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Negro Leagues

From BR Bullpen


The Negro Leagues are the various professional baseball leagues which were set up by and for African-American players because of Major League Baseball's enforcement of the color line. In 2020, MLB decided to recognize the top Negro Leagues that were active between 1920 and 1948 as major leagues, joining those so designated since the time of the publication of the first MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia in 1969. This decision affected seven different leagues: the first Negro National League (1920-1931), the Eastern Colored League (1923-1928), the American Negro League (1929), the East-West League (1932), the Negro Southern League (1932), the second Negro National League (1933-1948) and the Negro American League (1937-1948). As a result, statistics compiled in these leagues are now considered as official and added to the record. This should not obscure the fact that there were Negro Leagues set up long before 1920, and that they persisted for a time after the beginning of integration, but the period selected represents the heyday of the Negro Leagues. The Negro League Statistical Review Committee, headed by baseball's official historian John Thorn, was established at that time in order to assist in the integration of Negro League statistics into the official record of baseball.

Fighting To Prevent Segregation[edit]

On June 19, 1846, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York played the New York Base Ball Club in the very first baseball game at Elysian Fields. Black baseball began fourteen years later, as the Colored Union Club (New York) was defeated 11-0 by the Weeksville of New York in a full nine-inning contest. By 1865, black teams were cropping up all around the eastern United States, including the Monitor Club of Jamaica, NY, the Bachelors of Albany, NY, the Excelsiors of Philadelphia, PA, the Blue Sky Club of Camden, NJ, the Monrovia Club of Harrisburg, PA, and the Unique Club of Chicago, IL. In the late 1860s, the first true black baseball power, the Pythians, was established by a pair of former cricket players, James H. Francis and Francis Wood.

In 1867, the teams began playing regularly, the Pythians going 9-1 with the sole loss to the Bachelors, who dominated both they and the Excelsiors on the same day. This could not have been easy, since the Pythians sported outfielder John Cannon, with whom the white players were impressed, and pitcher George Brown who was called the best amateur pitcher of his day, as well as a good hitter and excellent fielder.

The first black championship was played for in 1869. Pythians promoter Octavius Catto dubbed a game the World Colored Championship, in which the Pythians defeated the Uniques to finish the eleven-game season undefeated. The team began to regularly beat white teams, but on October 10, 1871, thirty-one-year-old leader Catto was murdered by a white man as he exited the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, where he was a professor. His killer was released quickly. The Pythians never again achieved the same level of success.

The first true black star was infielder Bud Fowler, who, at just fourteen years of age, was playing second base for a professional white team in Pennsylvania in 1872. The magazine Sporting Life took a special interest in Fowler, and followed him as he reappeared in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Iowa, Ontario, and Colorado, calling him one of the best baseball players in the nation, skin color notwithstanding.

In 1876, with the formation of the National League, white baseball was booming, but just three black players slipped into the new major leagues before Robinson opened the floodgates. Bill White is believed to have been the first, playing a single game at first base in 1879 for the Providence Grays. Fleet Walker was the first to get significant playing time in the big leagues in 1884 as a catcher with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association. Fleet played 42 games and his brother Welday Walker snuck in five times in the outfield that year. Fleet was released after cracking a rib in July of 1885. He signed on with Cleveland of the Western League; when that team folded, he went to the Eastern League and then the Southern New England League. He spent three seasons in the International League before becoming a writer and hotel owner in Steubenville, OH.

Great players like Fowler, Walker, pitcher George Stovey, and second baseman Frank Grant flourished in minor leagues such as the International League while enduring the same kinds of threats that Fleet went through in the majors by players such as Cap Anson. On July 14, 1887, Anson's Chicago White Stockings were readying to play an exhibition game against Newark of the International League, featuring ace pitcher Stovey. Anson threatened that he would not play if Stovey did, and he reportedly uttered the infamous line, "Get that nigger off the field." Stovey was then said to be "sick." Blacks continued to play in the minors throughout the 19th century, but leagues began banning them. Bill Galloway played 20 games in the Canadian League in 1899 and is believed to have been the last black in the minors until 1946 - except for a couple of brief exceptions.

Before Organization[edit]

Prior to 1920 all black teams survived largely on exhibition games against other pro teams or local and company teams. This habit survived the forming of the Negro Leagues with exhibition games making up over half of teams' schedules.

