Remembering Baseball’s African American Pioneers
This was an article I wrote for black history month for my SI Kids Reporters blog. February is Black History month and this made me think about the impact that African-Americans have had on the sports world. One of the biggest impacts, in my opinion, was the Negro Leagues. In August 2011, I was lucky enough to go to Kansas City to see a Royals vs. Yankees game. What I did not know was the history of baseball in K.C. is more then just the Royals.
I learned about many great players and the history of a great league on my visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. I never imaged that baseball was once divided based on the color of your skin. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of great black players. In the 1920’s, a structured league of black players began under the guidance of Rube Foster, and The Negro Leagues were born.
The Negro Leagues had many great players and stories of men like Satchel Paige, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil, Jackie Robinson and many others, including one amazing women named Effa Manley. What made these people great were their astonishing abilities.
Legend has it that Satchel Paige was such an accurate pitcher that he warmed up throwing 20 pitches across a chewing gum rapper he used as home plate. Some of Satchel’s memorable statistics are 300 shutouts and 55 career no-hitters. Most impressive to me was that he joined the MLB as a rookie at age 42 and at age 59 pitched three innings for the Kansas City A’s.
Another player I really liked was the speedster Cool Papa Bell. It was said he could round the bases in 12 seconds. It was also said that he once scored from first base on a Satchel Paige bunt. Another impressive stat is his 175 stolen bases in 200 games.
My favorite player was known as the black Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson. Josh was a huge power hitter. In his 17-year career he is credited with hitting 962 home runs and even hitting a fair ball out of Yankee Stadium. He was also credited with hitting 75 home runs in 1931, 69 homers in 1934, and 84 homers in 1936. Think about this: Over the last 10 years no MLB player has even come close to posting those kinds of numbers. Josh was a great slugger, had respect of his fellow teammates, and fans and kids loved him.
Guys like Satchel, Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson laid the foundation of the Negro Leagues. Building on this foundation several new players like Buck O’Neil and Jackie Robinson continued the history of the Negro Leagues. O’Neil joined the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League in 1937. One year later, Buck joined the K.C. Monarchs and stayed with them until 1955. During O’Neil’s playing years, the Monarchs won four consecutive Negro League World Series, and Buck appeared in three All-Star games. He continued on as the Monarchs’ manager for eight years after he stopped playing.
These men faced many difficult problems and challenges because the color of their skin. These challenges were hard enough for men, but imagine being an African-American woman and facing these challenges. An amazing woman, Effa Manley, left quite an impact on baseball history. Effa was the co-owner of the Newark Eagles with her husband, Abe. She ran the entire business end of the team. Effa was known for being brash. Many of her male co-workers resented her but certainly respected her. Effa was also known for being a player’s advocate fighting for better schedules, travel and salaries. Effa was also a community leader and her influence extended beyond baseball. She was very active in the civil rights movement. It was said, “the Eagles were to black Newark what the Dodgers were to Brooklyn.”
Playing only one year in the Negro Leagues, Jackie Robinson would leave a lasting impact on all of baseball. Robinson became the first black player in Major League baseball, breaking the color barrier and opening the door for all black players. This would end segregation in baseball. The owners of MLB teams now began recruiting players from the Negro Leagues. This would eventually lead to the end of the Negro Leagues because the teams’ owners could not compete against the MLB.
Fifty years after Robinson broke the color barrier his Number 42 was retired in all MLB stadiums. In Robinson’s final public appearance in 1972, nine days before his death, he said he was proud of his accomplishments but that his dream would only be achieved when there was a black manager. In 1962, Buck O’Neil became the first black coach in the majors, hired by the Chicago Cubs. Frank Robinson became baseball’s first black manager 13 years later, for the Cleveland Indians.
Today many ballparks honor these great black players along with Jackie Robinson. Kauffman Stadium has a seat dedicated to Buck O’Neil, PNC Park has statues honoring many great Negro Leagues Players and The Baseball Hall of Fame has a wing dedicated to the Negro Leagues.
Thanks to the players of Negro Leagues, we now have many great black players in Major League Baseball. Players like CC Sabathia, Prince Fielder, Curtis Granderson, Andrew McCutchen, the Upton brothers and Torii Hunter, among others, carry on the legacy of great black players.
Written By: SI Kids Reporter Haley Smilow
Republished with the permission of SI Kids.
It is an Honor to know that Bob Kendrick
President of the Negro League Baseball Museum read my blog.