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Breaking the Color Barrier: The Death of the Negro Leagues Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University 1951 Brooklyn.

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Presentation on theme: "Breaking the Color Barrier: The Death of the Negro Leagues Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University 1951 Brooklyn."— Presentation transcript:

1 Breaking the Color Barrier: The Death of the Negro Leagues Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers

2 Passing the Buck In the 1930s, several newspaper writers—white and black—called for baseball integration and even organized a letter-writing campaign to Commissioner Landis and major league owners. But like numerous other major American industries, white organized baseball ignored and evaded the issue. On July 16, 1942 Landis made his first public statement on the issue: “I have come to the conclusion that it is time for me to express myself on this important issue. Negroes are not barred from organized baseball by the commissioner and never have been during the 21 years I have served as commissioner…. That is the business of the managers and the club owners. The business of the commissioner is to interpret the rules of baseball and enforce them.” Bill Veeck claimed Landis prevented him from purchasing the Phillies when Landis learned of Veeck's plan to integrate the team. In 1943, Landis and the owners finally allowed a group of African- Americans—mostly journalists led by Wendell Smith who had tirelessly campaigned for integration—to address them on the topic at the annual winter meetings. But once again white organized baseball failed to act after a secret vote revealed that 15 of the 16 club owners opposed it. Landis’ successor, former Senator (D-KY) Albert “Happy” Chandler, said, "For twenty-four years Judge Landis wouldn't let a black man play. I had his records, and I read them, and for twenty-four years Landis consistently blocked any attempts to put blacks and whites together on a big league field.” But Chandler also recognized that Landis only reflected the views of the owners: “[Landis] was doing what the owners wanted him to do, they wanted to keep it white and segregated and he kept it that way.” Happy Chandler Kenesaw Landis

3 Move Toward Integration Over the years, black baseball stars played white major league stars at least 438 times in off-season exhibition games. The whites won 129 of those postseason games. Blacks won 309. When long-time New York Giants manager John McGraw died in 1934, his wife found among his effects a list of all the black players he secretly wished he could have hired over the decades. The often hostile reaction encountered by the few white or light-skinned Cuban players in organized baseball led some to predict an even harsher response to blacks. Although several officials, particularly Senators president Clark Griffith, had willingly signed Cubans, their presence was not without controversy. Nonwhite Cuban major leaguers of the 1930s and 1940s such as Roberto Estalella and Tomas de la Cruz capitalized on the prevalent confusion about Cuban nationality and race in the United States. A 1940 account of the issue alluded to the “rather widespread inability on the part of American ballplayers to differentiate between Cuban and Negro athletes.” Estalella and other Cuban players on the Washington Senators faced a steady stream of insults and beanballs from opponents. Senators manager Bucky Harris considered Cuban players “trash” and forced them to lodge apart from their American teammates. The American Communist Party joined the integration fight and even publicized discrimination in sports. For example, they made a genuine effort to cover black baseball in their newspaper the Daily Worker. They would remain an important and controversial part of the campaign for racial integration for years to come. In March 1942, two black ballplayers—Jackie Robinson and Nate Moreland—traveled to the Chicago White Sox spring training camp and requested a tryout but were turned away. Four months later, the Daily Worker announced that Pittsburgh Pirates president William Benswanger—who had expressed interest in Josh Gibson three years earlier—would offer a tryout to several black ballplayers. But Benswanger never held the tryout, ultimately weakened and abandoned his integration plans. Proposed tryouts for black players in Cleveland and Philadelphia similarly failed to materialize. Finally political pressure by the black community—including pickets outside major league ballparks— started having an effect. In April 1945 Dave “Showboat” Thomas and Terris McDuffie were granted a tryout by the Brooklyn Dodgers, though neither were offered a contract. A week later, Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethroe, and Dave Hoskins tried out for the Red Sox. But Robinson later recalled, “not for one minute did we believe the tryout was sincere.”

4 Branch Rickey Initially Rickey was known for his seemingly pious personal qualities and strong religious conviction. An exponent of “clean living,” Rickey refused to play or manage on Sunday, refrained from cursing, and had been an ardent prohibitionist in h is youth. He spent 25 years with the St. Louis Cardinals organization and invented the major league “farm system” whereby major league teams owned and operated their own lower-level teams in order to develop future major league players. After the 1942 season, Rickey became the president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He recognized the inevitability of integration in baseball and quietly undertook a plan to integrate his new team. With war-time player shortages and the Dodgers perennial losers, Rickey shrewdly recognized that black players offered an undeveloped yet fertile ground for cheap talent and might provide the Dodgers with a competitive edge for years to come. The bottom line was that Rickey saw blacks as an opportunity to make money. He sent his scouts to start evaluating black players in the United States and abroad. He supported Gus Greenlee’s creation of a new black baseball league—the United States Baseball League (USL)—and allowed the USL’s Brooklyn Brown Dodgers to play in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.

