Negro League Baseball
History and key players in baseball's gone—but not forgotten—league
by Michael Morrison
Have you ever heard of Oscar Charleston? He's recognized by some as one of the most talented baseball players of all time. His career has been compared to both Ty Cobb's and Babe Ruth's. In 1921, he batted .430 and led the league in doubles, triples and home runs. He retired with a .376 batting average, and in 1976 was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Yet sadly, the answer to the question just asked is probably "no" — because Charleston played at a time when blacks weren't allowed to play in the "white" major leagues. He is just one of literally thousands of exceptional ball players that segregation robbed of the recognition and the opportunities they richly deserved.
The Early Stages
In May, 1878, John "Bud" Fowler became the first black player to play professionally, albeit in the minors, when he took the mound for the Lynn Live Oaks of the International League. Throughout the 1880's, despite a prevalence of segregation, many black players suited up for minor league teams and finally in 1884, Moses "Fleetwood" Walker became the first black baseball player to reach the majors when his Toledo Blue Stockings joined the majors' American Association. Unfortunately it was short-lived, as the team could not survive financially and folded after the 1884 season. The talent exhibited by Walker and the other black players was unquestioned ,and according to reports, began to scare white players who felt that their jobs might be in jeopardy. Black players were greeted more and more with "Whites Only" signs on locker room doors, and by the late 1880s, the color barrier was in full effect.
The first all-black team was put together in 1885 and was for a short time known as the "Argyle Athletics." They toured the Northeast, often playing the best white teams in the area, but were usually met with resistance from white fans. With hopes of attracting more white fans to the games, team owner Walter Cook attempted to fool them by changing the name of the team to the Cuban Giants. Players were even instructed to avoid speaking English while in public and on the field. The scheme worked for a while but by the turn of the century, no black players or teams were allowed to play with whites.