Negro League Should Have Thrived

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I never felt it was my place to question Negro League players. To me their parks are to be viewed as temples, undefiled by incompetence and me-ism.

Hard-core athletes whose only performance enhancement was their love of the game, good times, and their own camaraderie. You see, in my opinion they didn’t deserve to gradually integrate the Major Leagues as they did, they were a financially challenged Major League.

They deserved to merge their strongest divisions with MLB, continue in their own playoffs and then the two league champions with the worst won-loss records compete in a best of seven with the team with the best record getting a bye to the World Series after surviving their own league series.

A merger, as opposed to just one player like Jackie Robinson-and later Larry Doby in the AL-would have put the Negro Leagues strongest teams into the Major League infrastructure, and raised the economy of Black-owned pro baseball teams the same way the NFL did for the AFL in the late 1960’s, and the NBA did when they took in four of the ABA’s strongest teams in the late 1970’s. The audience was already there; in 1942, three million people paid to watch Negro League baseball. Shortly after Robinson jumped, the Negro NL folded.

Did baseball have a grudge against John Jordan “Buck� O’Neil? Understand that pro baseball has mirrored American life more than any other sport. Outspoken Black men who choose to voice concerns rather than wait for the white establishment to choose their leader will always look suspect to many whites and sadly a few Blacks.

From the interviews I heard conducted with him, he seemed fiery, witty, and humorous—but I detected an unforgiving undertone for what the sport did to him and countless other Black athletes like him. The true test of any competition is not that it’s a right or a privilege to compete with the best, it’s a requirement. Human nature demands it.

Where was white baseball’s humanity when it was needed the most? Major League baseball is still throwing knuckle balls at Blacks; a Black manager who won two World Series in a row, Cito Gaston, still can’t find a team to run. In fact, you can still count the number of Black managers on one hand.

O’Neil didn’t wait for baseball to pass over him for a skipper’s post; he simply appointed himself the Negro League Ambassador and opened a museum in Kansas City-the home of his champion Monarchs-devoted to the Black professional baseball leagues.

On the surface the high number of 2006, Negro League picks last winter exhibits an open-mindedness the game has never displayed ever since MLB began inducting Negro League players back in 1971. Beneath the surface revealed some rather strange reasoning behind some choices.

The obstinate legion of white baseball HOF selectors also reached to ignore Abe Manley, the owner of the Newark Eagles, and actually chose his wife Effa. Don’t get me wrong, Effa was beautiful and had it going on in other facets of life such as political activism—we all know how much baseball loves this quality—but those tireless scheming circle of white selectors know or care nothing about Effa—they just think they found a clever way to go around Abe.

Baseball always feared the prospect of the Black male team owner, especially one who built a league champion with profits from his numbers business. This could lead to a floodgate of Black owners, too manly for baseball.

Ironically, a Black Hispanic, Alejandro Popez, who also bought his team with illegal “lotto� profits, did get a nod. Along with the bizarre choice of Mrs. Manley, were Jud Wilson, Cum Posey, WL Wilkinson, Sol White, Mule Suttles (you gotta love those names back then), Willard Brown, Cristobal Torriente, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop, Ray Brown, Andy Cooper, Jose Mendez, Ben Taylor, and Pete Hill. Black critics say only half of these people are deserving, and other players who were left off the list was the Negro Leagues’ last .400 hitter, Artie Wilson, and lefty Silas Simmons who was the oldest living baseball player (111) and passed away Oct. 29th, 23 days after O’Neil’s death and pitched and fielded from 1912-29 for several Negro League teams.

Simmons, known for his fastball and curve, earned a whopping $10 a game. He often paid .25 cents in order to watch a Major League game when he knew he and many others could have been a force in the majors. Frank Grant was also ignored, one of baseball’s best 19th Century players, and a former Buffalo Bison, Buffalo Giant, and inventor of the shin-guard; white players slid foot first to hit the 2nd baseman with their cleats. Baseball’s irony is most of its best played in the worst era.

Contributing writer, Stevenson, is a columnist for the Buffalo Criterion, Contact him at

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