Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Negro League History 101 - Part 2 of 2

Negro League History 101
Courtesy of negroleaguehistory.com
(Part 2 of 2 Parts)

3. The Golden Years Of Black Baseball

When Gus Greenlee organized the new Negro National League in 1933 it was his firm intention to field the most powerful baseball team in America. He may well have achieved his goal. In 1935 his Pittsburgh Crawfords lineup showcased the talents of no fewer than five future Hall-Of-Famers: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson and Oscar Charleston.

While the Crawfords were, undoubtedly, black baseball's premier team during the mid-1930s, by the end of the decade Cumberland Posey's Homestead Grays had wrested the title from the Crawfords, winning 9 consecutive Negro National League titles from the late 1930s through the mid-1940s. Featuring former Crawfords stars Gibson and Bell, the Grays augmented their lineup with Hall-Of-Fame talent such as that of power-hitting first baseman Buck Leonard.

Contributing greatly to the ever-growing national popularity of Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s was the East-West All-Star game played annually at Chicago's Comiskey Park. Originally conceived as a promotional tool by Gus Greenlee in 1933, the game quickly became black baseball's most popular attraction and biggest moneymaker. From the first game forward the East-West classic regularly packed Comiskey Park while showcasing the Negro League's finest talent.

As World War II came to a close and the demands for social justice swelled throughout the country, many felt that it could not be long until baseball's color barrier would come crashing down. Not only had African-Americans proven themselves on the battlefield and seized an indisputable moral claim to an equal share in American life, the stars of the black baseball had proven their skills in venues like the East-West Classic and countless exhibition games against major league stars. The time for integration had come.

4. The Color Barrier Is Broken

Baseball's color barrier cracked on April 18, 1946 when Jackie Robinson, signed to the Dodgers organization by owner Branch Rickey, made his first appearance with the Montreal Royals in the International League. After a single season with Montreal, Robinson joined the parent club and helped propel the Dodgers to a National League pennant. Along the way he also earned National League Rookie Of The Year honors.

Robinson's success opened the floodgates for a steady stream of black players into organized baseball. Robinson was shortly joined in Brooklyn by Negro League stars Roy Campanella, Joe Black and Don Newcombe, and Larry Doby became the American League's first black star with the Cleveland Indians. By 1952 there were 150 black players in organized baseball, and the "cream of the crop" had been lured from Negro League rosters to the integrated minors and majors.

During the four years immediately following Robinson's debut with the Dodgers virtually all of the Negro Leagues' best talent had either left the league for opportunities with integrated teams or had grown too old to attract the attention of major league scouts. With this sudden and dramatic departure of talent black team owners witnessed a financially devastating decline in attendance at Negro League games. The attention of black fans had forever turned to the integrated major leagues, and the handwriting was on the wall for the Negro Leagues. The Negro National League disbanded after the 1949 season, never to return.

After a long and successful run black baseball's senior circuit was no longer a viable commercial enterprise. Though the Negro American League continued on throughout the 1950s, it had lost the bulk of its talent and virtually all of its fan appeal. After a decade of operating as a shadow of its former self, the league closed its doors for good in 1962.

5. Only The Beginning Of The Story...

This brief narrative only capsulizes the story of Negro League baseball. Delving further into this fascinating era in American sports will reveal a rich and colorful story, which had profound impact not only on our national pastime, but also upon America's social and moral development. It is a story you won't want to miss!

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