Major League Baseball and America celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues on Sunday. The league was the home of magnificent Black talent who were not allowed to participate in the white league because of segregation.
The Negro Leagues were the home of players such as Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell and Buck Leonard. It also helped players like Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Monte Irvin, Larry Doby and so many others get professional experience before joining the majors after Robinson broke the color barrier.
The narratives about the Negro Leagues circulated with pride, gusto and humor. I can remember as a youth hearing about a young Satchel Paige pitching against the New York Yankees in an exhibition game. The Yankees were led by Babe Ruth and the boys, with Paige on the mound for the St. Louis Browns. The story goes that Ruth got a single in the first inning. Afterward, Paige called a timeout, walked over to the coach of the Browns and said, “Not another one of them will get a hit the rest of the game!”
Subsequently, Paige pitched a no-hitter — a one-hitter, technically — and the Browns won 2-0.
Whether the above story is true or not, it demonstrates how much Black people loved their sports heroes in the Negro Leagues. Lots of stories peppered the Black community about Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson and others. The stories were told to remind Black people that even though the white American baseball league hid behind the curtain of segregation, we knew that there were Black players as good as, or better, than their white counterparts. In a time of degradation, Black folks had something to hold onto with pride. Whites bragged about Jackie Robinson being the first Black man to enter the white league, but Black folks smiled and said, “He was good, but there were so many that were better that were either forgotten or overlooked.”
When one thinks about how Black players were underpaid and sometimes badly treated and yet played for the love of the game, it should warm the human heart. Lots of Black baseball players sacrificed so much. Indeed, they should be celebrated.
If you want to know more about these awesome ballplayers, visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. It will be worth your time.
Happy 100th anniversary to the Negro Leagues. You were great, and we remember you.