May 2

1920 Foundation of the Negro Baseball Leagues

Racial laws and hostile social attitudes in early-twentieth-century America precluded the integration of most professional sports. In the case of baseball, this had led to African Americans forming their own teams and leagues as early as the 1880s. In 1920 under the aegis of the National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs, the Negro National League was founded with eight teams (three of them named Giants and two named Stars): the Chicago American Giants, the Chicago Giants, the St. Louis Giants, the Cuban Stars, the Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABC’s, and the Kansas City Monarchs. The NACPBBC was augmented the next year by the addition of the Negro Southern League but competition was fierce and player raiding was common when it came to rival associations such as the Eastern Colored League and the American Negro League.

Teams folded frequently, whole leagues went under, but the 1930s might be considered the Golden Age of Negro Baseball with players such as Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. The switch-hitting Bell was reckoned the fastest man in the sport; it was said that he could switch off the light and be under the bed covers before the room was dark. Another story had him hitting a pitch up the middle and being struck by the ball as he slid into second base. Paige was an astonishing picture who toiled for a host of clubs, among them the Chattanooga Black Lookouts, the Birmingham Black Barons, the Baltimore Black Sox  and the Pittsburgh Crawfords — one of them, the Bismarck Churchills of North Dakota, was integrated. He would often invite his infielders to take a break on the field while he struck out the side. Catcher Josh Gibson was one of the greatest hitters — for power or average — in history. He retired with a .441 batting average and hit close to 800 home runs.

The post-war integration of baseball, led by Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers spelled the beginning of the end for Negro Leagues. A few of the stars at the end of their careers found employment in the majors — Satchel Paige pitched into his late 50s for the Cleveland Indians, St Louis Browns, and Kansas City Athletics — and various teams lingered as barnstorming propositions. In 2020 Major League Baseball announced that it would acknowledge the Negro Leagues as fully professional and recognize their statistics.

 

 

 

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