Baseball and Jackie Robinson


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Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson

Barnstorming & the Negro Leagues: 1900s - 1930s

Professional African-American teams and short-lived "negro leagues" formed in the late 1800s. Some interracial games occurred when major league white teams played black teams in barnstorming (exhibition) games. However, during the early 1900s, blacks were not allowed to play on white professional teams in the United States.

Some baseball owners and managers of major league teams tried to hire African Americans by describing the players as Hispanic or Native American. In 1901, John McGraw, manager of the Baltimore Orioles, attempted to get black second baseman Charlie Grant into the game by calling him a Cherokee named Tokohama. The majority of owners and managers thwarted efforts like this. The baseball establishment also frowned on interracial barnstorming and white players were eventually banned from wearing their major league uniforms in these games.

In Cuba, Mexico, and other parts of Latin America, professional baseball was not segregated. Many blacks played baseball there in the winter as well as in Negro Leagues in the United States in the summer. The most viable of the Negro Leagues began in 1920 -- the Negro National League. The Negro American League started in 1937 and later absorbed the Negro National League teams.

In 1945, Jackie Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs (Negro American League) and played with such baseball legends as Satchel Paige and Martin Dihigo. Negro League competition featured speed, surprise, and more showmanship than in organized baseball. Written contracts to keep players with teams through a season were uncommon, however, and schedules were irregular.

After 1947, when major league teams began integrating, the Negro League teams lost many of their best players, and the League folded entirely in 1960. In 1990, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum opened in Kansas City, Missouri.

The bibliography lists numerous histories of Negro League baseball. Most of the contemporary coverage of the Negro Leagues at the Library of Congress is in newspapers published by the black press, for example, the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender.


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descriptive record icon enlarge image icon Harvard University Team, 1904. Library of Congress, General Collections. Reproduction #: LC-USZ62-119879

College teams were sometimes integrated. William Matthews (no. 11 in the front row) played baseball at Harvard for four years and later obtained a law degree from Boston University. He had a notable record for the Harvard Nine. To read more about African Americans in college sports, see Ocania Chalk's Black College Sport.

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descriptive record icon enlarge image iconAfrican-American baseball players of Morris Brown College, Atlanta, Georgia. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction #: LC-USZ62-114266

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Cover of the Spanish-American edition of Spalding's Official Base Ball Guide. New York: American Sports Publishing Co., 1913.
(Library of Congress, General Collections. Reproduction number: LC-USZC4-6145)

This Spanish language edition covers Cuban baseball games (including those with teams from other leagues), star players, and the sport's history.

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Jugadores del Habana.
Halftone photomechanical print in: Spalding's Official Base Ball Guide. Spanish-American edition. New York: American Sports Publishing Co., 1911, p. 18.
(Library of Congress,
General Collections. Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-119884)

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Box scores for games between Detroit and Almendares, and between Philadelphia and Havana, held in Cuba in 1910. In: Spalding's Official Base Ball Guide. Spanish-American edition. New York: American Sports Publishing Co., 1911, p. 79. (Library of Congress, General Collections.)

The names of players in the box scores indicate that games between American and Cuban teams were scheduled without regard to the race of the participants. Some Cubans also played in the Major League regular season. For example, Armando Marsans, listed here with the Almendares team, played for Cincinnati starting in 1911.