What Happened to the Negro League?

This is really a sensitive – as in very sensitive – issue, and I don’t want anyone to misunderstand what and why I am writing this. It is about how a really good thing – a thing that had to be done – can also have unintended bad consequences. (The good thing outweighs the bad consequences here but the bad exists nevertheless.)

I just finished watching the movie 42 which I enjoyed. I saw Jackie Robinson play — I was really, really young — and my father had nothing but praise for the man. I remember my father saying, “It takes courage to do what he is doing.” My father was a Jackie Robinson fan. I only had a vague idea of what he was talking about.

I even had some conversations once with Roy Campanella, who was injured in a terrible automobile accident. I worked as a maintenance man in the Smith Houses in Manhattan for four summers as a high school and college student and that is where I met him. He was paralyzed and in a wheelchair. By then I knew what he and the other black pioneers had meant to major league baseball. It meant the joy of watching Willie Mays and Hank Aaron in the outfield.

“Campy” joined the Brooklyn Dodgers just after Robinson broke the color barrier.

And now for the sensitive part of this article: Whatever happened to the ball players from the Negro leagues that were not good enough to make the major leagues? What happened to the white players who were replaced by the better black players?

I know the Negro Leagues ended soon after the integration of major league baseball. I know most of their players did not make the major leagues. I know the white players who were replaced by better black players did not play in the majors once the color barrier was broken.

The good was accompanied by the end of employment for those who would have played professional baseball but were now just not talented and skilled enough to make it all the way to the new, and better, major leagues.

American baseball today has players from all over the world; South America, Mexico, Canada, Latin America, Cuba, Japan. The painting of today’s major leagues is a medley of colors and ethnic groups. The best of the best will face off against each other for 162 games.

Yes, integration was good for the quality of the game (and for our society) but it had a cost – as many good things have costs – and we must recognize that getting better does not make everyone become part of that betterment. That is why I am a firm supporter of those Negro league museums. We mustn’t forget those guys, especially the great ones who never got to the major leagues because of racism or the ones just not good enough to get there once the game opened its doors.

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2 thoughts on “What Happened to the Negro League?”

  1. Interesting outlook and I’m glad films like 42 are made to give younger folk a glimpse of what things were like not that long ago. If not for A League of Their Own, which I loved, I would never have known women played professional baseball. Wonder what happened to those women, like the men you mentioned, after the league folded? So many stories waiting to be told!

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