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A Wheel Within a Wheel: The Negro Leagues

Although many aspects of the early days of baseball have been well
documented, historians are just beginning to chronicle the major role that Black
athletes played in making professional baseball popular. Black ball players have
played the game for about as many years as White players. Players of color,
both Black and Hispanic, were on mostly White ball clubs in the first days of
amateur ball, but when the majors started to become popular in the early
1900's, an unwritten barbaric rule went into effect that kept players of color out
of professional baseball.

At that time, segregation was the poison that had drained our society of its full
potential. In baseball, it robbed us of the opportunity to witness some of the
greatest athletes of all time on an even playing field. It was a time when legends
such as Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Cy Young came to light. What
would be our perception of those legends if segregation had not skewed our

Minority players who might have achieved greatness in the majors were
relegated to the minor leagues or, as they were called, the Negro Leagues. Life
was tough for the Black ball player in those days. There were many sordid
incidents, including clashes with the Klan, spitting on players from the stands,
and the throwing of rocks at team buses. Yes there was definitely a "color
barrier," not only for baseball but for America.

Many of the statistics and numbers from the Negro Leagues are unknown, and
the talking points about greatness in the league cannot be verified because the
games, events and incidents were not documented properly.

Until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, much of the history of
players of color was forgotten and lost. Mostly, all we have as a resource are
the stories of the players that played in the Negro Leagues.

Walter "Dirk" Gibbons, a pitcher with the Indianapolis Clowns, said, "Nobody
wants to believe we were as good as they say we were, but I can vouch for it, I
was there. I know these guys were really that good. All we wanted was a
chance to prove we could play the game. I knew sooner or later it would
happen, but we had to go through so much before it really did happen." Walter
Gibbons should know what good is; by his own account, he was a 19-game
winner with 229 strikeouts in one season. The Indianapolis Clowns were also
the team that produced Hank Aaron. In considering what happened, Gibbons
succinctly noted, "It was segregation, and that is just the way it was."

At one time, much of what went on in the Negro Leagues was ignored. In fact,
Gibbons claimed that Jackie Robinson wasn't the best player in the leagues.
"He was good, but he wasn't the best," said Gibbons. Other players, like
Satchel Paige and Larry Doby have a place in the history of baseball once they
entered the majors, but what about their accomplishments when they were
locked out of the all-White leagues?

At the end of the Civil War, the Negro Leagues started to develop with the
creation of unofficial and unorganized teams. The first Black professional team
took the field in 1885 in Babylon, New York. White reporters named the team
the "Cuban Giants" in an attempt to attract White teams to play them. By the
end of the 1860's, there were a number of Black baseball teams in the
Philadelphia area that would play against any other team, professional or not.

By 1885, Black baseball started to organize with the official formation of the
Southern League of Base Ballists. In 1888, the Middle States League appeared
and admitted two all-Black teams, the Cuban Giants and the New York
Gorhams. After a long and blurry history of organizational forming, dissolving
and reforming, Bill Veeck attempted to buy the Philadelphia Phillies, announcing
that he would recruit Black players for his club. The National League stepped
in and bought the Phillies, handing the club over to William Cox, who had no
such intentions.

Finally in 1945, Branch Rickey, a member of the Major League Committee on
Baseball Integration, searched the national and international baseball scene. He
was looking for the best player candidate to break the color line in Major
League Baseball. His perfect candidate turned out to be Jackie Robinson. It
has been suggested that Robinson wasn't the first player to break through the
color barrier; that there were others before him. While there may be some truth
to that, Jackie Robinson will always be remembered as the player who started
to change the public's attitude toward segregation.

Today, there's a concerted effort to remember the past. In February 2006, a
special 12-member panel was convened to start the electoral process of
inducting players from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues into
Baseball's Hall of Fame. Although so many players of color never participated
in Major League Baseball, the greats are starting to be officially recognized for
their athletic achievements.

About the Author: This article was written by FR Penn sponsored by If you’re looking for baseball tickets to see your favorite team live in action, look no further than where fans buy and sell the hottest sports tickets. Reproductions of this article are encouraged but must include a link back to

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