Negro League Baseball: Gone But Not Forgotten


Jackie Robinson
 Robinson wasn't the most talented player in the Negro Leagues, but Rickey considered him the most "suitable" player to desegregate baseball. The fact that he was married —and wouldn't give white ballplayers the impression that he would pursue their girlfriends— and his time in the Army and in school made him the top choice.

Jackie Robinson had already spent time in the U.S. Army and been a four-sport star at UCLA when Branch Rickey, owner of the Major League's Brooklyn Dodgers, spotted him playing with the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson wasn't the most talented player the Negro Leagues had to offer, but Rickey considered him the most "suitable" player to desegregate baseball. The fact that he was married (and therefore wouldn't give white ballplayers the impression that he would pursue their white girlfriends) and his time spent interacting with whites in the Army and in school made him Rickey's top choice. When he signed him to a minor league contract in 1945, Rickey told Robinson he was "looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back." He imposed a two-year commitment to silence, which Robinson grudgingly agreed to.

He played one season in the minors with the Montreal Royals and led the team to a league championship while leading the league in batting. The racial taunts were endless, but he stayed silent. On April 15, 1947, despite a petition by several of his teammates refusing to play, Jackie Robinson made his major league debut.

He played the entire season for the Dodgers, leading the league in steals and winning the Rookie of the Year award. Three months later, Larry Doby became the first black player in the American League when he was signed by the Cleveland Indians. Paige was signed by the Indians in 1948, becoming the oldest rookie ever. He only had twenty more years of playing left in him. Robinson won the league MVP in 1949 and teammate Roy Campanella, the Majors' first black catcher, later won it three more times. Some were still hesitant and racial threats persisted, but for all intents and purposes, the barrier was broken.

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