Blackball – Remembering Black League Baseball


Whenever I watch a baseball game the last thing I pay attention to is the race or color of the players. While most of us, especially the younger generation, take integration into the sport for granted, the only differences we’re likely to see are the color of the team’s uniforms. We forget, or perhaps don’t know, that at one point in our country’s history, baseball was a sport apart.

In the late 1800s, African Americans were forced to form their own teams because they were not accepted into major and minor league baseball. The first black professional baseball team was formed in 1885 and was named Babylon Black Panthers. The team was later renamed the Cuban Giants by a white businessman who hoped to attract more white supporters to the games. The team became popular, and due to its success, many teams with the same name, like the Cuban X-Giants, emerged eagerly to be accepted by white patrons. These “Cuban” teams were made up of African Americans, not Cubans. At that time, the United States and Cuba were allies and friendly to each other, so the reasoning was that it would look more appealing.

After the end of the American Civil War in 1865, black baseball, consisting mostly of former black soldiers and officers, sprouted primarily in the eastern and central Atlantic states. Philadelphia has become its main hub. Despite segregation, black teams flourished. Not only did they compete against each other, but most of their income was earned playing against independent white semi-professional clubs.

During World War I, the migration of African Americans from the South to the North accelerated due to the manpower required for the defense industry. With the growth of the urban black population came a more affluent fan base with additional money to spend on baseball games. Meanwhile, a former Cuban pitcher named Andrew “Rube” Foster worked to establish an all-black league that was more stable and organized. He insisted that black teams should be owned only by black men. At the time, many of these teams were owned and promoted by white businessmen. In 1920, through Foster’s efforts, the Negro National League was formed in Kansas City, Missouri. Andrew Foster became its president and controlled all aspects of the league and its players. Despite this feat, the Black National League withdrew after the 1931 season due to difficult economic conditions.

During World War II, when millions of African Americans worked in war industries, they also filled the stands to watch championship games in every city. They were making a lot of money and wanted to reap the rewards of the economic boom while demanding social justice. As black players were seen as prospects and began signing with Major League Baseball teams, the color barrier began to crumble and the demise of the Negro leagues began to fade into oblivion. .

The first black player to cross the color barrier was Jackie Robinson. Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey signed Robinson in 1946 to help integrate Major League Baseball. Prior to signing with the Dodgers, Robinson had played professionally in the Black Leagues. While black players stand out, they are also tested to see how well they can endure racist mockery from rowdy crowds and objections from new teammates to having to play with African Americans on their squad. Harassment and threats were the price black players had to pay for the right to be integrated into the big leagues.

Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe are among those who got their start in the Negro leagues and were seen as pioneers in breaking the color barrier in baseball. Like her teammate Jackie Robinson, they also played for the Dodgers.

The early Negro leagues not only served to nurture the talents of young African American baseball players, but they also brought the game to the masses of black baseball fans who enjoyed the sport. Before his demise, the Negro Leagues were among the largest and most successful black-owned business ventures of its time.

Source by Anna Kelly


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