A League Is Formed[edit]

For nearly fifty years the black teams had survived through barnstorming tours alone. However, the influence of Nat Strong, who controlled the booking of stadiums on the east coast, where baseball was then centered, was threatening that. In 1920, in Kansas City, MO, Rube Foster organized the first official Negro League, the Negro National League, consisting of eight midwestern teams. In 1923, Hilldale owner Ed Bolden started the Eastern Colored League with 6 teams and began raiding the NNL for talent.

The Roaring 20s and 30s[edit]

The heyday of the Negro Leagues was in the 1920s and 1930s.


By the early 1940s, many of the top players were competing in Mexico, Cuba and other Latin American countries with less racist attitudes and higher salaries. The Negro Leagues crumbled quickly after Major League Baseball and the northern minors integrated and only Globetrotters-style clowning teams survived into the late 1950s and 1960s.

After Integration[edit]

Negro Leaguers In The Hall of Fame (44)[edit]

Other True Stars[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • "First set of findings from the Negro Leagues Statistical Review Committee",, May 29, 2024. [1]
  • Rebecca T. Alpert: Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2011. ISBN 978-0195399004
  • William Brashler: The Story of Negro League Baseball, Ticknor & Fields, New York, NY, 1994.
  • James E. Brunson III: The Early Image of Black Baseball: Race and Representation in the Popular Press, 1871-1890, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7864-4206-5
  • James E. Brunson III: Black Baseball, 1858–1900: A Comprehensive Record of the Teams, Players, Managers, Owners and Umpires, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2019. ISBN 978-0-7864-9417-0
  • Brian Carroll: When to Stop the Cheering?: The Black Press, the Black Community and the Integration of Professional Baseball, Routledge, New York, NY, 2006.
  • Anthony Castrovince: "MLB adds Negro Leagues to official records",, December 16, 2020. [2]
  • Anthony Castrovince: "Here is where Negro Leagues stars rank among the game's best",, February 14, 2022. [3]
  • Anthony Castrovince: "The ongoing search through history to give Negro Leaguers their due: With 3 who played in Negro Leagues surviving, MLB works to incorporate stats into record",, November 6, 2023. [4]
  • Anthony Castrovince: "What to know about Negro Leagues stats entering MLB record",, May 29, 2024. [5]
  • Mark Chiarello and Jack Morelli: Heroes of the Negro Leagues, Harry N. Adrams, New York, NY, 2007. ISBN 978-0810994348
  • Michael Clair: "15 Negro Leagues locations you need to see",, February 27, 2020. [6]
  • Michael Clair: "The 10 most iconic Negro Leagues uniforms: Uniforms as great as the players who wore them",, August 14, 2020. [7]
  • Michael Clair: "Negro Leagues stats no longer stuff of legend: The search for the most complete record continues",, November 17, 2020. [8]
  • Mary E. Corey and Mark Harnischfeger: Before Jackie: The Negro Leagues, Civil Rights and the American Dream, Paramount Books, Ithaca, NY, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9851795-4-0
  • Jerry Craft and Kathleen Sullivan: Pitching for the Stars: My Seasons Across the Color Line, Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, TX, 2013. ISBN 978-0896727878
  • Sean Forman and Cecilia M. Tan, eds.: The Negro Leagues Are Major Leagues: Essays and Research for Overdue Recognition, Baseball-Reference and SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2021. ISBN ISBN 978-1-970159-63-9
  • John Graf, ed.: From Rube to Robinson: SABR's Best Articles on Black Baseball, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2021. ISBN 978-1-970159-41-7
  • Steven R. Greenes: Negro Leaguers and the Hall of Fame: The Case for Inducting 24 Overlooked Ballplayers, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2020. ISBN 978-1-4766-7268-7
  • Daryl Russell Grigsby: Celebrating Ourselves: African-Americans and the Promise of Baseball, Dog Ear Publishing LLC, Indianapolis, IN, 2010. ISBN 978-160844-798-5
  • Thomas Harrigan: "These stars got their start in Negro Leagues",, February 1, 2022. [9]
  • Christopher Hauser: The Negro Leagues Chronology: Events in Organized Black Baseball 1920-1948, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2006. ISBN 978-0-7864-4236-2
  • Leslie A. Heaphy: The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2003.
  • Lawrence D. Hogan, ed.: Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues & the Story of African-American Baseball, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, NY, 2006. ISBN 978-0792253068
  • Lawrence D. Hogan: The Forgotten History of African American Baseball, Praeger, Santa Barbara, CA, 2014. ISBN 978-0313379840
  • Bill James: "The Negro Leagues", in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, The Free Press, New York, NY, 2001, pp. 166-196.
  • Brent Kelley: Voices from the Negro Leagues: Conversations with 52 Baseball Standouts of the Period 1924–1960, McFalrand, Jefferson, NC, 1998. ISBN 978-0-7864-2279-1
