The Negro Leagues

Featured Essay

Once the Civil War and Reconstruction eras settled into the Jim Crow era, a wall of prejudice was raised between whites and African Americans in virtually all areas of American life, including baseball. Though black players could be found on some teams in the late nineteenth century, they were largely excluded from the sport and so found other ways to play the game. There are unconfirmed reports that two all-black teams played each other in Brooklyn in 1861, but the first officially recorded game was "the championship of colored baseball" between the Brooklyn Uniques and the Philadelphia Excelsiors in 1867. When Octavius Catto's Philadelphia Pythians applied for membership to the NABBP a year later, the justification for refusing their application was that "if colored clubs were admitted there would be in all probability some division of feeling, whereas, by excluding them no injury could result to anyone." By 1889 there were no more black players in the now-white professional leagues. Refusing to be exiled from the most American of sports, African American businessmen (and, in a few cases, women) and black players created the Negro Leagues, which thrilled fans for decades before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947.

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Photo Essay

Kansas City Giants. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Many great teams and dozens of great players made up the Negro Leagues, among them the Chicago American Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, Homestead Grays, and Pittsburgh Crawfords. The great players are too many to list, but James "Cool Papa" Bell is considered by some baseball experts to be the best outfielder ever to play the game. Josh Gibson, who batted .362 over his sixteen-year career, has been called the best hitter of all time. And the legendary pitcher Leroy "Satchel" Paige is unquestionably the greatest pitcher ever to play in the Negro Leagues. His career spanned five decades; he once pitched 64 consecutive scoreless innings; earned 21 straight wins; and in 1933, he compiled a record of 31–4. No one knows how many games he pitched, but the number is in the thousands (it's estimated that he pitched in more than 2,000 games in the 1930s and 1940s alone). Moving to Major League Baseball late in his career, at fifty-nine he became the oldest player to pitch in a Major League game, and was the first Negro League player inducted into the Hall of Fame (in 1971). Joe DiMaggio called him "the best and fastest pitcher IÂ’ve ever faced." Other former Negro League players who went on to star in Major League baseball include Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roy Campanella, Ernie Banks, Junior Gilliam, Don Newcombe, and Joe Black. Using images and text, Jason Miller takes us on a brief tour of black baseball history and the Negro Leagues.

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Featured Articles

The following articles have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn about the Negro Leagues and African American contributions to baseball history in general. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)

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