The Glory Years
In 1933, Negro League baseball finally got the financial support it needed to show off its superior brand of baseball... albeit from shady sources. Bar owner Gus Greenlee, known for his involvement in gambling and racketeering, raided teams throughout the country and formed a league of his own that showcased top players. The league was again called the Negro National League and featured the Pittsburgh Crawfords, whose members included future Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and pitcher Satchel Paige.
Negro League records are widely incomplete, but the 6'1", 210 pound Gibson's accomplishments are legendary. He is considered the first and only player to hit the ball completely out of Yankee Stadium. Though he didn't always bat against professional pitching, he is credited with hitting 75 home runs in 1931, 69 in 1934, 84 in 1936 and 962 over his entire career. As a catcher for the Homestead Grays, he combined with fellow Hall of Famer Buck Leonard to form the "Thunder Twins," the black version of Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Satchel Paige, ace of the Crawfords, was perhaps the most colorful player of the era. Brimming with confidence, he used to send his entire infield into the dugout when the opposing team's best hitter stepped to the plate. He reportedly played over 2,000 games in the '20s and '30s.
Cool Papa Bell is one of the most dangerous hitters and undoubtedly the fastest base runner the Negro Leagues had ever seen. His speed lent itself to unending "fish" stories, most notably one that had Bell hitting a ground ball up the middle that hit him while sliding into second.
Over 20,000 fans filed into Comiskey Park to watch the Negro National League All-Star Game in 1933. By 1937, a sister league, the Negro American League, was formed. Thanks to the respect and popularity of these players and many like them, the leagues prospered in the '30s and well into the 1940s, when the color barrier was finally broken.