NLB HISTORY INTRODUCTION
The history that is Presented in the NLB Living Legend Program has been gathered and prepared using the personal interviews performed by Trading Faces with those that appear on the NLB Roster/Checklist, and (with the copyright holders permission) the book – The Complete Book of the Negro Leagues the Other Half of Baseball History by John Holway and The Negro Baseball Leagues by Phil Dixon w/Patrick J. Hannigan.
From the time the color barrier was established in the late 1880’s and 1890’s, excluding players of color from organized baseball, Negro baseball leagues cropped up and existed haphazardly as independent teams at local levels. Attempts to introduce a nationally recognized organization were unsuccessful until a man known as Andrew (Rube) Foster organized and assembled the first successful black baseball league. The Negro National League was born in 1920. It was comprised of several teams representing larger cities in the Midwest. The league grew by accepting teams representing cities from the Eastern Colored Leagues. But in 1931 gates were closed, fields bare, and the bleachers emptied by the Great Depression. A year later the National League was resurrected, consisting of mostly eastern teams. In 1937 the Negro American League whose teams were generally located in the Midwest and South joined the Negro National League. The leagues pressed on together through the World War II era. Many players were drafted and served in the US segregated services supporting the United States National Defense effort and that of our allied forces.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers Organization and crossed the color barrier that had for so many years denied men of color the opportunity to play and earn a living in the Major Leagues. At the end of the 1948 season, the Negro National League, plagued by declining attendance and revenue was disbanded. Several team’s from the National League that chose to persevere within the ranks of the Negro American League. The Negro American League continued to operate throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s and played an extremely important role in the integration process that was beginning to take place in baseball as well as the cities, towns, and neighborhoods throughout the nation.
American Baseball’s Unknown Half
Introduction by John Holway
Imagine the present major leagues without Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., Hank Aaron, or Willie Mays. That was the “major” leagues that my great-great grandfather knew for almost 80 years: 1869-1947.
The Sporting News, baseball’s “bible,” didn’t report Negro games at all. Luckily for historians, many white papers did, albeit sometimes among the high school and semipro games.
Thus, for most of white America, the black half of baseball history was either unknown entirely or was considered a footnote and a curiosity.
In 1969, when this research began, the National Baseball Library at Cooperstown had, as its entire collection of black baseball, one thin manila folder containing an Indianapolis Clowns scorecard and an article about Josh Gibson. Half of baseball history was missing.
Although white fans didn’t know the black half of their history, most white players did; the two races played each other on the field every fall and winter. More than 150, such games have been found; the blacks won more than they lost.
As scholars such as Robert Peterson (Only the Ball Was White) and others began revealing the dimensions of the missing history, Cooperstown in 1971 opened its doors to the first Negro Leaguer, Satchel Paige. By 2000 it had enshrined seventeen of these giants of the game, though many more still remain outside.
The Hall also opened a small Negro League display, about the size of its American Legion exhibit. In 1997, the 50 th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s big league debut, this was greatly expanded.
In 1989, the Macmillan Encyclopedia recognized the Negro Leagues and their contribution to history, when in its eighth edition; it published statistics of 125 stars. This was the collective effort of dozens of researchers, volunteer and paid, who pored over microfilm newspaper files to reconstruct the data. The Negro Leagues rarely published stats, and when they did, they were often at variance with data confirmed in the box scores.
The present work goes far beyond that early beginning. New sources of data have been tapped, and for the first time, a comprehensive yearly chronology of statistical and narrative history can be written.
Introduction to “The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History”.
Written by John Holway