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Friday, 24 January 2014
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY : THE GOLDEN AGE OF NEGRO LEAGUE AND THE END OF SEGREGATION IN BASE BALL :
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY
On May 2, 1920, the Indianapolis ABCs beat the Chicago American Giants (4–2) in the first game played in the inaugural season of the Negro National League, played at Washington Park in Indianapolis. But, because of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, the National Guard still occupied the Giants' home field, Schorling's Park (formerly South Side Park). This forced Foster to cancel all the Giants' home games for almost a month and threatened to become a huge embarrassment for the league. On March 2, 1920 the Negro Southern League was founded in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1921, the Negro Southern League joined Foster's National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs. As a dues-paying member of the association, it received the same protection from raiding parties as any team in the Negro National League.
Foster then admitted John Connors' Atlantic City Bacharach Giants as an associate member to move further into Nat Strong's territory. Connors, wanting to return the favor of helping him against Strong, raided Ed Bolden's Hilldale Daisies team. Bolden saw little choice but to team up with Foster's nemesis, Nat Strong. Within days of calling a truce with Strong, Bolden made an about-face and signed up as an associate member of Foster's Negro National League.
On December 16, 1922, Bolden once again shifted sides and, with Strong, formed the Eastern Colored League as an alternative to Foster's Negro National League, which started with six teams: Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Baltimore Black Sox, Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Cuban Stars, Hilldale, and New York Lincoln Giants. The National League was having trouble maintaining continuity among its franchises: three teams folded and had to be replaced after the 1921 season, two others after the 1922 season, and two more after the 1923 season. Foster replaced the defunct teams, sometimes promoting whole teams from the Negro Southern League into the NNL. Finally Foster and Bolden met and agreed to an annual Negro League World Seriesbeginning in 1924.
1925 saw the St. Louis Stars come of age in the Negro National League. They finished in second place during the second half of the year due in large part to their pitcher turned center fielder,Cool Papa Bell, and their shortstop, Willie Wells. A gas leak in his home nearly asphyxiated Rube Foster in 1926, and his increasingly erratic behavior led to him being committed to an asylum a year later. While Foster was out of the picture, the owners of the National League elected William C. Hueston as new league president. In 1927, Ed Bolden suffered a similar fate as Foster, by committing himself to a hospital because the pressure was too great. The Eastern League folded shortly after that, marking the end of the Negro League World Series between the NNL and the ECL.
After the Eastern League folded following the 1927 season, a new eastern league, the American Negro League, was formed to replace it. The makeup of the new ANL was nearly the same as the Eastern League, the exception being that the Homestead Grays joined in place of the now-defunct Brooklyn Royal Giants. The ANL lasted just one season. In the face of harder economic times, the Negro National League folded after the 1931 season. Some of its teams joined the only Negro league then left, the Negro Southern League.
On March 26, 1932 the Chicago Defender announced the end of Negro National League.
Just as Negro league baseball seemed to be at its lowest point and was about to fade into history, along came Cumberland Posey and his Homestead Grays. Posey, Charlie Walker, John Roesnik, George Rossiter, John Drew, Lloyd Thompson and L.R. Williams got together in January 1932 and founded the East-West League. Eight cities were included in the new league: "Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, Newark, New York, and Washington D.C.". By May 1932, the Detroit Wolves were about to collapse, and instead of letting the team go, Posey kept pumping money into it. By June the Wolves had disintegrated and all the rest of the teams, except for the Grays, were beyond help, so Posey had to terminate the league.
Across town from Posey, Gus Green lee, a reputed gangster and numbers runner, had just purchased the Pittsburgh Craw fords. Green lee's main interest in baseball was to use it as a way to launder money from his numbers games. But, after learning about Posey's money-making machine in Homestead, he became obsessed with the sport and his Craw fords. On August 6, 1931,Satchel Paige made his first appearance as a Crawford. With Paige on his team, Green lee took a huge risk by investing $100,000 in a new ballpark to be called Green lee Field. On opening day, April 30, 1932, the pitcher-catcher battery was made up of the two most marketable icons in all of blackball: Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.
In 1933, Green lee, riding the popularity of his Crawfords, became the next man to start a Negro league. In February 1933, Green lee and delegates from six other teams met at Green lee's Crawford Grill to ratify the constitution of the National Organization of Professional Baseball Clubs. The name of the new league was the same as the old league Negro National League which had disbanded a year earlier in 1932. The members of the new league were the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Columbus Blue Birds, Indianapolis ABCs, Baltimore Black Sox, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Cole's American Giants (formerly the Chicago American Giants) and Nashville Elite Giants. Greenlee also came up with the idea to duplicate the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, except, unlike the big league method in which the sportswriters chose the players, the fans voted for the participants. The first game, known as the East-West All-Star Game, was held September 10, 1933 at Comiskey Park in Chicago before a crowd of 20,000.
With the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States was thrust into World War II. Remembering World War I, black America vowed it would not be shut out of the beneficial effects of a major war effort: economic boom and social unification.
