Black athletes had been playing baseball in the United States of America since the late 1800’s. The sport’s popularity was at an all-time height after the civil war. There were segregated and integrated teams until the National Association of Baseball Players banned blacks from playing alongside whites on December 11th, 1868. The NABP voted unanimously to forbid any club that had one or more black players from participating in their league.
Black players continued to play the sport despite the ruling. In 1885 The Argyle Hotel became the first black professional baseball team. They eventually changed the name to the Cuban Giants because they believed that people would be more willing to watch a Cuban team over a black one. The Cubans were one of many teams that barnstormed across the U.S. in the late 1800’s and early 1900s.
On this day in 1920, former player and Chicago American Giants owner, Andrew “Rube” Foster and a few other owners of Midwestern teams met in Kansas City, MO to form the National Negro League. The Midwestern league inspired the introduction of all-black baseball leagues in the south and east coast. The NNL would decline in popularity in the late 1930’s before a new NNL and the Negro American League would carry on the tradition until baseball reintegrated in 1947 when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson.
Baseball without black players is like the NHL sans Canadians. Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Satchel Paige are just as integral to the history of baseball as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb or any other mainstream player. Without the NNL, there is a good chance those players would have never been able to wow audiences in North and Latin America in early 1900’s