5 Integration The signing of the first black ballplayer in the modern era, Jackie Robinson, came less than a year after Commissioner Landis' death on Chandler's watch and was engineered by one of Landis' old nemeses, Branch Rickey. Rickey asked only one thing of Robinson: that he not respond for three years to the racial epithets and taunting that he would surely receive. Robinson agreed. On October 23, 1945 Robinson signed a contract with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers top minor-league affiliate in the International League. Rickey drew the ire of Robinson’s former team—the Kansas City Monarchs—when they received no compensation for Robinson’s signing. Rickey claimed that he had not “signed a player from what I regard as an organized league.” But Rickey’s stance had earned him the unanimous and virtually permanent support of African American fans and liberal whites. Robinson’s signing prompted the Negro Leagues to adopt much-needed reforms including a new league constitution, standardized player contracts, team roster limits, an expanded schedule, incentive bonuses, awards to league leaders, and the creation of a league publicity office. In 1946 Negro League officials met with Commissioner Chandler and other organized baseball officials to discuss a formal agreement of affiliation with organized baseball, but baseball did nothing toward that end and ultimately rejected a formal proposal in December To further bolster their profile, Negro League Baseball finally hired a non-affiliated commissioner in 1947: Reverend John Howard Johnson. But Robinson’s debut as a Dodger on April 14, 1947 signaled the beginning of the end for Negro League Baseball. Robinson excelled, despite enduring tremendous pressure and verbal abuse from opponents. Black baseball fans turned out in the thousands for Robinson’s appearances and black baseball games suffered. The Robinson-led Dodgers won the National League pennant and though they lost to the Yankees in the 1947 World Series, television coverage of the games heightened black interest in major league baseball. Further developments in mass communication via radio and television made it easier than ever for black fans to follow Robinson and other African Americans in the major leagues.

6 Jackie Robinson Born in 1919 in Georgia, Robinson was the grandson of a slave and the fifth child of a sharecropper. His family relocated to Pasadena, California in 1920, paralleling the increasing out-migration pattern of southern blacks during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Inspired by his brother Mack, and outstanding sprinter who competed along with Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Robinson became interested in athletics at an early age and excelled in baseball, basketball, football, and track while attending Pasadena Junior College and UCLA from 1937 to By the early 1940s, Robinson was a nationally known black athlete, particularly celebrated for his exploits on the football field. Drafted in 1942, Robinson was commissioned as a lieutenant but later faced court martial proceedings following his refusal to sit in the back of a bus in Texas. Robinson wrote: “I had learned that I was in two wars: one against a foreign enemy, the other against prejudice at home.” Exonerated by a military court, Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs in early 1945 after his discharge. During his year with the Monarchs, he earned selection to the East-West game as the NAL’s starting shortstop.

7 Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, running the bases against the New York Giants at Polo Grounds on May 26, 1956.

8 Following Robinson In January 1946, pitcher John Wright became the second African American to sign a contract with the Dodgers. In April 1946 Rickey signed catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Don Newcombe. Though Rickey insisted all were free agents and failed to compensate their former teams, he did pay $1,000 to the Philadelphia Stars for his next signing—pitcher Roy Partlow—and $15,000 for Dan Bankhead who became the first black pitcher in the major leagues. Following Robinson other professional and college sports teams took small steps toward integration including the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams’ signing of Kenny Washington—Robinson’s former teammate at UCLA— ending the league’s twelve-year unofficial ban on black players. College football teams became increasingly integrated and two National Basketball League teams signed black players. Eleven weeks after Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Bill Veeck became the first American League owner to break the color line with the signing of Larry Doby by Veeck’s Cleveland Indians. Veeck then signed 42-year-old (or more) MLB rookie Satchel Paige the next year. Paige had been upset that it was Jackie Robinson and not he who broke the color line. Veeck paid $30,000 for Paige and he helped the Indians to their first pennant in 28 years. In his debut against the Chicago White Sox he demonstrated masterful control and shut them out. One week later he did it again. An August 13 night game at Comiskey Park drew 51,013 fans to see Paige again face the White Sox. That year, the Indians won the World Series. The St. Louis Browns became the next team to integrate when in July 1947 they signed infielder Hank Thompson and outfielder Willard Brown from the Kansas City Monarchs who were compensated for the transaction. Other teams slowly followed suit. For example, in November 1947 catcher John Ritchey signed with the Pacific Coast League (PCL) San Diego Padres and became the first African American player on a PCL club.

