbed a game the World Colored Championship, in which the Pythians defeated the Uniques to finish the eleven-game season undefeated. The team began to regularly beat white teams, but on October 10, 1871, thirty-one-year-old leader Catto was murdered by a white man as he exited the Institute of Colored Youth. His killer was released quickly. The Pythians never again achieved the same level of success.
The first true black star was infielder Bud Fowler, who, at just fourteen years of age, was playing second base for a professional white team in Pennsylvania in 1872. The magazine Sporting Life took a special interest in Fowler, and followed him as he reappeared in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Iowa, Ontario, and Colorado, calling him one of the best baseball players in the nation, skin color notwithstanding.
In 1876, with the formation of the National League, white baseball was booming, but just three black players slipped into the new major leagues before Robinson opened the floodgates. Bill White is believed to be the first, playing a single game at first base in 1879 for the Providence Grays. Fleet Walker was the first to get significant playing time in the big leagues in 1884 as a catcher with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association. Fleet played 42 games and his brother Welday Walker snuck in five times in the outfield that year. Fleet was released after cracking a rib in July of 1885. He signed on with Cleveland of the Western League; when that team folded, he went to the Eastern League and then the Southern New England League. He spent 3 seasons in the International League before becoming a writer and hotel owner in Steubenville, OH.
Great players like Fowler, Walker, pitcher George Stovey, and second baseman Frank Grant flourished in minor leagues such as the International League while enduring the same kinds of threats that Fleet went through in the majors by players such as Cap Anson. On July 14, 1887, Anson's Chicago White Stockings were readying to play an exhibition game against Newark of the International League, featuring ace pitcher Stovey. Anson threatened that he would not play if Stovey did, and he reportedly uttered the infamous line, "Get that nigger off the field." Stovey was then said to be "sick." Blacks continued to play in the minors throughout the 19th century, but leagues began banning them. Bill Galloway played 20 games in the Canadian League in 1899 and is believed to have been the last black in the minors until 1946.
A League Is Formed
In 1920, Rube Foster organized the first official Negro League, the Negro National League, consisting of eight midwestern teams. In 1923, Hilldale owner Ed Bolden started the Eastern Colored League with 6 teams and began raiding the NNL for talent.
The Roaring 20s and 30s
The heyday of the Negro Leagues was in the 20s and 30s.
By the early 40s, many of the top players were competing in Mexico, Cuba and other Latin American countries with less racist attitudes and higher salaries. The Negro Leagues crumbled quickly after Major League Baseball and the northern minors integrated and only Globetrotters-style clowning teams survived into the late 50s and 60s.
Negro Leaguers In The Hall of Fame (41)
Other True Stars
- Newt Allen, 2B
- John Beckwith, SS/C/3B
- Chet Brewer, SP
- Bill Byrd, SP
- John Donaldson, SP
- Luke Easter, 1B
- Sammy T. Hughes, 2B
- Home Run Johnson, SS
- Dick Lundy, SS
- Oliver Marcelle, 3B
- Bill Monroe, 2B
- Dobie Moore, SS
- Spot Poles, CF
- Cannonball Dick Redding, SP
- Chino Smith, RF
- Edgar Wesley, 1B
- Nip Winters, SP
- Artie Wilson, SS
- William Brashler: The Story of Negro League Baseball, Ticknor & Fields, New York, NY, 1994.
- James E. Brunson III: The Early Image of Black Baseball: Race and Representation in the Popular Press, 1871-1890, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7864-4206-5
- James E. Brunson III: Black Baseball, 1858–1900: A Comprehensive Record of the Teams, Players, Managers, Owners and Umpires, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2019. ISBN 978-0-7864-9417-0
- Brian Carroll: When to Stop the Cheering?: The Black Press, the Black Community and the Integration of Professional Baseball, Routledge, New York, NY, 2006.
- Mary E. Corey and Mark Harnischfeger: Before Jackie: The Negro Leagues, Civil Rights and the American Dream, Paramount Books, Ithaca, NY, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9851795-4-0
- Jerry Craft and Kathleen Sullivan: Pitching for the Stars: My Seasons Across the Color Line, Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, TX, 2013. ISBN 978-0896727878
- Christopher Hauser: The Negro Leagues Chronology: Events in Organized Black Baseball 1920-1948, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2006.
- Leslie A. Heaphy: The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2003.
- Lawrence D. Hogan: The Forgotten History of African American Baseball, Praeger, Santa Barnara, CA, 2014. ISBN 978-0313379840
- Bill James: "The Negro Leagues", in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, The Free Press, New York, NY, 2001, pp. 166-196.
- Brent Kelley: Voices from the Negro Leagues: Conversations with 52 Baseball Standouts of the Period 1924–1960, McFalrand, Jefferson, NC, 1998. ISBN 978-0-7864-2279-1
- Brent Kelley: The Negro Leagues Revisited: Conversations with 66 More Baseball Heroes, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2000. ISBN 978-0-7864-4695-7
- Brent Kelley: “I Will Never Forget”: Interviews with 39 Former Negro League Players, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7864-4694-0
- Neil Lanctot: Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution, University of Pennsylvania Press, College Park, PA, 2004.
- Michael Lomax: Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1902-1931: The Negro National and Eastern Colored Leagues, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8156-1039-7 (originally published in 2003)
- William F. McNeil: Black Baseball Out of Season: Pay for Play Outside of the Negro Leagues, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007.
- William F. McNeil: Cool Papas and Double Duties: The All-Time Greats of the Negro Leagues, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2005.
- Bob Motley and Brian Motley: Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants & Stars: Umpiring in the Negro Leagues & Beyond, Sports Publishing LLC, Champaign, IL, 2007.
- Kadir Nelson: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, Jump at the Sun, Hyperion Books for Children, New York, NY, 2008. ISBN 978-0786808328
- Roberta Newman: "Pitching Behind the Color Line: Baseball, Advertising, and Race", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Number 36 (2007), pp. 81-90.
- Roberta J. Newman and Nathan Rosen: Black Baseball, Black Business: Race Enterprise and the Fate of the Segregated Dollar, The University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS, 2014. ISBN 978-1617039546
- Robert Peterson: Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1992 (originally published in 1970). The classic history of the Negro Leagues.
- Todd Peterson: "May the Best Man Win: The Black Ball Championships 1866-1923", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 42, Number 1 (Spring 2013), pp. 7-24.
- Jim Reisler: Black Writers/Black Baseball: An Anthology of Articles from Black Sportswriters who Covered the Negro Leagues, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007.
- James A. Riley: Of Monarchs and Black Barons: Essays on Baseball's Negro Leagues, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2012. ISBN 0786465425
- Donn Rogosin: Invisible Men: Life in Baseball's Negro Leagues, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2007 (originally published in 1983).
- Sarah L. Trembanis: The Set-Up Men: Race, Culture and Resistance in Black Baseball, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2014. ISBN 978-0-7864-7796-8
- Sol White: Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide, Summer Game Books, South Orange, NJ, 2014. (originally published in 1906) ISBN 978-1-938545-21-4
|American Negro League||East-West League||Eastern Colored League||League of Colored Baseball Clubs||Negro American League||Negro National League||Negro Southern League||West Coast Negro Baseball League|
|Integrated Leagues (Pre-1947): Middle States League | Nebraska State League|
|Related Articles: East-West Game | Negro World Series | Special Committee on the Negro Leagues | 2006 Special Committee on the Negro Leagues Election|
|Related Categories: Ballparks | Executives | Managers | Owners | Players | Teams|
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