Negro Leagues

– Black BaseBall Life Essay Research Paper

The Color BarrierDue to the color of their skin and their past history blacks were unfairly denied the privilege to play Major League Baseball; it has remained a period of shame for baseball. Not only did the white players not accept Blacks as equals on or off the field the public did not either. Because of the determination and strong perseverance the blacks were able to overcome what many thought was not achievable. The events that took place during the early 1900s changed the history of baseball forever.

Americans started playing baseball on relaxed teams using local rules in the early 1800s. By the 1860s baseball jumped in popularity some people said it was America’s “national pastime.” In 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first paid team and are considered the first professional team. In 1871 the first professional baseball league the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was started. Then in 1876 the first major league the National League was formed.

African Americans played baseball during the 1800s. By 1860s some popular black amateur teams were Colored Union Club in Brooklyn New York and the Pythian Club in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. All the black professional teams started in the 1880s. Some of the teams were the St. Louis Black Stockings and the Cuban Giants (of New York). This really showed how the public felt; amateur and professional baseball were mainly segregated.

One of the few black players on an integrated professional league team was Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker a catcher for the minor league Toledo Blue Stockings. In 1883 the Chicago White Stockings did not take the field against the Blue Stockings because of Walker being on the team. The Blue Stockings manager said that the game be played and Anson gave in. When the Blue Stockings joined the American Association in 1884 Walker became the first African-American major leaguer. In July 1887 the International League banned future contracts with black players even though it allowed black players already under contract to stay on its teams. These are two of the events that helped form the color line which segregated baseball until the 1940s.

During the 1890s most professional black players were only allowed to play in exhibition games on colored teams on the barnstorming circuit. Players on major league teams also barnstormed in cities and towns after the regular season was over. In some places black teams and white teams played each other. In amateur baseball some athletes played on integrated teams like the Navy baseball team.

Some baseball owners and managers of major league teams tried to hire African Americans by describing the players as Hispanic or Native American this was there way of trying to sound the least discriminate as possible. In 1901 John McGraw manager of the Baltimore Orioles tried to get black second baseman Charlie Grant into the game by calling him a Cherokee named Tokohama. The bulk of owners and managers did not even try things like that. Baseball also did not like interracial barnstorming and white players were in the long run banned from wearing their major league uniforms in these games.

In parts of Latin America baseball was not segregated. A lot of blacks played baseball there in the winter as well as in Negro Leagues in the United States in the summer. The most popular of the Negro Leagues started in 1920 the Negro National League. The Negro American League started in 1937 and then took in the Negro National League teams.

By the 1940s organized baseball had been racially segregated for a lot years. The black writers and some of the white writers had long wanted integration of baseball. Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier was very active in the fight. World War II experiences forced more people to question segregation. Though several people in major league baseball tried to end segregation no one succeeded until Brooklyn Dodger’s general manager Branch Rickey took action. In 1945 the Jim Crow policies of baseball changed when Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson of the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs agreed to a contract that would bring Robinson into the major leagues in 1947. Jackie Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs and played with baseball greats like Satchel Paige and Martin Dihigo. Negro League competition featured speed surprise and more action than in organized baseball. Written contracts to keep players with teams through a season were unusual and schedules were weird.

As with racial prejudice economic and other factors contributed to segregation in baseball. Many owners of major league teams rented their stadiums to Negro League teams when their own teams were on the road. Team owners thought if baseball were integrated the Negro Leagues would probably not survive losing their best players to the majors major league owners would lose important rental income and many Negro League players would lose their job. Some owners also thought that a white crowd would not want to attend games with black players. Others thought the addition of black players as a way to attract larger white as well as black fans and sell more tickets. Looking back on this time Rickey described the problems he faced and the events that influenced his decision in a speech to the One Hundred Percent Wrong Club in 1956.

The player who would break the color line Jack (John) Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo Georgia on January 31 1919. His mother moved the family to Pasadena California in 1920 and Robinson went to John Muir Technical High School and Pasadena Community College before transferring to the University of California Los Angeles. An excellent athlete he played in four sports at UCLA baseball football basketball and track and played well in others like swimming and tennis. So he had practice playing integrated sports.

After scouting many players from the Negro Leagues Branch Rickey met with Jackie Robinson at the Brooklyn Dodgers office in August 1945. Clyde Sukeforth the Dodgers scout told Robinson that Rickey was scouting for players because he was starting his own black team called the Brown Dodgers. At the meeting Rickey said that he wanted Robinson to play for the major league Dodgers. Rickey then acted out scenes Robinson might face to see how Robinson would respond. Robinson kept his cool and agreed to a contract with Brooklyn’s Triple-A minor league farm club the Montreal Royals.

On October 23 1945 Jackie Robinson officially signed the contract. Rickey soon put other black players under contract but the focus stayed on Robinson. Rickey made known Robinson’s signing nationally through Look magazine and in the black press through his connections to Wendell Smith at the Pittsburgh Courier. Here is a letter Robinson wrote to the president regarding segregation.

?The President

The White House

Washington D.C.

My dear Mr. President:

I was sitting in the audience at the Summit Meeting of Negro Leaders yesterday when you said we must have patience. On hearing you say this I felt like standing up and saying ?Oh no! Not again.?

I respectfully remind you sir that we have been the most patient of all people. When you said we must have self-respect I wondered how we could have self-respect and remain patient considering the treatment accorded us through the years.