9 Veeck helped to break the color barrier in the American League by acquiring Larry Doby, a 23-year-old outfielder, to play for Cleveland. Veeck compensated Doby’s former team—the Newark Eagles—with an unprecedented payment of $15,000.

10 Bill Veeck, Jr. Veeck’s father—Bill Veeck, Sr.—was a sportswriter who became President of the Chicago Cubs. Bill Jr. worked in various positions at Wrigley Field and was responsible for planting the ivy along the outfield brick walls and installing that hand-operated scoreboard. As owner of the Cleveland Indians, Veeck not only integrated the American League, but also brought a unique brand of promotion to the game. For example, he hired rubber-faced Max Patkin, the "Clown Prince of Baseball", as a coach. Patkin's appearance in the coaching box delighted fans and infuriated the front office of the American League. Ultimately, he was forced to sell the Indians to pay for his first divorce. But he returned as owner of the St. Louis Browns. He signed blacks for all levels of his organization and engaged in more memorable stunts such as the famous appearance on August 19, 1951, by midget Eddie Gaedel who was told that a man in the stands was standing at the ready with a high-powered rifle should Gaedel swing at a pitch. Gaedel walked on four straight pitches. Veeck was ultimately forced out by the owners and the Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles. Veeck was back in 1959 when he purchased the Chicago White Sox. He installed the famous “exploding scoreboard” at Comiskey Park where fireworks went off every time a White Sox player hit a HR. He put names on the backs of players jerseys, now a common practice for nearly every team. Due to poor health, he sold his share of the team in 1961 but returned to run the White Sox in He testified in court in favor of Curt Flood and against the reserve clause system and continued his wacky promotions including having his players play in shorts, having announcer Harry Cary sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7 th inning stretch, 10-cent beer night in 1974, bringing back former star Minnie Minoso (who was the first black player to play for the Sox in 1951) to play in 1976 (he got a hit at age 50) and again in 1980 at age 54, and the notorious “disco demolition night” where a box of disco records was blown up in center field during the middle of a twi-night doubleheader and the fans tore the stadium apart resulting in a forfeit to the Detroit Tigers. Fans still visit “Veeck’s Corner” at Miller’s Pub around the corner from the Palmer House in the loop, downtown Chicago where Veeck regularly held court. The walls are covered with photographs of Veeck with the players and celebrities who knew him.

11 Shifting Postwar Attitudes The integration of Organized Baseball in 1946 was only one of a series of important postwar legal and political developments facilitating the gradual yet perceptible movement of blacks into he mainstream of American life. Following aggressive challenges by the NAACP, the Supreme Court struck down the whites-only party primary in Smith v. Allwright (1944), declared restrictive housing covenants unconstitutional in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), struck down segregation in law and graduate school in Sweatt v. Painter (1950) and McLaurin v. Oklahoma (1950), declared unconstitutional segregation on interstate railroad cars in Henderson v. United States (1950), and outlawed racial segregation in public education in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). At the same time, federal elected officials became increasingly receptive to African American protest, recognizing not only the growing importance of the urban black vote but the potentially damaging effects of the oppression of minorities within the context of the ideological struggle of the Cold War. Reflecting the heightened awareness, President Harry Truman issued an executive order in 1948 requiring nondiscrimination in the hiring of federal employees. Perhaps more significantly, the same year Truman subsequently ordered an end to segregation in the armed forces.

12 The Ruin of a Black Institution The success of Robinson, Campanella, Paige, and Doby in the major leagues led to declining press coverage, attendance, and interest in black organized baseball. Negro League teams hung on as long as they could—mostly by continuing to sell players to the major leagues such as the Birmingham Black Barons sale of Willie Mays in 1950 to the New York Giants for $15,000, the Indianapolis Clowns 1952 sale of Hank Aaron to the Boston Braves for $10,000, and the Kansas City Monarchs 1953 sale of Ernie Banks to the Chicago Cubs—the team’s first African American player. Negro League teams also signed some white players and its first female player—infielder Toni Stone—by the Indianapolis Clowns in The next year, Stone moved to the Monarchs and the Clowns signed two more female players: Connie Morgan and Mamie Johnson. In the early 1950s, talented black players like Maury Wills, John Roseboro, and Frank Robinson bypassed the Negro League altogether and proceeded directly from high school or college into organized baseball. Branch Rickey left the Dodgers after the 1950 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates and began signing black players as he had done in Brooklyn. After failing to sign a single black player in the previous five years, the Pirates organization under Rickey featured twelve by May Attendance at Negro League ballparks steadily declined, salaries were cut, players left for Mexico, and one-by-one Negro League teams were sold, moved, and ultimately folded. Some teams like the Clowns went back to independent, barnstorming baseball and their mix of comedy and athleticism allowed them to continue as late as But Negro League baseball officially ended in 1963, a development that concerned few African American fans, many of whom were unaware of the league’s continued existence! Willie Mays

