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

By Bill Kirwin | Go to book overview

JERRY MALLOY


The Birth of the Cuban Giants
The Origins of Black Professional
Baseball

The Cuban Giants, the great colored base ball nine, whose appearance [in Boston]
created such interest and enthusiasm, and whose magnificent playing called forth
vociferous plaudits, has an interesting and creditable history which shall be known
of all colored and white lovers of the national sport.—New York Age
, October 15,
1887

THE CUBAN GIANTS, born in 1885, enriched a wide range of communities across the sprawling province of nineteenth-century baseball. They set a standard for black baseball excellence that would be unequalled, though not unchallenged, for ten years. And in the process, they built a foundation for black professional baseball that would survive sixty years of racial exclusion from organized baseball.

White baseball had long abandoned its origins as a gentlemen's social romp, little more than a good excuse for a smashing buffet. A muscular professionalism had propelled the game to new heights of national prestige—and commercial reward. Now, in the mid-1880s, African American baseball took a similar plunge into professionalism. Black baseball established itself as a viable economic entity when the Cuban Giants were born.

The Cuban Giants played a key role in nineteenth-century baseball's halting, uncertain drift toward the color line. The impenetrable veil of racial exclusion that ultimately prevailed obliterated memories of a more hopeful time, a time when the African American role in baseball's future was uncertain and fluid—even appeared promising. The Cuban Giants came into existence at just such a time and prepared black baseball for the harsh realities that were to follow.

Yet surprisingly little has been written about this pioneering team. Those familiar with the Cuban Giants at all probably have two vivid

-1-

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