Friday, June 24, 2011

They still played ball

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Black baseball excelled during a transitional time in American culture. Due to the color barrier blacks were not permitted to play along side whites in the Major Leagues. However, this would not stop African Americans from playing baseball. Thanks to some key managers and players, several black leagues were formed. Despite racial adversity, and financial insecurity, and the Great Depression, black baseball survived for over a decade producing many great African American athletes.

Baseball began in the 1840’s and has been a cherished past time in America ever since. In baseball’s early years African Americans played in professional leagues with whites, but as the nineteenth century came to a close so did the door which allowed blacks to play professional baseball (Margolies 11-1). Although the door had closed a window of opportunity opened.

During the beginning of the 100’s many people had tried organizing a league for black ball players. Walter Brown, for example, attempted to begin a league to prepare African American players for the Major Leagues. However, the league was unsuccessful due to financial ailments, and only lasted three weeks (McKissack ). Not long prior to Brown’s misfortune a league was formed with the help of Andrew Foster.

Andrew Foster is known for his involvement with the growth of black baseball in Chicago. A league was established on February 1, 10, with the help of Foster and the owners of the best teams in the Midwest, all except one were black. The league consisted of eight teams American Giants, St. Louis Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, Detroit Stars, Chicago Giants, and Dayton Marcos (Margolies -6).

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Foster’s Negro League inspired teams on the East Coast to organize a league. The Eastern Colored League played their first season in 1. The league consisted of six teams Baltimore Black Socks, Hilldale Athletics, New York Lincoln Giants, Cuban stars, Brooklyn Royal Giants, and Bacharach Giants. Foster’s Negro League and the Eastern Colored League had their differences, but the same purpose, to give African American baseball players the opportunity to play professional baseball (6-7).

The various Negro leagues faced a lot of problems. Money was a huge problem, and many teams did not last half a season due to inadequate funding. In the 0’s and 0’s African Americans made up ten percent of the population, and the majority lived in the heavily segregated South. Since the leagues were concentrated in the in the Midwest and the East Coast this posed the problem of lack of players and fan support. Toward the end of the 10’s the Negro League took a bleak turn (6-7).

In 18 the Eastern Colored League went under, and there efforts to reassemble the following year were unfruitful. A few years later, in 11, the Negro League went out of business, because of the struggling economy the due to the Great Depression. For the first time in eleven years there was no functioning Negro League (8). Though this would not end black baseball.

The Negro League re-emerged stronger than ever during the Great depression. Cum Possey Contributed to this new found success. His team, the Homestead Grays, lead the way in the 10’s, a time when baseball was flourishing in Pittsburgh. Cum Possey was not the only great manager of his time, his rival, Gus Greenlee was on a mission to build the best black baseball team ever. In doing so he stole a few of Possey’s men, and in 18 he completed his mission (40-4). The talented players that played in the ladder era of black baseball received much more publicity than the pioneers who were just as good.

The Negro League produced numerous exceptional players. Buck Leonard was a great pitcher. Leonard was just as good as Gibson and Paige, although he never received as much recognition. He played for the Baltimore Stars, Brooklyn Royal Giants, and the Homestead Grays. Josh Gibson and James “Cool Papa” Bell were two of his teammates. These celebrated players are well known as two of the greatest black baseball players ever (Rust 8-0).

Josh Gibson was a 6’1, 14 pound power hitter. Gibson was often compared to babe Ruth. He played with Satchel Paige for the Pittsburgh Crawfords (Mckissack 87). Satchel Paige who began playing in the 10’s played foe over 50 teams. He was a dominant pitcher, and his claim to fame was his hesitation pitch. Paige once threw four consecutive shutouts (4-45). These are just a few of the countless great players that played in the Negro Leagues.

The Negro League in its prime was comprised of twenty-one teams Atlanta Black Crackers, Atlantic City Bacharach giants, Baltimore Elite Giants, Baltimore Black Socks, Birmingham Black Barons, Chicago American Giants, Chicago Leland Giants, Clevland Buckeyes, Detroit Stars, Hilldasle Daisies, Harrisburg Giants, Homestead Grays, Indianapolis ABC’s, Kansas City Monarchs, Memphis Red Socks, Newark Eagles, New York Lincoln Giants, New York Cubans, Philadelphia Stars, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and St. Louis Stars (“Negro Leagues” 1). These teams were so successful it helped the Negro League come to an end, by forcing the Major League to intergrade showcasing all of the best ball players including African Americans.

The color barrier that lasted for over half a century was finally broken when Branch Ricky signed Jackie Robinson. Jackie was proceeded by Ron Lewis and Luke Easter. Branch Rickie’s motives were not only to give black athletes the right to play in the Major League, but to make himself look good while doing so. Whatever his motives he successfully intergraded the Major League (Stewart 64-67).

The Negro League existed thanks to the ambition and dedication of several African American players who refused to be denied the right to play ball. The last negro league, the Negro American League survived until 160 (Mckissack 151-15). There were very poor records kept of the Negro Leagues, and today black baseball is finally receiving their deserved recognition (“Negro Leagues” 1). Black baseball survived despite racial adversity, financial insecurity, and the great depression. All of these problems didn’t keep the leagues down. Many great players were given a chance to showcase their talents, and shine under the lights.

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