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Quentin Batalillon

General News 2024

MLB is finally embracing the Negro Leagues

Major League Baseball (MLB) has long been considered “America’s pastime,” but it still struggles to represent the vast diversity of the United States, a problem that dates back to the league’s inception at the dawn of the 20th century. Despite efforts to increase participation among Black youth, the MLB remains largely devoid of Black players only 6.2% of MLB players fall into this demographic this season, with even less representation among managers and owners.

Still, MLB has accomplished the admirable, if woefully overdue, task of bringing the history of the Negro League back into the mainstream by fully integrating the Black-only league’s statistics into its comprehensive May records. The league honored this often overlooked aspect of American baseball history in one special match on June 20 between the San Francisco giants And St. Louis Cardinals at Rickwood Field. The stadium in Birmingham, Alabama, the oldest in the US, recently served as dead Legend of Giants Willie Mays’ home field during the Hall-of-Famer’s first few seasons, during which he played professionally as a teenager with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, professional baseball exemplified the nation’s racial segregation. African American players were allowed to play against each other in the Negro Leagues from 1920 to the late 1940s, as they were prohibited from competing against the likes of Babe Rutte, Walter JohnsonAnd Ty Cobb in the Major Leagues. Because of the color of their skin, black stars from that period resemble famous sluggers Josh Gibson and speed demon James Thomas (Cool Papa Bell), did not have the opportunity to test their elite skills against the white Major Leaguers. That didn’t change until Jackie Robinson history made with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers in 1947. He opened the floodgates for other Negro League pioneers such as Mays, Larry DobyAnd Bookbag Paige to follow him into the changing MLB, a league with some teams initially more open to roster segregation than others. Aside from Jackie Robinson, who played only 34 games in the Negro League, it wasn’t until 1971 in the MLB, twenty years after the Negro League went bankrupt, that Paige became the first sales representative in Cooperstown. To this day, the baseball Hall-of-Fame has more than 300 inductees, but only one 37 of which come from one of the most influential baseball leagues in this country.

People like Robinson, Mays and Henk Aaron spent very little time in the Negro Leagues before truly making his mark in historic MLB careers. Jackie hit four home runs with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 before Branch Rickey signed the explosive athlete to the Dodgers. In 1951, Aaron parlayed his impressive play with the Indianapolis Clowns into a contract with the Indianapolis Clowns Atlanta (formerly Boston) Bravesthe team with which he would bash a record number of home runs.

Doby and Paige, on the other hand, both spent more time in the Negro Leagues before initiating the integration of the American League (AL). Doby played for the Newark Eagles of the Negro League from 1942 to 1946, leading the team to the title in his last full season (1946). In 1947, Doby signed with the Cleveland Guardians (FKA Indians), becoming the first African-American player in the AL. He excelled in the MLB, making annual All-Star Game appearances from 1949-1955. In his first full season (1948), Doby hit .301 with 14 home runs and 66 RBIs, playing a major factor in Cleveland’s victory in the World Series. Legendary pitcher Paige, then 42 years old, joined Doby on the Indians’ championship team and posted a 6-1 record with a 2.48 ERA in 21 games. He spent the next year with Cleveland and then four more years in the Majors, with his achievements not diminishing despite his advanced age. It certainly would have been fun to see how Paige, perhaps the greatest Negro League pitcher ever and one of the greatest pitchers of all time, would have fared against the likes of all-time great hitters Ruth, Stan MusialAnd Joe DiMaggio.

If Paige was the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues, Gibson was the best power hitter, as the Hall-of-Fame catcher routinely fired monster home runs during his 15-year playing career with the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays. With the integration of the Negro League statistics into the MLB record books, the man nicknamed the “Black Babe Ruth” now has the highest single-season (.466) and career (.372) batting average in MLB history. Since there isn’t as much knowledge about the Negro Leagues, no one really knows how many home runs he’s amassed, nor the farthest he’s ever hit. This prodigious talent was robbed of the opportunity to shine in the MLB and team with or against his white counterpart Ruth on the same diamond.

He isn’t the only player whose achievements remain undocumented in baseball history. Bell’s career achievements are also half-shrouded in mystery with limited information about the famed speedster whose exploits on the base paths preceded and likely inspired Lou Brock And by Rickey Henderson record-breaking careers.

While Gibson and Cool Papa Bell each had one excellent carrying tool, a fellow Negro League standout Oscar Charleston was a five-tool player. One of the league’s first elite players, he consistently batted above .300, sometimes above .400, and served as a reliable run-producer, outfielder and base stealer on the various teams for which he played from 1920-1941.

Likewise, even though Paige is the most famous pitcher, “Bullet” Joe Rogan And “Smokey” Joe Williams were two other Negro League aces. Two-way sensation ‘Bullet’ was one of the faces of the dominant Kansas City Monarchs team of the 1920s. “Smoky‘ was no slouch, as the likes of Cobb thought he would have dominated in the MLB, and the hard-throwing Texan often outscored Major League stars in exhibition games. But because both pitchers retired from playing before integration, they are not as well known as Paige.

Fast forward to 2024 and MLB is still working to address diversity within the league. African American players remain the underrepresented minority (after a short-lived post-integration surge), overshadowed by white and Latino players. Last week’s game at Rickwood Field featured only two black players: the Cardinals hitters Masyn Winn And Victor Scott II. The Giants’ first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr. desperately wanted to play, but the league denied the team’s request to take him off the injured list for that game.

So there is much more work to be done. For starters, MLB would be wise to plan more activities to acknowledge American baseball’s racist history, engage and inspire Black players, umpires and managers, and ensure that last week’s special game is not a was a one-off match. experience.

Main image: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

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