Clem's Baseball home

The Negro Leagues:
Our national pastime segregated,
1920-1950




Origins: the 1920s

Mirroring the unspoken but universally understood norm of racial segregation in American society, our national pastime excluded a vast pool of talent from the lineup for many decades. Early in the 20th century some dark-skinned players from Cuba were signed by major league franchises, but no one with obvious African features was allowed to play. It can hardly be a coincidence that more than one Negro team was named "Cubans." What is curious is why the name "Giants" and the adjective "Elite" were so popular in the Negro leagues. Seven Negro league teams' names included the word "black," and one other was named the "Browns." Sparked by the rise of social consciousness during World War I, the Negro leagues emerged during the 1920s and played a vital role in the development of the sport until the middle of the century.

Originally, the Negro teams had to make do with whatever stadium they were allowed to play in. In some cases, the field was in a public park with substandard outfield dimensions, and sometimes there wasn't even an outfield fence! Operating on a shoestring budget, many Negro league franchises were virtual "fly-by-night" operations. Indeed, beginning in 1929, the Kansas City Monarchs pioneered in attracting fans to night games by towing their own portable field lighting system from city to city. They were one of the most successful of all the Negro league teams, while many other teams seemed to spring up and then vanish almost overnight.

For most of the three decades of Negro league ball, there were two rival leagues in operation. Hence each of the three sections of this page show two separate tables, one for each league. NOTE: The franchises listed in four of the following six tables are "typical approximations," which means that these were the teams that played during most of the period in question. There were, however, a large number of additions and deletions from one year to the next, as you can see in the detailed chronology table. Indeed, trying to cross-reference all the franchises with similar names, often in the same city, has been an enormous task -- and it's not over yet! Pending further research, this information should be considered as not definitive.

NOTE: In each of the following tables, there are links to the pages of major league stadiums in the time periods when the Negro League teams used them. If the stadium was also used by a major league stadium team at the same time for most of the period in question (i.e., not subsequently), that table cell is shaded gray.

Negro National League, 1920-1931
(typical approximation)
City Team Stadium
Birmingham Black Barons Rickwood Field
Chicago American Giants South Side Park III
Detroit Stars Tiger Stadium
Indianapolis ABC's ABC's Park
Kansas City Monarchs Muehlebach Field*
Memphis Red Sox Martin Park
St. Louis Stars Stars Field
KEY: link to other Web site shared with MLB team

The Negro National League was founded in 1920 by Rube Foster, a black entrepreneur.

 
Eastern Colored League, 1923-1928
(typical approximation)
City Team Stadium
Atlantic City Bacharach Giants Bacharach Park
Baltimore Black Sox Maryland Baseball Park
Brooklyn Royal Giants Dexter Park
Harrisburg Giants West End Grounds
New York Lincoln Giants Catholic Protectory Oval
New York Cuban Stars Dyckman Oval
Philadelphia Hilldales Hilldale Park

The Eastern Colored League was run by white businessmen. It collapsed in 1928.


Interlude: 1932

Hard times dealt a cruel blow to African-American baseball. Rube Foster's National League benefited briefly from the collapse of the white-owned Eastern Colored League in 1928, but several of the franchises just couldn't make it. An attempt to reorganize the Negro leagues in 1932 failed almost from the outset. One sad consequence was that disreputable promoters such as Gus Greenlee came to dominate the Negro leagues, which were tainted with dirty money of rum runners and gambling houses. A "silver lining" of the Great Depression was that the financial stress on major league franchises created an incentive that paved the way for future integration. Thus, more and more of the Negro teams were allowed to play in the stadiums owned by (white) major league teams. Cincinnati and Washington had been the first to do so (albeit for only one year apiece in the early 1920s), followed many years later by Brooklyn, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and New York (Black Yankees). Two Negro league teams played in stadiums that would later become the home field of relocated major league franchises: the Kansas City Monarchs and the Baltimore Elite Giants.

