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Negro League Baseball Leroy “Satchel” Paige Artemus Ward

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1 Negro League Baseball Leroy “Satchel” Paige Artemus Ward
Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University

2 1882 University of Michigan baseball team
1882 University of Michigan baseball team. Catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker, an African-American, is pictured in the front row third from right.

3 Baseball Discrimination
Like many groups in America, free blacks formed their own baseball clubs during baseball’s early years. More than 50 blacks played professional baseball alongside whites during the 1870s and 1880s. But it was never easy. The Buffalo team in the eastern league had a black 2B and white players made it a point to spike him when they neared the base. In 1884 Moses Fleetwood Walker became the first African-American to make it to the major leagues. He joined the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association as a catcher. The Irish pitcher Tony Mullane, stated that Walker "was the best catcher I ever worked with, but I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals." Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings tried to have Walker ejected from an exhibition game threatening not to play “unless they get that nigger off the field.” Anson only backed down when he found out he would forfeit his pay if he really did walk out. At one game the Toledo manager received a letter from 75 men who threatened to mob Fleet Walker if he dared make an appearance. Walker kept playing. His brother Welday joined the team for a time. 1887 signaled the beginning of the end for black Americans in organized white baseball. When it seemed likely that the New York Giants would hire star African-American pitcher George Stovey, Cap Anson made it clear that neither he nor his White Stocking players would ever play a team where blacks were welcomed. Rather than face a revolt by Anson and other white players, the NL owners made a gentlemen’s agreement to sign no more blacks. The minor leagues followed suit. Over night, Walker and the other black players disappeared in white organized baseball. A few years later, in Plessy v. Ferguson (1897), the Supreme Court ruled that legalized racial segregation was constitutional. Moses Fleetwood Walker Adrian C. “Cap” Anson

4 The Great Black Mark Ty Cobb—probably the era’s greatest white ballplayer—also had a vile temper and was a virulent racist. On May 15, 1912, at Hilltop Park in Manhattan, Cobb endured the taunts of a New York fan until after the 3rd inning when the fan shouted that Cobb was a “half nigger.” Cobb vaulted the railing, knocked down the heckler and began stomping him with his spikes. When the crowd shouted that the man was helpless because he had no hands, Cobb replied: “I don’t care if he doesn’t have any feet” and kept kicking him until the park police officer pulled him away. Ban Johnson, President of the American League, suspended Cobb from organized baseball indefinitely. “Everybody took it as a joke. I was only kidding that fella and frightened him to death. But I would not take from the United States Army what that man said to me. And the fans of New York cheered me to the echo when I left the field. I don’t look for applause but for the first time in my life I was glad that the fans were with me.” Although his teammates despised Cobb, they thought he had been justified. Being called a “half nigger” was considered to great an insult for any white man to bear. They refused to play until he was reinstated. It was the first player’s strike in Major League history. The Tigers manager desperately rounded up a team of amateurs for the next day’s game against Philadelphia. A seminary student pitched for Detroit that afternoon. The new Tigers lost The next game was cancelled. Ban Johnson now warned that he would suspend every Tiger from the game unless they all agreed to return to the field. Cobb urged his teammates to give in and when they did they were each fined $100. After Cobb paid only a $50 fine for the savage beating, Johnson lifted his suspension. Though Cobb’s greatness as a ballplayer is undeniable, on balance, he is arguably an embarrassment to baseball—some deeming him the “great black mark” on the game.

5 Separate But Equal & The Great Migration
In Plessy v. Ferguson (1897) the Supreme Court said 7-1 that the Constitution allowed “separate but equal” treatment of persons leading to a wave of segregationist “Jim Crow” laws. Deteriorating social and economic conditions in the south, coupled by northern industrial demands, prompted the Great Migration of when 500,000 blacks left the south for the urban north and cities like Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit. Yet the unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement” among the white MLB owners continued to keep all black ballplayers—no matter how good they were—out of organized white baseball. Nevertheless, in 1911 the Cincinnati Reds signed two light-skinned players from Cuba: Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans. When questions arose about their playing a white-man’s game, the Cincinnati management assured the public that they were as pure white as castile soap. Black baseball entrepreneurs like Andrew “Rube” Foster in Chicago and Edward W. Bolden outside of Philadelphia drew on the new fan base, started successful teams, and founded the first permanent professional black baseball leagues: Foster’s midwest-based Negro National League (NNL), which started in 1920 and Bolden’s Eastern Colored League (ECL), which began at the end of 1922. After the initial leagues folded, the new Negro National League (NNL)—now eastern based—started in the 1930s as did the Negro American League (NAL) based in the midwest and south. Andrew “Rube” Foster

