Baseball has been considered by many to be America’s past time but not all people in America were allowed to partake in the game on equal grounds. Modern Baseball has been around since 1845. The game has been played on the continent since the late 1700s in various forms that seem alien to us today. However, the concept of segregated leagues did not begin until 1885 after the infamous The Anson-Walker incident of 1884.
Moses Fleetwood Walker
Before there was Jackie Robinson in 1947, there was Moses Walker, who was the only Black player on an all white team in the 1880s. According to MLB.com, on July 20, 1884, Anson’s National League Chicago White Sox were to play an exhibition against Toledo of the American Association. Toledo had one Black player, Walker, who played catcher. Chicago let it be known ahead of time that Anson would not play on the same field with Black ballplayers. However, with the support of the Toledo team, Walker played anyway, despite Anson’s objections. After the incident, many racist “gentlemen ballers” came to Anson’s side and Black players were forced out of the minor leagues.
The Creation of the Negro National League
By the 1920s, there were many Black ball clubs around the country scheduling games and operating without oversight of a league. The 1900s saw the increased popularity of the game of baseball in Black communities. Many boys were playing the game with aspirations of stardom. With the active ball clubs drawing crowds and a marketplace full of Black fans, the Negro National League was created by Andrew “Rube” Foster in 1920. The league, which was headquartered in Kansas City, included eight teams—The Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Kansas City Monarchs and St. Louis Giants.
The Other Leagues
In the same year the NNL was created, the Negro Southern League was formed by Thomas T. Wilson by bringing together the all Black teams located below the Mason-Dixon. Teams from Nashville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Montgomery and New Orleans united to play the game in a “safe environment” within the segregated south. In 1923, the Eastern Colored League started in the north, consisting of the Hilldale Club, Cuban Stars (East), Brooklyn Royal Giants, Bacharach Giants, Lincoln Giants and Baltimore Black Sox.
The Fall of the Old League
By 1930, the old Negro League was falling apart due to the Great Depression and Foster’s absence as the leader of the league. He was unable to be the commissioner due to an array of mental issues. Sadly, the old league did not make any money and had no access to its own stadium or lots. In fact, Sundays were the only profitable day for the league. The 1930s did provide fresh opportunities for a new league when Gus Greenlee came onto the scene.
Businessman and numbers runner William Augustus “Gus” Greenlee saw that baseball could be a great venue for gambling. So he decided to create the Negro National League in 1933. While serving as a de facto commissioner of the league, he also owned the Pittsburgh Crawfords. The Crawfords were the best team in the league, featuring Satchel Paige (pictured above), Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson and Oscar Charleston.
HBCUs and the Negro Leagues
The prospect of making big money in the Negro Leagues never existed for players. In many cases, players took their money and went to graduate schools at various HBCUs around the country hoping to have a different career after playing. HBCUs became a de facto farm system for the Negro Leagues, with players squaring off against college teams in the off-season to prepare for games.
The End of the Leagues
In the 1990s, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum opened in Kansas City, Missouri where the first league began. When Jackie Robinson was recruited by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, this was the beginning of the end of the Negro Leagues. Robinson was joined by other talented Black players like Larry Doby, who joined the Cleveland Indians on July 5, 1947, and Hank Thompson who joined the St. Louis Browns on July 17. White teams that denied talented Black players in the past were now recruiting the best players, leaving a talent shortage in the Negro Leagues. By the 1960s, integration saw to the end of the leagues.