Remembering Baseball’s Evolution for Black History Month

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Remembering Baseballs Evolution for Black History Month

Remembering Baseballs Evolution for Black History Month

Baseballs Evolution for Black History Month

February is Black History Month, and it is the perfect time to look back on exactly how far baseball has come over the decades. From the first formal leagues in the country and the color barriers they put up, to the modern Hall-of-Famers, its been a long road and one worth another look.

Pre Major LeaguesThe very first formally organized baseball club, the National Association of Baseball Players, said in 1867 that a club which may be composed of one or more coloured persons should not be allowed to compete with its teams. This was not exactly a professional league yet, though. That wouldnt be formed for another four years, and although it didnt have any written rule, barring black players, there was an understanding between teams and owners that they werent welcome.Of course, understandings are hard to enforce, and during those early years, at least sixty black players participated in the minor leagues, though mostly on all-black clubs. Still, between the end of the Civil War and 1890, a number of African-Americans played on teams with white players in both minor and major leagues. Most notably, in 1884, Moses Fleetwood (Fleet) Walker and John W. Bud Fowler both spent time in a recognized major league. (The American Association and Northwestern League, respectively.)In 1887, a League of Colored Baseball Clubs was organized in some of the northeast and border states. It was recognized as a legitimate minor league. This probably seemed like a big step toward integration, specifically in the majors, but the first games did not attract a large crowd, and the league was dissolved after a week.

SegregationWhile there was no official rule in organized baseball about banning black players, a type of gentlemens agreement worked just as well to keep them out. Players who were on those teams were faced with discrimination from fans and teammates. Certain players were kept out of specific games by request, and there were instances when managers outright refused to play all-black teams.In 1887, the International Leagues board of directors told the secretary to no longer approve any contracts for black players. They didnt fire those players who were already on any of their teams, but the color barrier was very clearly in place.Segregation had become the way of things throughout the country to one degree or another, but especially in the south. Still, that didnt stop some teams from trying to sneak some great players past the agreement. The Baltimore Orioles tried to sign a black second-basemen by claiming he was Native American, but the attempt failed. However, if black players wanted to play professionally, their only real option was to join an all blackteam.

The Negro LeaguesFrom the early 1880s on, there were more than 200 all-black independent teams that were playing all over the country. Many of them played in loosely organized leagues. By the early 1900s, professional black baseball became a real prospect. These leagues began to flourish in places throughout the southern states. By the end of World War I, it had become one of the top entertainment attractions for urban black populations around the country.This was when Andrew Rube Foster, the owner of the Chicago American Giants, decided it was time for a fully organized Negro league. In 1920, the Negro National League was born. It had eight teams and did pretty well for about 11 years, until when the Great Depression took its toll and the league was dissolved. A second league was quickly formed after that. It ran from 1933 to 1949. The league was doing well until, after MLB teams began the process of integration, the teams started losing their best talent.

IntegrationMajor League teams began thinking about integration in the 40s for a few reasons. First (and probably the most obvious) was the increasing political and commercial influence of urban blacks. There were a lot of popular players in the black leagues, and it was clear they could bring a lot to the sport. More than that, though, World War II was now over, and it was impossible to say that it was okay to fight alongside black people but not to play baseball with them.Branch Rickey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a smart businessman and he had been watching a player by the name of Jackie Robinson for a while. It was known that he didnt care for segregation, but he was likely motivated by his belief that an integrated team could attract a much larger crowd. So, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the MLB.

Integration cont.Life wasnt going to be easy for anyone in that position, and Robinson was known to have a temper. Rickey decided to test his new potential star and invited Jackie in to his office and basically berated him for hours, trying to act out some of the abuse and hostility that Robinson could expect from fans and other players. Rickey wanted to know that he wouldnt fight back (which would only feed the anger and hate around him).Sure enough, Jackie Robinson (and other players who were signed soon thereafter, like Larry Doby and Satchel Paige) had to face the expected hostility at nearly every turn. It didnt stop him from helping the Dodgers win the National League pennant, earning the Rookie of the Year, and three years later becoming the first black MVP.Once the color barriers started to go down, most of the talent from the Negro League was either recruited to the Majors or was too old to hold the fans attention. This was too much for the league to handle, and it wasnt long before it was completely dissolved. However, full integration of the major leagues didnt happen until 1959 when Elijah Green joined the Red Sox.As the acceptance of black players grew, there was still room to evolve. It wasnt until 1961 when Gene Baker became the first African-American to manage a minor league team. In the mid-60s there were only two black coaches in the MLB, and finally, in 1975, Frank Robinson became the first black manager. There may still be a few more firsts in the future, but before we can get there its important to review the past from time to time.