A world existed for a half-century when the best black players were not
allowed to play on the same field with the best white players.
This quintessentially American era of separation saw parallel major
leagues develop that finally collapsed into the Major Leagues when
Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
What we call "The Negro Leagues" was actually a variety of professional
baseball leagues operating in the United States comprised of black and
Hispanic ballplayers. They emerged as professional baseball became
segregated in the mid-1880s; for a while, a few all-black minor league
teams played, such as the New York Cuban Giants and a team out of
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, but in 1898, the last known black team - the
New York Celeron club out of the Oil and Iron League - folded its tent.
The first known black professional team was the Cuban Giants in 1885 -
in 1884, two black players (Moses Fleetwood Walker and brother Welday)
played in the majors, for Toledo in the American Association. The
black ballclubs played as independent ballclubs, taking on any and all
comers, until the first black league was organized; the first
successful attempt to establish a major Negro baseball league came in
1920, with the founding of the Negro National League,
which operated in the Midwest and the South through 1931.
The founder of the NNL,
Foster, was an overpowering pitcher and a dominant baseball
executive in these critical years; he was also a great showman, and he
brought his own Chicago American Giants into the NNL with seven other
clubs. Three years later, Ed Bolden formed the Eastern Colored
League, and it survived into the spring of 1928. Eastern teams
played as the American Negro League in 1929; the East-West League was
founded and folded in the same season - 1932.
From 1933 through 1936, the second
Negro National League ran unchallenged as a black major league. It
included teams from the East and Midwest, and from Nashville in 1933-34.
By 1936, the NNL was operating exclusively in the East. In 1937
midwestern and southern franchises formed the Negro American League.
The NAL and the NNL co-existed through 1948; in 1949, the NAL absorbed
the NNL, and survived as the last major black circuit through 1960.
Over the years, 11 inter-league Black World Series were held. The NNL
and ECL titlists played from 1924 through 1927. Champions from the NAL
and NNL met from 1942 through 1948. In 1933 club owners initiated the
East-West all-star game. Into the 1950s, the contest was played each
summer at Chicago's
Comiskey Park. Bringing the best black players together, the
East-West game would attract from 20,000 to 50,000 fans, and provided an
important source of revenue for the black teams.
The various leagues generally contained six teams, though it was not
uncommon for them to have a few more or less. Over 4,000 men
displayed their talents in the arenas of black baseball - while
apologists for segregation suggest that many of these were of major
league caliber, that is almost certainly an exaggeration.
Nevertheless, the list of MLB MVPs in the 1950s includes
Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays,
Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron and
Roy Campanella; Cy Young winners included
Don Newcombe and
Mike Cuellar. So clearly, many Negro Leaguers possessed
sufficient skills to have been first-line players in the major leagues,
and best of this group would have won stardom.
Approximately three dozen of these stars shone with such magnificence as
to have merited selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Some of the most famous teams were the
Homestead Grays, the
Birmingham Black Barons, the
Atlanta Black Crackers, the
Baltimore Black Sox, and the
Brooklyn Royal Giants.
League All-Star Team
selection of the All-Negro Leagues All-Star team (with reserves):
C - Josh Gibson (Roy Campanella)
1B - Buck Leonard (Oscar Charleston)
2B - Martin Dihigo (Piper Davis,
SS - John Henry "Pop" Lloyd
- Judy Johnson
OF - Oscar Charleston
OF - Mule Suttles
OF - Cool Papa Bell (Turkey Stearnes)
P - Satchel Paige (Hilton Smith,
Bullet Joe Rogan)
League "Gold Glovers"
The Rawlings Gold Glove obviously wasn't around in the days of the
Negro Leagues, but if it had been - and I had been making the
presentation for performance throughout their careers - here are the
players who would have won:
C - Roy Campanella
1B - Showboat Thomas
2B - Bingo Demoss
SS - Pop Lloyd
3B - Oliver Marcelle
OF - Oscar Charleston
OF - Jimmie Crutchfield
OF - Clint Thomas
P - Martin Dihigo