Negro East-West League, 1932
City Team Stadium
Baltimore Black Sox Bugle Field
Newark (Bloomfield) Browns Spague (Gen. Elec.) Field
Cleveland Cubs Cubs Stadium
Detroit Wolves Tiger Stadium &
Hamtramck Stadium
New York Cuban Stars Dyckman Oval
Pittsburgh Crawfords Gus Greenlee Field
Washington Pilots Griffith Stadium
Philadelphia (Yeardon) Hilldales Hilldale Park
KEY: link to other Web site shared with MLB team
 
Negro Southern League, 1932
City Team Stadium
Atlanta Black Crackers Ponce de Leon Park
Birmingham Black Barons Rickwood Field
Chicago American Giants South Side Park III
Indianapolis ABC's ABC's Field
Little Rock Grays Travellers Field
Louisville Black Caps Parkway Field
Memphis Red Sox Martin Park
Monroe, LA Monarchs Casino Park
Montgomery, AL Grey Sox Cramton Bowl
Nashville, TN Elite Giants Wilson Park

Latter years: the 1930s & 1940s

After the dust cleared from the chaotic early 1930s, four of the franchises from the original Negro National League ended up switching to the Negro American League: Birmingham, Chicago, Kansas City, and Memphis. (Three of them had played in the Negro Southern League in 1932, while the "glamorous" Kansas City Monarchs played as an independent "barnstorming" team.) Meanwhile, two former Eastern Colored League franchises, Philadelphia and the New York Cubans, in effect migrated (via the Negro East-West League) to the new Negro National League. One odd coincidence developed at this time: virtually all of the Negro American League teams were from cities whose names started with A through M, while virtually all of the Negro National League teams were from cities whose names started with N through W.

Two months after the first Major League All-Star Game was held in Comiskey Park on July 6, 1933, a similar event was held in the same place for the Negro leagues, pitting the East against the West. Unlike the Major League All-Star Game, the Negro league version was held in that same venue for every year thereafter. That game was the climax of the year for the Negro leagues, since the "world series" championships they held did not generate as much fan interest.

Ever ready to make uses of their adversity, the Negro league players played a pioneering role in popularizing baseball in Latin America. Since they tended to be from economically deprived backgrounds, many of them played baseball in Mexico, Cuba, or the Dominican Republic during the winter months. They were usually welcomed warmly, and it was the first time many of them had ever experienced being treated as a dignified human being.

Not many people know about the man who is considered the greatest Negro league player of all time: Josh Gibson, who would have ranked alongside Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and other white super-sluggers. He is believed to have hit more home runs out of Griffith Stadium than all American League batters combined during the years he played there! Largely because of a self-destructive high-risk lifestyle, however, he died in January 1947, still in his mid-thirties.

Gibson's death took place, ironically, just as Jackie Robinson was about to break the Major League color barrier. The Brooklyn Dodgers franchise owner, Branch Rickey, had signed Robinson to play with the Montreal Royals farm club in 1946, and he quickly became a popular star. When Rickey let it be known that he intended to bring Robinson up to the big leagues in early 1947, some Dodgers players passed around a petition declaring their refusal to play with a black person, but Pee Wee Reese stood up against the racists, forcing them to back down. A combination of moral courage, a desire to win, and financial self-interest paved the way for a landmark social reform that hastened the forward march of civil rights in America. Robinson proved his worth by winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1947; at the age of 28, he was much older than most major league rookies.

Robinson was soon followed by ace pitcher Satchel Paige, catcher Roy Campanella, and outfielders Larry Doby and Willie Mays. This hemmorhage of talent left the Negro Leagues without their best players, and as the color barrier gradually crumbled, there was no longer any reason for it to exist. The Negro National League folded after the 1948 season, though three of its franchises continued to play for the next two years in the Negro American League, which folded at the end of 1950. One of these three teams, the Newark Eagles, relocated to Houston. Other African-American baseball greats from the era of segregation included "Cool Papa" Bell and Buck O'Neill, a charming and warm-hearted man who was interviewed at length for Ken Burns' Baseball documentary series. They never played in the majors, either.

Negro National League, 1933-1948
(typical approximation)
City Team Stadium
Newark Eagles Ruppert Stadium
New York Cubans Grove Street Oval
(East Orange, NJ)
New York Black Yankees Hinchliffe Stadium
(Paterson, NJ)
& Yankee Stadium
Philadelphia Stars Penmar Park
Pittsburgh &
Washington
Homestead Grays Forbes Field &
Griffith Stadium

The Homestead Grays were an all-star team based in Pittsburgh, put together by a sophisticated, enlightened black entrepreneur named Cumberland Posey, Jr. Beginning in 1940, they played their home games in both Pittsburgh AND Washington, depending on whenever the Pirates or Senators were out of town. In 1931 they won 136 games and lost only 10. His rival was Gus Greenlee, who got rich from running gambling joints and bootleg liquor, and used his money to entice players into signing with his teams.

