Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-Century America

By Patrick B. Miller; David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

4

"A GENERAL UNDERSTANDING"

Organized Baseball and Black Professional Baseball, 1900-1930

Neil Lanctot

We do not believe that there exists any rule or bylaw excluding the colored man from organized baseball, but there appears to be a general understanding all along the line that Cubans, (provided they do not come too black), Chinese, Indians and every one else under the sun, be allowed his chance to measure, except the black man…. Perhaps, some day, a Regular American baseball man will establish a precedent-maybe.

-Black sportswriter Ira Lewis, 1920.

WHILE THE OUTLOOK FOR professional black baseball appeared increasingly negative in the spring of 1928, African Americans were momentarily encouraged by renewed discussion in several daily newspapers of the long dormant issue of organized baseball's color barrier, triggered by the appearance of Andy Cohen, a Jew, in the New York Giants starting lineup. In the nearly thirty years since the last appearance of a black player in the minor leagues, black baseball had developed dramatically, yet its sportswriters, fans, and players continued to hope for the integration of the white professional game. Even Rube Foster's formation of the Negro National League (NNL) in 1920 had been partially motivated by a desire to prepare black players for their eventual entrance into major league baseball. Although the pre-Depression era is usually considered insignificant in the fight for integration, several noteworthy developments influenced the subsequent course of the assault on baseball's color line in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Organized baseball, despite its unwritten yet unyielding ban of African Americans after 1899, hardly remained isolated from black professional baseball. Eager to supplement their modest salaries, major and minor league players arranged exhibition games against black professional clubs and strong white semipro teams during spring training, on off days, and at the end of the season. As early as 1885, the Cuban Giants booked games against the New York Metropolitans and the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association and later faced other league clubs, including the St. Louis Browns and Cincinnati Red Stockings as well as the National League's Kansas City Cowboys, Indianapolis Hoosiers, Boston Beaneaters, and Detroit Wolverines. Bud Fowler's Page Fence Giants also competed against major leaguers, losing twice to the Cincinnati Reds in 1895.

-63-

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