Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The African-American Experience in Baseball

The San Francisco Main Library has an on-going exhibit called "A Game of Color", it is about the African-American Experience in Baseball. The exhibit covers over 50 years of African-Americans in professional. It starts with the founding of the Negro Leagues in 1920 and it goes through the heyday of African-Americans in the majors in 1960's and 1970's:

Ball signed by Negro League legend and Baseball HOFer Buck Leonard
Art work celebrating Baseball HOFer Judy Johnson and Toni Stone. Stone became the first female to play in the Negro Leagues when she played for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953.

A signed photo of Baseball HOFer "Pop" Lloyd
Artwork celebrating the greatest catcher in the Negro Leagues and baseball HOFer Josh Gibson. Some say that Gibson was the greatest catcher ever

Signed ball by Baseball HOFer Leon day and signed spikes by HOFer Monte Irvin. Irvin was one of the first players called up to majors after Jackie Robinson re-integrated the majors in 1947
Signed ball baseball HOFer James "Cool Papa" Bell
Barnstorming was a way of life for players to make some extra money or to just keep getting a paycheck from baseball:

The Zulu Cannibal Giants were a barnstorming team who decorated their faces with African tribal paint, played shirtless wearing only grass skirts and played barefoot. They used special bats that resembled Ethiopian war clubs. The played from 1934 through 1937

The Ethiopian Clowns became the Indianapolis Clowns (more on their most famous player in a bit) and were the last Negro League team to disband as they played exhibition games until the 1980's

On May 1st 1884, Moses "Fleetwood" Walker played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association which was major league at that time. He became the first openly black player to play in the majors (William White, had a played a major league game five years earlier but he passed for white). On September 1st, 1884, he played his last game in the majors and the door to organized baseball was closed to other African- Americans until 1947 when Jackie Robinson made his way to the majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers:

A ball signed by baseball HOFer Larry Doby. Doby was called up by the Cleveland Indians in July of 1947 and became the first African-American in the American League

By the early 1950's Negro League teams were starting to die off and the only way they could make money was buy selling their best players to major league teams:

Willie Mays 1948 Birmingham Black Barons jersey
Hank Aaron's 1952 Indianapolis Clowns jersey. Aaron who retired from the majors in 1976 was the last active Negro League player active

Balls signed by Hank Aaron (front) and Ernie Banks (back)
Even though African-Americans started to play in the majors, there were some other breakthroughs in the game:

The American League patch of umpire Emmett Ashford who was the first African-American umpire when he was hired in 1966

The media guide of 1975 Cleveland Indians with the first African-American manager-Frank Robinson
As usual, the San Francisco Public Library did an amazing job in presenting this exhibit. It was amazing to see and learn about the African-American Experience in Baseball.


  1. Patrick,

    A Game of know you just don't hear the word 'color' much in reference to a black person. My parents/grandparents used it sometimes but it was my piano teacher who used it to talk about her people. She was the nicest lady you ever wanted to meet. I always thought it was an interesting term especially considering I have such fair skin. I always wished I had a bit color tone. In the summer, I didn't tan I turned pink then white again. :) Daddy was different. I think he has some Indian in him and always tanned beautifully. Anywho, back to your post. I swear I must have A.D.D. Some of the greatest baseball players were black. I'm not a baseball fan but some of these legends ring a bell, like Hank Aaron. What a wonderful exhibition full of memorabilia and this is a purrfect tribute for 'Black History' month. Thanks for sharing and visiting, my friend!

  2. oh how interesting.
    BTW, I just love CA. I grew up in FL. and spent the last 24 years in Maryland, and now moved to CO... oy...
    LeeAnna at not afraid of color

  3. So cool! Baseball season is nearly here!!

  4. How fun! San Fran has some of my favorite museums.

  5. It looks great in here. I wish we could visit :) San Francisco is somewhere I have always wanted to go. Thanks so much for sharing your post with us at Welcome To The Weekend Blog Hop. Have a great weekend.

  6. Ken Burns' documentary "Jackie Robinson" was great, as was his series called "Baseball." We're not even baseball fans really, but found it all fascinating.

  7. This looks like an awesome place to visit. I wish there was more out there about Negro Leagues, because they were an important part of history!
    Tori @ In Tori Lex


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