6 Edward W. Bolden’s 1915 Hilldale Giants

7 Discrimination In much of the country, road-side restaurants would not allow black players into their dining rooms. Gas stations closed their restrooms. White hotels would not rent them rooms. Yet black players excelled under conditions big leaguers never had to face. Their season was longer and their pay considerably less. And to keep their teams afloat during hard times, they were always on the road. Ted “Double-Duty” Radcliffe commented on the conditions faced by black ballplayers: “When I first started in 1920 with a traveling team I was making $100 a month and .50 cents a day to eat on. The southern part of Illinois and Indiana were just as bad as Mississippi and Georgia. We didn’t get the chance sometimes to take a bath for three or four days because they wouldn’t let us—only time we might catch a man with a good heart had a barber shop would let you take a bath for a quarter. But most of the time we’d go into town down there and we had to sleep on the floor in the railroad station and they’d put a policeman there, they wouldn’t trust you, to watch us.” “Back in those days we rode all night in the buses. Sometimes we played four games in one day. Nobody ever heard of that before. We’d play 9:45 in the morning, 1:00 a doubleheader, and then go fifty or sixty miles at night to play a game. And traveling all night in those buses; that’s the thing—I traveled in those buses 31 years and was turned over four times and you know what, somebody upstairs liked me because I never got a scratch.” In white organized baseball, segregated seating arrangements kept black fans who wished to attend games separate from whites. Ted Radcliffe

8 A New Beginning Much of the drama of black baseball was centered in Pittsburgh where a former basketball player—Cumberland “Cum” Posey, Jr.—bought a team called the Homestead Grays and staffed it with some of the greatest players in the league. In 1931 Posey was suddenly confronted by a dangerous cross-town rival: Gus Greenlee, king of the city’s numbers racket and creator of a brand-new team, the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Before long much of black baseball would be in the hands of racketeers: among the few members of the black community with enough money in the midst of the great depression to pay the bills. When his black stars weren’t allowed to use the showers in Forbes Field—home of the white Pittsburgh Pirates—Gus Greenlee built his Crawfords a $60,000 stadium. Then he stole Posey’s biggest stars including Oscar Charleston and Judy Johnson. The owner of the Newark Eagles was Abe Manley but it was his wife Effa who ran the team. Tough-minded and shrewd, she was a power in Negro Baseball and the black community for more than fifteen years—sometimes donating the home-game proceeds to the most important civil rights issue of the day: the campaign against lynching. Cum Posey Gus Greenlee Effa Manley

9 A Fragile Industry There were a number of factors that contributed to the early struggles of Negro League baseball in the 1920s and 1930s: Legalized racial segregation, which was particularly acute in the south; Increasing unemployment in the mid-to-late 1920s and ultimately the Great Depression decimated the fan-base (for example, only 13% of black Philadelphians were employed full-time from late 1929 through 1935). The result was that the average black spectator did not have the money to regularly go to games. Declining interest in baseball among black youth who looked to black athletes that transcended racial barriers such as Jesse Owens in track and field and Joe Louis in boxing. Lack of financial support, which forced negro baseball to rely on gamblers such as Pittsburgh’s Gus Greenlee and whites like New York booking agent Nat Strong and Philadelphia promoter Eddie Gottlieb for financial backing; Division in the black community over their partnerships with white opposing teams, white ball-field owners, and white promoters or whether they ought to be totally separate. Threats from foreign owners in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Mexico who convinced players to leave Negro League Baseball for higher pay and less work. Self-interested, squabbling team owners who undermined league health in their drive for personal power and their own team’s financial success.

10 Leroy “Satchel” Paige The most celebrated of all black baseball stars was a tall, gangly pitcher of indeterminate age. Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama he honed his skills in reform school. A natural showman, he drew black baseball’s biggest crowds for twenty-two years and may have been the greatest pitcher of all time. Paige was a shrewd self-promoter. He pretended to be a sort-of sleepy, country boy. Yet he capitalized on his fame at every turn. Paige often pitched for numerous teams in the same season and routinely made three-to-four times as much money as the average black ballplayer. When playing hometown teams, he would guarantee to strike out the first nine men up. Then he would “invite” the fielders to come in and make good on his promise. Because black baseball was played in so many places and because few black teams had the money to pay someone to keep score, no one knows precisely how many games he won. Paige himself estimated that he pitched in 2,500 games and won 2,000 of them: four times the major league record of 511 held by Cy Young. In the late 1930s, Brooklyn Dodger official Stephen McKeever said that he would sign Paige, pending manager Burleigh Grimes’ approval. But Grimes was reluctant and reportedly preferred to lose with whites than win with black players.