17 million Negroes cannot do as you suggest and wait for the hearts of the men to change. We want to enjoy now the rights that we feel we are entitled to as Americans. This we cannot do unless we pursue aggressively goals which all other Americans achieved over 150 years ago.

As the chief executive of our nation I respectfully suggest that you unwittingly crush the spirit of freedom in the Negroes by constantly urging forbearance and give hope to those prosegregation leaders like Governor Faubus who would take from us even those freedoms we now enjoy. Your own experience with Governor Faubus is proof enough that forbearance and not eventual integration is the goal the prosegregation leaders seek.

In my view an unequivocal statement backed up by action such as you demonstrated you could take last fall in dealing with Governor Faubus if it became necessary would let it be known that America is determined to provide ? in the near future ? for Negroes ? the freedoms we are entitled to under the constitution.

Respectfully yours

Jackie Robinson?

Robinson wrote this letter to president Dwight D. Eisenhower on May 13 1958.

When black players entered pro ball they brought in a determination and talent that blew the public and writers away. They asked no special favors or treatment just a chance to play. They won their rightful place and loved the rewards. Many fans still did not accept blacks as equals on the baseball field. Baseball fans and players reacted to Robinson with everything from out of control enthusiasm shown in newspaper headlines to care and open hostility expressed in beanball pitches and death threats. His athletic abilities were able to with hold even with the intense pressures caused by breaking the color line. Robinson won respect and became a symbol of black opportunity. The Sporting News which had never wanted blacks in the major leagues gave Robinson its first Rookie of the Year Award in 1947. After a few seasons of playing well while tolerating racial insults Robinson stepped up his playing style and spoke out often. He started up controversy by protesting umpires’ calls and hotels that refused to let him stay with his teammates. He also protested against teams that refused to hire black players. Robinson’s great 10-year career included a .311 lifetime batting average playing in six World Series and stealing home 19 times. He also won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1949 when he led the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases. His amazing running speed powerful hitting and strong fielding made Robinson a great player on a team with many abilities. It is obvious that Jackie Robinson helped lead the way for blacks to make their presence a huge impact on Major League Baseball and its fans.

Branch Rickey had many reasons for wanting to integrate baseball. First Rickey said that he hired Robinson because of his wish to put the best possible team on the field. Before multi-million dollar broadcasting contracts were started teams relied almost fully on ticket sales to pay their expenses spring training travel player salaries stadium repairs and make a profit. Attendance was always higher for winning teams and Rickey was not alone in believing that African-American players could improve his team. The Dodgers played well with black stars like Jackie Robinson Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. In a 1955 interview in the Rickey Papers Rickey said that his belief in equal rights was also a strong motive in signing African Americans to the Dodgers.

After Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson opened the door for black players in organized baseball a few others soon followed. In that first year Dan Bankhead pitched for the Dodgers Larry Doby played for the American League Cleveland Indians and Henry Thompson and Willard Brown played for a short time for the St. Louis Browns. Though some major league teams began to integrate right away it was twelve years until the last major league team integrated in 1959. It just goes to show how some teams were not ready to accept the fact that blacks had finally made their way in. It was as if it was a defeat for the coaches and owners. They tried to take as long as they could to integrate but were eventually forced to do so.

Sometimes humans like to think that cops cannot be prejudice against blacks. They are expected to give equal rights to everyone. But one incident with a black player really sparked some questions with the public. In June of 1945 Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Monarchs came to the nation’s capital. But as Satchel Paige would learn what he had seen was nothing compared to what he was about to see.

In late August of the same year Satchel came back to Washington D.C. The Birmingham Black Barons wanted him to pitch a few innings against the Homestead Grays. As promised he pitched his three innings. He struck out six of the nine men he faced. After the game he hopped into his maroon Cadillac. He made it exactly one block. Wearing badge number 1106 was Robert Lewis the officer in charge of directing baseball traffic at the intersection of 8th Street and Florida Avenue. Paige turned left onto Florida passing a little too close to Officer Lewis. The policeman told Paige to stop the car. When Paige attempted to explain his driving the officer called him a ?smart black b****” and punched Paige in the eye. The shocked Satchel was punched a second time before Lewis looked back to the traffic. Unluckily for Lewis some of the large crowd that had just paid to see Satchel had also witnessed the officer’s punches. Lewis was then told who he had just assaulted. “I didn’t know it was Paige!” said the policeman. This only annoyed the crowd. Three police cars were needed to restore order.

Out of all the teams in baseball one team seemed to attract more attention than any other with the public and civil rights. The New York Giants were one of the culprits in many actions taken against Negroes and playing integrated baseball. “Get that nigger off the field!” That statement by Cap Anson set the Color Barrier that would last for 60 years. Anson was one of the most popular baseball players of the 1800s and he was also a pretty big racist. His well-known statement was said in 1887 when he found that the International League team he was facing in an exhibition had George Stovey and Fleet Walker two black men playing. Stovey and Walker were kicked from play and that same day the owners of the International League decided not to hire any more black players. This “Gentleman’s Agreement” spread all over white organized baseball. While African- Americans could not play in either the major or minor leagues they still played baseball. The relationship between the New York Giants and the Negro Leagues has a very unique history. It involves the Giants’ greatest manager riot?s no-hitters and Hall of Famers.

One of the worst incidents between the Giants and Negro Leaguers happened in 1912.

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