Everyone has heard of Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roy Campanella. But how many people have heard of Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell or Mule Suttles? For half of baseball’s history in the U.S., black people were excluded from the major leagues. The Negro Leagues were formed with teams of skilled players led by black managers, and an audience of thousands of fans. But the desegregation of the major leagues in the 1940s destroyed the Negro Leagues as white owners stole the players, the audience, and the money that had once belonged to the Negro Leagues.
Some of the greatest players in baseball came out of the Negro Leagues. For example, consider possibly the best pitcher and hitter in all of baseball. Satchel Paige pitched 300 shutout games, more than any other player in history. At age 60, Satchel pitched his last game, throwing three shut out innings against the Kansas City Athletics. Josh ‘Hoot’ Gibson arguably has the most homeruns and hits in the game’s history. Some called him the “Black Babe Ruth.” But with a lifetime batting average surpassing his, the Babe should be called the ‘White Josh Gibson.”
It wasn’t just the players in the Negro Leagues who excelled. Black managers, trainers and owners made baseball an institution of black culture. There were teams from Detroit to Alabama, Memphis to New York. By the 1930’s the Negro Leagues were drawing tens of thousands of fans, and by the forties black baseball was a profitable business. White owners in the major leagues looked at the integration of baseball with dollar signs in their eyes.
The Brooklyn Dodgers general manager, Branch Rickey, is credited with helping break the color line by bringing in Jackie Robinson in 1946. But Rickey was a businessman. By hiring Robinson, he started the trend of white teams stealing the best players from the Negro Leagues and making a killing off of it. This destroyed the black teams and put black owners and managers out of a job. By the early 1950s the Negro Leagues were gone.
Today we see the legacy of the Negro Leagues’ destruction. There is only one black majority owner in all of baseball – Magic Johnson who owns 80 percent of the L.A. Dodgers as of last year. The picture is not much better in other sports. In 2013, out of all 122 sports teams in the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL, there are only two black owners. An all-white, conservative ownership in an industry with mostly black players shows that racism in sports is still alive today.