Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson

By Bill Kirwin | Go to book overview

Introduction

No moment in baseball history is more important than the April day in 1947 when Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field, ending a ban that had extended back to 1882 prohibiting African Americans from fully participating in the National Pastime. “Cap” Anson's dictum, in 1882, of “Get that nigger off the field,” referring to the presence of black player Moses Fleetwood Walker on a Major League ground, merely reflected the overwhelming social attitude of the day. But in 1947 baseball no longer followed custom, but changed it. Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson's integration plans went beyond challenging Major League baseball's apartheid policies, their actions set in motion and preceded, by a decade, the actions of the courts and government to rectify the injustice of segregation throughout society in general.

The road to Robinson's appearance at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, was a long, often crooked, and dark one. Partially hidden and ignored by the general population, black baseball emerged as a parallel version of the National Pastime subsisting on the margins of society. Black ball differed from Major League ball in many different ways. The game as played by African American players relied on speed and offered entertainment as a bonus. Rather than the static dependence that Major League baseball placed on power hitting, Negro baseball utilized speed, bunting, and hit-and-run tactics. Attempts to organize various Negro leagues met with limited success. Andrew “Rube” Foster organized the National Negro League (NNL)in 1919. In 1923, the Eastern Colored League (ECL) was formed, resulting in the playing of the first Colored World Series in 1924. The Kansas City Monarchs of the NNL defeated the ECL representative Hillsdale Club of Philadelphia five games to four with one tie. But scheduling was erratic, finances weak, white newspapers ignored game results, and teams were required to continually barnstorm, resulting in fan apathy.1

With the onset of the Depression, the lifeblood of black teams depended more and more on owners scheduling barnstorming games against local white nines. Black teams found money and a sort of once-ayear racial acceptance if they came into a town, played the local team, won

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