Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Little About the Negro Leagues

One of America's forgotten treasures is Negro League Baseball. Because blacks were not being accepted into the major and minor baseball leagues, they formed their own teams and had made professional teams. Prior to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, African American players had to showcase their talents in the Negro Leagues. It maybe hard to imagine living in an era where blacks are so prominent in professional sports. These pioneers not only paved the way for African Americans in sports but also had a great influence on Civil Rights issues in America at the time.

A Little History
Since the late 1800's black professional baseball leagues have existed. Some were more successful than others. Segregation created economic realities, travel and lodging difficulties that caused logistical nightmares that ultimately doomed these leagues. The Negro Leagues that we are most familiar with started in the 1920's. The post World War I era allowed these leagues to be more successful. With the manpower needed by the defense plants and industry accelerated the migration of blacks from the South to the North. This meant a larger and more affluent fan base with more money to spend.
This is seen as the golden era of Negro League baseball and lasted until the early 1950's. They were not just one league a few different leagues that all worked together to ensure that baseball survived in their respective markets. After Major League Baseball accepted integration it began to raid he leagues of their top players. Without its stars the leagues slowly died out.

Some Great Players that Played in the Negro Leagues
Hank Aaron- MLB Hall of Famer/ Former Home Run Record Holder
Ernie Banks- MLB Hall of Famer
Willie Mays - MLB Hall of Famer
Charley Pride- World Famous Country Music Singer

The Greatest Pitcher You Never Saw
On of the most popular players to ever play in the Negro Leagues was Leroy "Satchel" Paige. Easily the most dominant pitcher ever in black baseball. Satchel was viewed as the Babe Ruth of his league. His charismatic showmanship was a great addition to the baseball experience at the Negro Leagues. His career was never defined by playing for just on team as players in the Negro Leagues were moved around to different teams by the league management in effort to keep up attendance in struggling markets.
Paige began his professional career in 1926 with the Chattanooga White Sox of the Negro Southern League at 20 years old. After passing through Birmingham and Nashville, 1932 found him on the roster of the Pittsburgh Crawfords. The Crawfords were owned by a reputed gangster and numbers runner Gus Greenlee. Satchel's legendary performances with the Crawfords, which often included 30+ win seasons, established him as black baseball's best pitcher. After Pittsburgh, Paige traveled all over the US and even to Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
In 1939 he started a nine-year run with the Kansas City Monarchs. During this portion of his long career he led the Monarchs to four consecutive Negro American League pennants and a Negro World Series championship in 1942. In the 1940's Paige caught the attention of white baseball fans and the white baseball establishment. Especially since he had been playing in exhibition games where the Negro League All-Stars would play against major league players. The thought was being floated out there that a player would be able to break the color barrier. It is believed that Satchel was in the conversation but his age and possible health issues scared teams away. Jackie Robinson became the choice of Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Paige said in his autobiography that, “Signing Jackie like they did still hurt me deep down. I’d been the guy who’d started all that big talk about letting us in the big time. I’d been the one who’d opened up the major league parks to colored teams. I’d been the one who the white boys wanted to go barnstorming against.” In 1948 the 42 year old Paige became the oldest rookie ever in baseball as he joined the Cleveland Indians during their pennant race. Paige signed his first major league contract, for $40,000 for the three months remaining in the season. Never disappointing, Satchel posted a 6-1 record to help the Indians clinch the American League title and proceed to the World Series. In the 1950's was again in the major leagues with the St. Louis Browns. In 1952-53 he represented the Browns in the major league All-Star game.
In 1971 Satchel Paige was elected into Baseball Hall of Fame, the first player to be inducted from the Negro leagues.

Notable Teams Satchel Played For
New York Black Yankees
Philadelphia Stars
Kansas City Monarchs
Pittsburgh Crawfords

The Real Single Season Home Run King
One of the most power hitter baseball has ever seen was big Josh Gibson. Baseball historians consider Gibson to be among the very best catchers and power hitters in the history of any league. Compared to Babe Ruth for his power hitting. It is estimated that Gibson hit over 900 home runs in his 17 year career. He appeared in nine East-West All-Star games, and his 84 homeruns (hit against varied levels of competition) in 1936 is a feat often discussed in baseball circles today.
His career was spent mostly with 2 teams the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. Unfortunately Gibson was never able to play in the Major Leagues. He died at the early age of 35 in early 1947. The cause of his death is still under debate of whether it was a stroke or due to a brain tumor that he was diagnosed with in 1943 and refused surgery to remove. His death came months before the integration of baseball ever took place.
Gibson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 one year after his long time friend Satchel Paige.

Significant Negro leagues
Negro National League (first), 1920–1931
Eastern Colored League, 1923–1928; the NNL and ECL champions met in a World Series from 1924 to 1927.
American Negro League lasted just one season 1929 created from some of the ECL teams.
East-West League played part of one season in 1932.
Negro Southern League was a minor league that played from 1920 into the 1940s; in 1932 it incorporated some teams from the first Negro National League and functioned for one year as a major league.
Negro National League (second), 1933–1948.
Negro American League, 1937–1960 or so. (After 1950, the league and its teams operated after a fashion, mostly as barnstorming units, but historians have a hard time deciding when the league actually came to an end.) The National and American Leagues met in a Negro League World Series from 1942 through 1948.

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