  • Brent Kelley: The Negro Leagues Revisited: Conversations with 66 More Baseball Heroes, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2000. ISBN 978-0-7864-4695-7
  • Brent Kelley: “I Will Never Forget”: Interviews with 39 Former Negro League Players, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7864-4694-0
  • Matt Kelly: "5 innovations adopted from the Negro Leagues",, February 13, 2022. [10]
  • Neil Lanctot: Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution, University of Pennsylvania Press, College Park, PA, 2004.
  • Chris Landers: "Eight outrageous tales from Negro Leagues history: Is there a ballpark Josh Gibson didn't hit a ball out of?",, February 17, 2020. [11]
  • Philip Lee: Black Stats Matter: Integrating Negro League Numbers into Major League Records, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2022. ISBN 978-1-4766-8834-3
  • Michael E. Lomax: Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1860-1901: Operating by Any means Necessary Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY, 2003. ISBN 978-0815629702
  • Michael Lomax: Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1902-1931: The Negro National and Eastern Colored Leagues, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8156-1039-7
  • William F. McNeil: Black Baseball Out of Season: Pay for Play Outside of the Negro Leagues, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007.
  • William F. McNeil: Cool Papas and Double Duties: The All-Time Greats of the Negro Leagues, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2005.
  • Matt Monagan: "The wild hobby of collecting Negro League cards: Al Jurgela has been uncovering these rare cards for decades",, February 23, 2022. [12]
  • Bob Motley and Brian Motley: Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants & Stars: Umpiring in the Negro Leagues & Beyond, Sports Publishing LLC, Champaign, IL, 2007.
  • Kadir Nelson: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, Jump at the Sun, Hyperion Books for Children, New York, NY, 2008. ISBN 978-0786808328
  • Roberta Newman: "Pitching Behind the Color Line: Baseball, Advertising, and Race", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Number 36 (2007), pp. 81-90.
  • Roberta J. Newman and Nathan Rosen: Black Baseball, Black Business: Race Enterprise and the Fate of the Segregated Dollar, The University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS, 2014. ISBN 978-1617039546
  • Robert Peterson: Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1992 (originally published in 1970). The classic history of the Negro Leagues.
  • Todd Peterson: "May the Best Man Win: The Black Ball Championships 1866-1923", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 42, Number 1 (Spring 2013), pp. 7-24.
  • Todd Peterson, ed.: The Negro Leagues Were Major Leagues: Historians Reappraise Black Baseball, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2020. ISBN 978-1-4766-6514-6
  • Mike Petriello: "How Negro Leaguers may alter leaderboards",, December 17, 2020. [13]
  • Jim Reisler: Black Writers/Black Baseball: An Anthology of Articles from Black Sportswriters who Covered the Negro Leagues, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007.
  • James A. Riley: Of Monarchs and Black Barons: Essays on Baseball's Negro Leagues, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2012. ISBN 0786465425
  • Donn Rogosin: Invisible Men: Life in Baseball's Negro Leagues, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2020. ISBN 978-1-4962-2339-5 (originally published in 1983).
  • Rob Ruck: Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game, Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 2012. ISBN 978-0807048078
  • Kazuo Sayama and Bill Staples Jr.: Gentle Black Giants: A History of Negro Leaguers in Japan, Nisei Research Project Press, Fresno, CA, 2019. ISBN 978-0578501338
  • Scott Simkus: Outsider Baseball: The Weird World of Hardball on the Fringe, 1876–1950, Chicago Review Press, Chicago, IL, 2014. ISBN 978-1613748169
  • Sarah L. Trembanis: The Set-Up Men: Race, Culture and Resistance in Black Baseball, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2014. ISBN 978-0-7864-7796-8
  • Sol White: Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide, Summer Game Books, South Orange, NJ, 2014. (originally published in 1906) ISBN 978-1-938545-21-4

External Links[edit]

Negro Leagues

Major Leagues
American Negro League East-West League Eastern Colored League Negro American League Negro National League Negro Southern League

Other Leagues: League of Colored Baseball Clubs | West Coast Negro Baseball League
Integrated Leagues (Pre-1947): Middle States League | Nebraska State League

Related Articles: East-West Game | Negro World Series | Special Committee on the Negro Leagues | 2006 Special Committee on the Negro Leagues Election
Related Categories: Ballparks | Executives | Managers | Owners | Players | Teams