Term Paper: Legacy of the Negro Leagues

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[. . .] He hit with precision the way Satchel Paige threw with precision, and it was said he could hit balls into holes in the fence. (Kram, 1994). Once Bell stopped playing baseball, he slipped into obscurity and was found some years later, working as a janitor in the City Hall in St. Louis, MO, not far from St. Louis' large baseball stadium.

Not all the Negro League players had happy lives. Josh Gibson led a sad life. His young wife died in childbirth, and both his career and his grief seem to have separated him from the twins that had been born, who were raised by relatives (Schulian, 2000). Gibson had a mighty batting arm and reportedly once hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium, something Babe Ruth was never able to do. Later he developed mental illness, drank too much, and was in mental hospitals more than once. He died in his mother's home at age thirty-five, three months before Jackie Robinson made history by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Schulian, 2000). His batting record was remarkable, with a.354 batting average. He entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Kram (1994) reports that Satchel Paige told an amazing story about the times of the Negro Leagues. In 1937, the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, had become unpopular. According to Paige he decided that if he brought a really good baseball game to his country, he could boost his ratings with his people. He believed that if his country won the pennant for their league, it would ease his political difficulties.

Paige reports that agents of Trujillo virtually kidnapped home from his hotel in New Orleans. Then he got Paige to help him recruit other outstanding Black players, such as Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson. Once Trujillo had Shanghaied one team player and coaxed others into playing, he had to make sure the players stayed in his country for the game. Kram reports that Bell said,

He wanted us to stay in pajamas," says Papa, "and all our meals were served to us in our rooms, and guards circled our living quarters.... "We all knew the situation was serious, but it wasn't until later that we heard how bad it was. We found out that, as far as Trujillo was concerned, we either won or we were going to lose big. That means he was going to kill us."

The story has some credibility because Bell was not a person to seek the limelight about his baseball career once it was over.


The Negro Leagues did well financially. The Black community rallied around their players. They were highly regarded and respected in their communities. The fans who went to the Black games also saw the white teams play, and they knew their community players were of high caliber. As was noted earlier, some white entrepreneurs invested in Black teams, so they knew the financial value of the players.

It was Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who brought Jackie Robinson into the major leagues. Robinson had played for the Kansas City Monarchs (Emerge, 1997) and was carefully chosen for personal as well as athletic qualities. Both Blacks and whites realized that if this experiment didn't work, the door would remain shut to other Black ball players. It seems likely that the motivation to bring in a Black player was economic rather than from a sense of righting wrongs, but the fact was that Jackie Robinson was a success in the major leagues. (Conrads, 1999) His success opened the doors for the best of the other outstanding players from the Negro Leagues.

The Black Negro League teams continued to play for several years after this, but with their best players picked off to play for white teams, the quality of their teams declined. The Negro teams faded into history for most Americans, along with the many outstanding players who were born just a little too soon to move into the newly integrated major league teams. Of course, the Black players weren't forgotten within their own communities, but their contribution to baseball was lost from the larger culture's consciousness.


Robinson was an excellent choice to knock the color line down. While he played baseball he remained dignified and spoke with restraint, although he experienced considerable discrimination from fans, team members and while traveling. He could not stay at the same hotels the rest of the team stayed at, and often when they stopped for meals he had to pick his up at the back door while the rest of the team sat down in the restaurant to eat.

Once he retired from baseball, he became a prominent Civil Rights leader. He helped raise funds for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and became a board member of that group. He spoke out publicly against discrimination.

He took particular interest when the Supreme Court declared the concept of "Separate but Equal" an invalid and illegal concept. That ruling paved the way to dismantle official segregation in the United States.

Little Rock, Arkansas, was one of the first southern cities to attempt to desegregate their schools. They intended to do it a little at a time, starting with a few Black students in the high school. The governor of the state at this time attempted to stop this action using Arkansas National Guard. Robinson campaigned vigorously in several letters to then President Eisenhower, urging him to take action and to ensure that the United States Constitution was upheld. Eisenhower did do so, sending in federal troops to face Faubus' National Guard, and the school was integrated. Robinson more than many Black and white citizens of his day knew what a difference one successful integration could make (Vernon, 1999).

At the time Eisenhower acted, Robinson commended him for intervening. However, he was later more critical, believing that Eisenhower should have acted more forcefully on behalf of equality between the races. Robinson believed it was his duty to continue to work to end segregation, and did so to the end of his life.

Conrads (1999) notes that there was very little bitterness among former Negro League players for being kept out of the major leagues. Some of the older players did have such an opportunity. Clifford "Connie" Johnson, who played with Robinson for the Kansas City Monarchs, played for the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles. But he was thirty-six then, and at the end of his career, and the teams were looking for younger players. According to Conrads, Johnson and others believed that they had helped participate in the integration of baseball by helping make Negro ball so compelling that it could not be ignored.


The Negro Leagues paralleled the white leagues in some of their activities. They held eleven Negro World Series games and played many All-Stars games that were the largest Black-based sports events in the United States. (Riley, 2002)

While some Negro League players have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, a museum has been opened in Kansas City to commemorate the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, remembers 2,600 baseball players. They played in three different dvisions. There were 74 teams in all, playing for 30 different cities before the League died away completely in 1960 (Emerge, 1997). The site of the museum is not far from the site where the first Negro league of ball teams, the Negro National League, was formed in 1920.

The Negro leagues contributed to American baseball in many ways. They are credited with developing both the batting helmet and the shin guard, and were the first teams to use lights to play at night (Conrads, 1999). That first half-century, when two sets of leagues played parallel games, world series and all-star games, eventually helped change the face of America by helping lead us out of official segregation into a time when we can continue to work to treat all men as equals.


Author not available. "A Museum of Their Own: Kansas City's home for Negro League baseball." Emerge. June 1997.

Conrads, David. "Sacrifice Play: The… [END OF PREVIEW]

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