Black Baseball's National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953

Black Baseball's National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953

Black Baseball's National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953

Black Baseball's National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953

Synopsis

The verdict is in. Whatever the deficiencies of the black baseball leagues as a source of reliable statistics, no one now doubts that when the best black players assembled for the annual East-West games, which for a generation paralleled the white All-Star games, the concentration of ability on the field was second to none.

This work brings together for the first time the painstakingly assembled history of those games, including reconstructed play-by-plays and accurate statistical records. Larry Lester recaptures the vigor of black communities' united attention to the event, describes the players whose talent brought them to this pinnacle of achievement, and discusses the maneuvers of promoters, gamblers, and petty tyrants who cast an occasional shadow on the sunlit fields of Chicago.

Excerpt

Until recently, even avid fans knew little of Negro League history or the rich culture of black baseball that preceded the Jackie Robinson era in Major League Baseball. Few fans knew that for more than half a century, some of the greatest ballplayers excelled behind an artificial but very solid color line. Behind the color barrier were quality championship teams like the Kansas City Monarchs, the Homestead Grays, the Pittsburgh Crawfords, the Chicago American Giants, the Newark Eagles, the Cleveland Buckeyes, and other top professional teams. They had players with catchy names like Buck and Mule, Turkey and Rabbit, the Rev and the Devil, Cool Papa and Pop, Schoolboy and Sonnyman, Smokey and Satch, coming in all shades and sizes to play a game between the white foul lines. Only now can we examine their true greatness wficials on a World Series format from 1928 to 1941 precluded any annual championship series, making the East-West All-Star Game black baseball’s grandest attraction.

Eventually, All-Star attendance grew to over 50,000, often outdrawing its major league counterpart during the early to mid-1940s. Generally speaking, many historians, players, and fans argued that the overall success of the Chicago all-star games was one of the most important factors in the integration of Major League Baseball.

The fans chose teams by voting through the nation’s two largest black newspapers, the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier, voice of the voiceless people. Both papers were weeklies that owed much of their success to excellent political and sports coverage. These papers and smaller black presses promoted the East-West classics, giving fans across the country an opportunity to discover many stars—the batting power of Buck Leonard, George “Mule” Suttles, and Norman “Turkey” Stearnes; the lightning speed of James “Cool Papa” Bell, Willie “The Devil” Wells, and Sam Jethroe; and the pitching magic of Leon Day, Hilton Smith, and Leroy “Satchel” Paige. This abundance of talent raised optimism that black players were ready for the white majors. With black league play normally ignored by the white press, the East-West attraction offered an excuse for white America to see black baseball’s best performers under one tent.

Except for a radio broadcast of a Joe Louis fight, this game was the biggest sporting event in black America. In 1995, at the 75th anniversary dinner held by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, Monte Irvin, a 22-year-old outfielder for the Newark Eagles in 1941, recalled the tingle that surrounded the game:

One of Kansas City’s greatest was Satchel Paige. Satchel and I became great friends
after a lot of turmoil in the beginning. Satch was the center of attention, and he knew
it. As we stood around the batting cage, he’d say, “Fellas, the East-West Game belongs

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