Yesterday and today marked the centennial anniversary for the Negro League.
It's a shame that MLB was forced by Covid to scrap their plans to celebrate the 100 year anniversary and move things online instead.
It kicked off with a celebration from 4 former Presidents.
(How about Clinton in a Cubs hat?)
The Negro Leagues were formed in response to the exclusion of Black players in Major League Baseball. Multiple Black amateur and professional teams had been formed before 1920, but that’s the year the Negro National League formed and began play. A number of baseball’s greatest stars came through the Negro Leagues before making it to Major League Baseball — or before MLB would allow them in. Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, and Satchel Page all played in the Negro Leagues.
The “Tip Your Cap” campaign is being directed by Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Numerous in-person celebrations had been planned to commemorate the anniversary of the Negro Leagues, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the museum to find a virtual way for people to celebrate such an important baseball anniversary.
The list of legends that played their entire careers or came up through the Nego League is staggering. Here's a pretty cool poem by Negro League historian Phillip Ross that shows just how deep the talent pool was.
Negro Leagues Baseball, A to Z
— by Philip A. Ross
A is for Andrew, Rube Foster’s first name.
He started the league that organized the first black game.
B is for Cool Papa Bell, the speedster of which you’ve heard.
Even on an intentional walk he could wind up on third.
C is for Oscar Charleston, he played centerfield then first base.
Wherever he played, he was always an ace.
D is for Leon Day, whose strong right arm could fire the ball.
His outstanding career got him elected to the Hall.
E is for Luke Easter, as a hitter he was elite.
He would hit blasts out of the park and onto the street.
F is for Willie Foster, whose left arm threw smoke.
It would have been easier for the batter to use a fork to drink Coke.
G is for Josh Gibson, he hit home runs prodigious.
When he got up to bat, the pitchers got religious.
H is for the Homestead Grays, a Pittsburgh team under Cumberland Posey.
Gus Greenlee’s Crawfords were their cross-town rivals. Relations weren’t always rosy.
I is for Monte Irvin, with the Newark Eagles he got his start playing ball.
He went to the “show” now he’s in the Hall.
J is for J.L. Wilkinson of the Monarchs, he was the president.
Kansas City was his home. There he was a resident.
K is for Henry Kimbro, a five tool player by trade.
On the field he made his mark in each game that he played.
L is for Buck Leonard, his first name was Walter.
This power hitting first baseman rarely did falter.
M is for Lefty Mathis, he had a pick off move that couldn’t be beat.
If you got to first, glue the base to your feet.
N is for all of the Negro Leagues, their seasons weren’t very long.
But they kept the fires burning ’til Jackie came along.
O is for Buck O’Neil, he played the game with grace and style.
In his heart and on his face, he always wore a smile.
P is for Spot Poles, in the outfield many he did rob.
A great all around player he was called the “black Ty Cobb.”
Q is for Quincy Trouppe, who was finely tuned on all gears.
He just felt he was born too soon, by twenty years.
R is for Double Day Radcliffe, pitcher and catcher supreme.
The only player anywhere to play both positions on all star teams.
S is for Satchel, Leroy Paige never got older.
Remember his words, “Don’t look over your shoulder.”
T is for the Taylor brothers: Ben, Candy Jim, Steel Arm Johnny and CI.
Their legacy and standard is still riding high.
U is for the Brooklyn Uniques, a foundation team from yesteryear.
We stand on their shoulders so let’s give them a cheer.
V is for Armando Vasquez, the outfielder who hit with power.
He could get up and slug the ball, any day, any hour.
W is for Smokey Joe Williams, a giant of a man on the mound.
When opponents saw him warm up, they wanted to turn around.
X marks the spot of the Negro League Museum in KC at 18th and Vine.
On your trip to see the Royals stop in you’ll have a great time.
Y is for Bill Yancey, he played second, third and shortstop.
He could pivot and throw and catch the short hop.
Z is for Jim Zapp, after the Navy he joined the Elite Giants of Baltimore.
This big hit slugger was hard to ignore.
So there’s the poem that scratches the surface.
I gave it some thought and a great deal of purpose.
With thanks to the players who played through the strife,
You made baseball better and enriched my life.
— Philip A. Ross is a negro leagues baseball historian and speaker. He is a retired New York City public school teacher.
It's pretty sad how many of these men were allowed to serve their country in war but not play Major League Baseball when they returned.
It's also perhaps the greatest sports 'What If?'. What if Negro League players not been kept from playing against their white contemporaries?
Would Babe Ruth be the world-famous name kids born 100 years later still know? Or would Bob Gibson have eclipsed him?
Would the today's best pitchers receive the Satchel Paige award instead of the Cy Young?
And who knows how the rest of the record books would have been impacted.
p.s. - Here's the great Vin Scully telling a great story about Satchel Paige-
p.p.s. - The "Cool Papa Bell" line about him turning the lights off and being in bed before the room got dark is one of the all time greats. As is his nickname.