13 Full Integration? While “full integration” remained remote, the civil rights strides of the 1940s through the 1960s took an inevitable toll not only on black baseball but on other once valued separate organizations. Like the NAL and NNL, black institutions that had fulfilled a vital role during segregation found themselves functioning in a vastly transformed environment, often with predictable results. Many black hospitals, businesses, hotels, banks, and insurance companies went out of business while some like Parks Sausage and Motown Records survived by marketing to a broad interracial customer base. Still others survived by continuing to offer unique services unavailable in the white world such as black churches, historically black colleges, and some black media outlets. Despite the presence of blacks on several rosters in the 1950s, the task of “full” integration of the major leagues was nowhere near complete. As late as 1952, only 6 of the 16 major league teams featured a black player on their roster. Ten years after Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers, the last three teams to finally place African Americans on their rosters were the Philadelphia Phillies in 1957, the Detroit Tigers in 1958, and the Boston Red Sox in By 1961, 77 of 450 major league players were black (17%). Yet unlike in black baseball, front office and managerial positions were virtually unavailable for years and even today remain predominantly occupied by whites. This disparity was highlighted in 1987 when Los Angeles Dodger General Manager Al Campanis appeared on ABC News’ Nightline to discuss the 40 th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier. Campanis had played alongside Robinson and considered him a friend. Anchorman Ted Koppel asked him why there were so few black managers and no black general managers in Major League Baseball. Campanis' reply was that blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager" for these positions. Elsewhere in the interview he said that blacks are often poor swimmers "because they don't have the buoyancy." Koppel tried to give Campanis several opportunities to clarify ("Do you really believe that?") or back down on his remarks but Campanis confirmed his views with his replies. A protest erupted the next morning and he resigned two days later.

14 Void in the Community Although desegregation theoretically rendered black baseball and other separate institutions superfluous, many African Americans still remain far from “integrated”; in fact, geographical isolation and joblessness of blacks in major cities has remained disturbingly high. Yet some of the moderating institutional supports that once alleviated the plight of blacks have disappeared, leaving a void in the community. Despite enabling individual black athletes to grow enormously wealthy, integrated organized baseball has never approached the importance of the Negro Leagues in black communities. During the 1960s, black interest in baseball began to wane, perhaps a product of the stronger attachment of most fans to individual players rather than to teams. A lack of recreational facilities in the inner cities further dampened interest among blacks, many of whom turned to basketball, a game that requires less equipment and playing space. Finally, the ambivalence of organized baseball contributed to the disengagement of black fans. While accepting black players, the industry had never fully resigned itself to black patrons, and as late as 1991, several teams admitted fearing the impact of black fans on white attendance. Not surprisingly, the percentage of black major league attendance by the late 1980s fell to below 7%, and to as low as 3% in communities such as Chicago and Philadelphia that had once enthusiastically supported black baseball. Black America’s disengagement from baseball has only worsened in recent years, reflected by the decline in the number of African Americans on major league rosters. In July 2003, African Americans occupied only 10% of roster spots, compared to 27% in Also in 2003, only 2 black major leaguers emerged from the once-flourishing black baseball hotbeds of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. With football and basketball both offering more opportunities for athletic scholarships and a quicker path to professional play, the trend appears unlikely to shift in the near future. Frank Robinson, the first black manager in major league baseball history, said that “baseball is now third, maybe fourth in the [inner-city] household.” While baseball has attempted to stimulate black interest in recent years through such ventures as the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, many feel that the escalating costs of simply attending a game is the real problem.

15 Conclusion While the Negro League’s failure to formally address the issue of integration in a timely fashion may have played a part in their demise, it was the larger societal shift in postwar attitudes toward integration and the rise of mass media that ultimately doomed black organized baseball and other racial enterprises. Still, along with other black institutions, black baseball facilitated integration by providing invaluable experience and training otherwise elusive in a still highly segregated nation. Because of this institution-building in the black community, a pool of talented African American athletes developed who were able to take full advantage of the greater opportunities that became available with desegregation. Despite the strides made by African Americans in baseball, front-office and managerial positions continue to remain relatively elusive and the number of African Americans in baseball continues to decline as other sports gain in popularity with the community.

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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