Negro League Baseball: Gone But Not Forgotten
A Temporary Breakthrough
|"If this ain't the big leagues, there ain't no such thing!" |
Despite this fact, Negro League Baseball began to flourish. Several immensely talented leagues formed, most with very loyal fan bases. In 1908, Andrew "Rube" Foster, star pitcher and owner of the Leland Giants in Chicago, finally orchestrated a desegregated three-game series between his team and the Chicago Cubs of the National League. Played at Comiskey Park in front of huge crowds, the Cubs won all three games — but closely, proving the relative equality of talent on the two teams. Over the next decade, Negro League teams played over fifty games with Major League teams, winning more than they lost.
In 1919, Foster pleaded with Major League commissioner Kennesaw "Mountain" Landis to allow a Black team into the majors, citing the obvious increased revenues from thousands of Black baseball fans. He was ultimately denied and formed his own Black major league — the Negro National League. In 1923, the Eastern Colored League was formed, and in 1924, the champions of both leagues met in the first Negro World Series. Both leagues succeeded throughout the roaring '20s but by 1931, after Foster's death and in the midst of the Great Depression, were wiped out.
Not Just Clowning Around
During the 1930s, again with hopes of attracting white fans, Black baseball games were often coupled with singing, dancing and comedy skits. The Ethiopian Clowns toured the south, playing their games with their hats on sideways and their faces painted like African tribesmen. The Zulu Cannibal Giants took it a step further. Not only did they paint their faces but they wore grass skirts, used bats resembling African war clubs and often played in bare feet. Underneath the paint and the ridiculous getups were some of the best athletes of that era. Negro League legends David Barnhill and Buck O'Neil were members of the Clowns, and the team's legitimacy was proven in 1941 when it joined the established Negro American League.