11 WWII and the Move Toward Social and Economic Equality in the 1940s
WWII significantly transformed the social and economic experience of African Americans. The conversion to a wartime economy not only lifted the U.S. out of the Depression but created unprecedented job opportunities for blacks. With greater discretionary income, black professional baseball became a focal point for entertainment throughout the country. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Committee on Fair Employment Practices—later reorganized in 1943 as the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC)—provided an outlet for employment discrimination complaints and facilitated black employment in the defense industries. Tremendous labor demand—particularly in defense work such as aircraft industries and shipyards—accelerated black employment. For example, the number of blacks employed in manufacturing rose 135% between April 1940 and January 1946. Increased employment in war production centers in the north and west stimulated another heavy migration of nearly half a million blacks from the south. At the same time, the war against foreign fascism helped to draw attention to the oppression of blacks in the U.S. WWII’s economic impact allowed blacks to shift their concerns from basic survival issues to larger matters of equality. Accordingly, the African-American community became increasingly ambivalent toward all-black institutions and pressed for integration as the best course for equality. Black leaders such has scholar and future Nobel Prize recipient Ralph Bunche and Philadelphia black leader John F. Perdue pressed for integration.

12 Josh Gibson Black baseball’s greatest home-run hitter and after Satchel Paige its biggest crowd-pleaser. A sharecropper’s son from Buena Vista, Georgia, he was brought north to Pittsburgh when his father went to work in the steel mills. He hit more than 70 HRs in 1931 alone, some of them soaring better than 575 feet. And his lifetime record may have approached 950. Gibson was often called the black Babe Ruth but there were some who thought Ruth should be called the white Josh Gibson. White baseball’s pitching great Walter Johnson said: “There is a catcher than any big-league club would like to buy for $200,000. His name is Gibson. He can do everything. He hits the ball a mile and he catches so easy he might as well be in a rocking chair. He throws like a rifle. Too bad this Gibson is a colored-fellow.” Increasingly afflicted with mental and physical problems, Gibson died of a stroke on January 20, 1947 at age 35. There was no money for a gravestone. The Pittsburgh Courier wrote: “I know the real reason Josh Gibson died. I don’t need a doctor’s report for confirmation either. He was murdered b big-league baseball.”

13 An Industry Transformed
Negro League Baseball still faced no direct competition for the black entertainment dollar, as Organized White Baseball seemingly had no intention of relaxing the color bar in the near future. Indeed white stadium owners reaped sizeable profits by renting out their parks for Negro League games. The considerable war-time profits made by Negro League owners in the early 1940s would generate more ambivalent attitudes toward the prospect of integration. Increasingly leery of major league exploitation, Effa Manley said that she “wouldn’t like to see our star players in the big leagues, unless we owners were given assurances that we wouldn’t be robbed of our vested interests in the players we develop.” Some felt that integration would strengthen the negro leagues as developers of major-league talent. But others thought that integration would signal the death of separate black baseball. Black sportswriter Joe Bostic said that the “entry of even ONE Negro player on a league team would serve completely to monopolize the attention of the Negro and white present followers of Negro baseball…. Organized Negro baseball is a million dollar business annually. To kill it would be criminal and that’s just what entry of their players into the American and National would do.” During the 1945 season, the NNL and NAL failed to elect a commissioner, failed to join the major league committee investigating integration, faced increasing threats from the new United States Baseball League and the new lower-level Southern League, and failed to set up a system to formally offer their players to white organized baseball. Ultimately the failure of the Negro League owners to formally address the prospect of integration made them vulnerable as white organized baseball moved to remove the “color barrier.”

14 Negro Baseball League (1944)
Negro Baseball League (1944). Josh Gibson tries to avoid a tag by Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe in the “East-West” Negro League all-star game in Chicago’s Comiskey Park, 1944

15 Conclusion Informal discrimination and legalized segregation kept African Americans out of organized white baseball from the end of the 19th century through the mid 1940s. In response, blacks formed their own teams and leagues. Negro League Baseball grew from humble beginnings in the 1920s and 30s into a profitable business by the early 1940s. Despite their success—both on the field and off—Negro League owners failed to formally address the issue of integration, opening the door for white organized baseball to be the catalyst for the demise of black organized baseball.

16 Bibliography Lanctot, Neil Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press). Ward, Geoffrey C. and Ken Burns Baseball (PBS Home Video).

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