Just like the major leagues, the Negro leagues saw many stars miss one or more seasons while fighting overseas. While many players were over 30 and considered "too old" for service, Monte Irvin, Larry Doby and Leon Day of Newark; Ford Smith, Hank Thompson, Joe Greene, Willard Brown and Buck O'Neil of Kansas City; Lyman Bostock of Birmingham; and Lick Carlisle and Howard Easterling of Homestead all served. But the white majors were barely recognizable, while the Negro leagues reached their highest plateau. Millions of black Americans were working in war industries and, making good money, they packed league games in every city. Business was so good that promoter Abe Saperstein (famous for the Harlem Globetrotters) started a new circuit, the Negro Midwest League, a minor league similar to the Negro Southern League. The Negro World Series was revived in 1942, this time pitting the winners of the eastern Negro National League and mid western Negro American League. It continued through 1948 with the NNL winning four championships and the NAL three.
In 1946, Saperstein partnered with Jesse Owens to form another Negro League, the West Coast Baseball Association (WCBA); Saperstein was league president and Owens was vice-president and the owner of the league's Portland (Oregon) Rosebuds franchise. The WCBA disbanded after only two months.
Judge Kenesaw M. Landis, the first Commissioner of Major League Baseball, was an intractable opponent of integrating the white majors. During his quarter-century tenure, he blocked all attempts at integrating the game. A popular story has it that in 1943, Bill Veeck planned to buy the moribund Philadelphia Phillies and stock them with Negro League stars. Supposedly, when Landis and National League president Ford Frick learned of Veeck's plan, they scuttled it by engineering the Phillies' sale to William B. Cox. However, this story is arguably false, based on press accounts of the time; notably, Philadelphia's black press mentioned nothing about any prospective Veeck purchase.
After Landis' death in 1944, Happy Chandler was named his successor. Chandler was open to integrating the game, even at the risk of losing his job as Commissioner. He later said in his biography that he could not in good conscience tell black players they couldn't play baseball with whites when they'd fought for their country.
In March 1945, the white majors created the Major League Committee on Baseball Integration. Its members included Joseph P. Rainey, Larry MacPhail and Branch Rickey. Because MacPhail, who was an outspoken critic of integration, kept stalling, the committee never met. Under the guise of starting an all-black league, Rickey sent scouts all around the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico, looking for the perfect candidate to break the color line. His list eventually was narrowed down to three, Roy Campanella, Don New combe and Jackie Robinson.
On August 28, 1945, Jackie Robinson met with Rickey in Brooklyn, where Rickey gave Robinson a "test" by berating him and shouting racial epithets that Robinson would hear from day one in the white game. Having passed the test, Robinson signed the contract which stipulated that from then on, Robinson had no "written or moral obligations" to any other club. By the inclusion of this clause, precedent was set that would raze the Negro leagues as a functional commercial enterprise.
Pressured by civil rights groups, the Fair Employment Practices Act was passed by the New York State Legislature in 1945. This followed the passing of the Quinn-Ives Act banning discrimination in hiring. At the same time, NYC Mayor La Guardia formed the Mayor's Commission on Baseball to study integration of the major leagues. All this led to Rickey announcing the signing of Robinson much earlier than he would have liked. On October 23, 1945, Montreal Royals president Hector Racine announced that, "We are signing this boy."
Early in 1946, Rickey signed four more black players, Campanella, Newcombe, John Wright and Roy Partlow, this time with much less fanfare. After the integration of the major leagues in 1947, marked by the appearance of Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers that April, interest in Negro league baseball waned. Black players who were regarded as prospects were signed by major league teams, often without regard for any contracts that might have been signed with Negro league clubs. Negro league owners who complained about this practice were in a no-win situation: they could not protect their own interests without seeming to interfere with the advancement of players to the majors. By 1948, the Dodgers, along with Veeck's Cleveland Indians had integrated.
The Negro leagues also "integrated" around the same time, as Eddie Klep became the first white man to play for the Cleveland Buckeyes during the 1946 season.
These moves came despite strong opposition from the owners; Rickey was the only one of the 16 owners to support integrating the sport in January 1947. Chandler's decision to overrule them may have been a factor in his ouster in 1951 in favor of Ford Frick.
Some proposals were floated to bring the Negro leagues into "organized baseball" as developmental leagues for black players, but that was recognized as contrary to the goal of full integration. So the Negro leagues, once among the largest and most prosperous black-owned business ventures, were allowed to fade into oblivion.
First a trickle and then a flood of players signed with Major League Baseball teams. Most signed minor league contracts and many languished, shuttled from one bush league team to another despite their success at that level. But they were in Organized Baseball, that part of the industry organized by the major leagues.
The Negro National League folded after the 1948 season when the Grays withdrew to resume barnstorming, the Eagles moved to Houston, Texas, and the New York Black Yankees folded. The Grays folded one year later after losing $30,000 in the barnstorming effort. So the Negro American League was the only "major" Negro League operating in 1949. Within two years it had been reduced to minor league caliber and it played its last game in 1958.
The last All-Star game was held in 1962, and by 1966 the Indianapolis Clowns were the last Negro league team still playing. The Clowns continued to play exhibition games into the 1980's, but as a humorous sideshow rather than a competitive sport.