 
Negro American League, 1937-1950
(typical approximation)
City Team Stadium
Baltimore Elite Giants Venable Stadium *
Birmingham Black Barons Rickwood Field
Chicago American Giants Comiskey Park I
Cleveland Buckeyes League Park II
Indianapolis Clowns ABC's Field
Kansas City Monarchs Muehlebach Field *
Memphis Red Sox Martin Park
KEY: link to other Web site shared with MLB team

* Roll the mouse cursor over table cells with asterisks to see further details.


Negro league franchises, 1920-1950: A year-to-year chronology
City Team 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50
Akron Black Tyrites N
Atlanta Black Crackers S A
Atlantic City Bacharach Giants E
Baltimore Black Sox E EW N
Baltimore Elite Giants A A
Birmingham Black Barons N N S A A
Brooklyn Royal Giants E
Brooklyn Eagles N
Chicago Giants N
Chicago American Giants N S N A A
Cincinnati Cuban Stars N
Cincinnati Tigers A
Cincinnati Clowns A
Cleveland Cubs N EW
Cleveland Giants N
Cleveland Bears A
Cleveland Buckeyes A A
Columbus Bluebirds N
Columbus Elite Giants N
Dayton Marcos N N
Detroit Stars N N A
Detroit Wolves EW
City Team 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50
Harrisburg Giants E N
Houston Eagles A
Indianapolis ABC's N N S A
Indianapolis Crawfords A
Indianapolis Clowns A A
Jacksonville Red Caps A A
Kansas City Monarchs N I A
Little Rock Grays S
Louisville White Sox N
Louisville Black Caps S
Louisville Buckeyes A
Memphis Red Sox N N S A A
Milwaukee Bears N
Monroe, LA Monarchs S
Montgomery, AL Grey Sox S
Nashville, TN Elite Giants N S N
Newark Stars E
Newark Browns EW
Newark Dodgers N
Newark Eagles N
New Orleans - St. Louis Stars A
City Team 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50
New York Lincoln Giants E E A
New York Cuban Stars N E A N EW
New York Cubans N N N A
New York Black Yankees N N N N
Philadelphia Hilldales E A EW
Philadelphia Tigers E
Philadelphia Stars N N A
Philadelphia Bacharach Giants N
Pittsburgh Keystones N
Pittsburgh & Washington Homestead Grays A EW N N N N
Pittsburgh Crawfords EW N
St. Louis Giants N
St. Louis Stars N
Toledo Tigers N
Toledo Crawfords A
Washington Potomacs E
Washington Pilots EW
Washington Elite Giants N
Washington Black Senators N
City Team 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

NOTE: The letters N, E, A, S, and EW indicate which league(s) each team played in, as explained at the bottom of this table. To see the name of the stadium where each team usually played, roll the mouse cursor over the table cell with the team's name. You can also see if a team played in some other stadium by rolling the mouse cursor over the table segments for those particular time periods. Many teams played in various stadiums on a temporary basis, and some franchises relocated or ceased operations in the middle of the season.


KEY:
N = Negro National League
E = Eastern Colored League
A = Negro American League
S = Negro Southern League
EW = Negro East-West League

NOTE: Teams that relocated from one city to another are denoted by lavender backgrounds. Information in this table is subject to revision.


Number of franchises in Negro Leagues
League 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50
Negro National League 7 6 7 10 8 7 7 6 7 7 8 11 9? 7 9 7 6 6 5 5 5 5 6 5 5 5 5 5
Eastern Colored League 7 8 7 8 7 5
Negro American League 4 6 8 7 7 7 6 7 8 7 7 7 7 10 10
Negro East-West League 8
Negro Southern League 10

NOTE: Information in this table is subject to revision.

SOURCES: Philip J. Lowry, Green Cathedrals (1992, 2006); Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Baseball: An Illustrated History (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994)>


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