The statistical record of more than 3000 men who played Negro League baseball between 1920 and 1948 has been completed by a research team funded by a grant from Major League Baseball. The 5,000 page compilation will be presented to the National Baseball Hall of Fame later this month. Read the full story in this Denver Post article.
Adapted from an article that appeared in Black Ball News (June, 1992)
"If you want to be a star in baseball - I mean a real star, where everybody knows who you are and what your accomplishments are - then you have to play for one of those New York, Chicago or California teams. It was the same way in the Negro Leagues. Let me give you an example. Everybody knows that Hank Aaron hit more homeruns than Babe Ruth, but how many people really know it? Somehow, they think, it couldn't have been as good. That's not just because Aaron is black. It's because Ruth hit all those homers in front of the fans in New York, and Aaron was hitting his in Atlanta."
"Now think about it. Look at all the players from the Negro Leagues who are in the Hall of Fame. Every one of them played for a Northern team in one of the big cities. There ain't no Southern black players in the Hall of Fame - I mean, from Southern teams. Sure, the ones that are in the Hall of Fame were great ballplayers and deserve to be there. But, there are a lot of other players that played in the South with the Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox and teams like that who won't ever be considered even though they were just as good." This is the observation of a former Birmingham Black Baron.
This former Black Baron isn't alone in his feeling that professional baseball, including the Negro Leagues, has historically slighted the South, its teams and players, and the evidence seems to support his claim. One of the more popular books on Negro Leagues history refers to the Negro Southern League as a minor league. This view would not have been shared by fans of the Atlanta Black Crackers, Memphis Red Sox or Nashville Elite Giants. In recent years considerable media attention has been focused on the exploits of the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, New York Black Yankees and Kansas City Monarchs. Almost nothing has been mentioned in the national press about the great Southern teams of the 1930s and 1940s. And, no player whose career was predominately spent with a Southern team has been recognized by the Hall of Fame.
It seems appropriate that any study of professional black baseball in the South begin with a look at its most prominent figure. As organized professional leagues formed in the southern states during the 1920s, Nashville's Thomas T. Wilson quickly arose as the driving force in southern Negro baseball. During the following twenty-five years Wilson established himself as a captain of Negro League baseball on a national scale.
Reprinted from Black Ball News (1992) "We are getting so much hell, that we don't deserve, as we built the League and did not hurt anybody while we were building it...I think you and I will both have to refuse to run for office, also Manley, as we are Club Owners and Rickey is telling that to the world." -C.W.Posey, Excerpted from a letter to Thomas Wilson, Baltimore Elite Giants owner and NNL President, Nov. 19, 1945
Branch Rickey's now famous observation that the "Negro leagues are in the zone of a racket" was at the same time self-serving and largely accurate. Positioned as he was to be the first white owner to scoop the golden nuggets from the talent filled stream of Negro baseball, Rickey's criticisms of the black leagues was certainly calculated to lower the overhead expense of his panning operation. If Negro teams were not perceived as legitimate businesses with legal claim to the services of their players, Rickey must have reasoned, the cream of the black leagues' talent could be skimmed off for the major leagues with little or no compensation to black team owners. Still, Negro Leagues team owners would not have felt as threatened by Rickey's public criticisms if there had not been an element of truth in his observations.
Jackie Robinson, major league baseball's first black player during the modern era, will posthumously be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in a White House ceremony on March 2. The medal, to be presented to Robinson's family by President George W. Bush, is the highest honor that our nation can bestow on a citizen for non-military achievements.