Black sports history fact #5

A “Gentlemen’s Agreement” in professional baseball excluded African-Americans from playing major league baseball with whites. However, that wasn’t enough to stop us, as early as 1884, blacks organized their own teams and shortly after developed their own league.

By the turn of the century Black professional baseball blew up, in a good way…by 1920, an official professional league was formed. The “Negro National League” had franchises in major cities, including Kansas City, Chicago, and Detroit. Some years later, the “Negro American League” was formed, and all-black world series was held annually.

The first black major league baseball player was NOT Jackie Robinson, but was Bud Fowler, who played for a team in Newcastle, Pennsylvania in 1872. In 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker, a bare-handed catcher, played for Toledo in the old major league American Association. Not to mention, he was a GRADUATE of Oberlin College in Ohio. In the 1880s though, as segregation was becoming established as a way of life, the blacks just mentioned and other blacks were increasingly excluded from major league play, moved to the minor leagues but slowly left baseball all together.

In the early 1900s, manager of the New York Giants, John McGraw tried three times with short-lived success to blacks to his team. They were described as American “Indians” but were soon exposed and McGraw was forced to release them from the team. Those men were Charles Grant, Jose Mendez, and Andrew Foster, a pitching coach who taught Christy Mathewson. In 1925 a black Latin, Ramon Herrera, played for the Boston Red Sox. Probably unknown, other blacked “passed” successfully during the 1888-1946 period.

Blacks and whites did play against each other openly though. Starting in 1884, blacks organized their own teams and their own leagues. Some of the best baseball players of all time played in this league, but got little to no recognition in the history books: George Stovey, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and a more popular Satchel Paige, and in the 1940s, Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs.

In the 1920s, a black professional baseball league was formed mostly through the efforts of Andrew “Rube” Foster, a black pitcher who in 1905 won 51 of 55 games. The “Negro National League” had franchises in Indianapolis, Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. Several years later an all-black world series was held annually.



About the author

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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