When Black Baseball Players Had a League of Their Own

By Worful, Jessica | The Christian Science Monitor, May 12, 2008 | Go to article overview

When Black Baseball Players Had a League of Their Own


Worful, Jessica, The Christian Science Monitor


It's baseball season - time to cheer on your favorite players in the major leagues. Maybe you only root for the athletes on your home team. Or maybe you like all the guys who've got game. Either way, you probably know the names of baseball greats such as Ken Griffey Jr. of the Cincinnati Reds and Dontrelle "The D-Train" Willis of the Detroit Tigers.

African-American players like these are huge stars in professional baseball. But it took a long time for Major League Baseball to add black players to its teams.

Baseball has been played professionally in the United States since the last few decades of the 19th century. And almost from the start, white players tried to exclude black athletes from their games. But that didn't stop the black players. They formed their own leagues and competed against one another.

You can read all about the great, gritty history of African- American teams in the illustrated book, "We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball," by Kadir Nelson. (Until the 1960s, "Negro" and "colored" were commonly accepted terms for African- Americans.)

The narrator of "We Are the Ship" is a fictional Negro League player, but the story he tells is true. And the vivid oil painting illustrations show spot-on likenesses of some of the most famous figures in black baseball.

Right off the bat, the book tells readers about the Negro National League (NNL). Rube Foster, a former baseball player, formed the NNL in 1920 in the Midwest.

By 1923, a few teams split from the NNL to form the Eastern Colored League. In 1924, the two groups held the first Negro League World Series between the champions of each association.

Despite the growing success of the Negro Leagues, they often struggled financially.

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