The Cuban Giants

The Cuban Giants

Blackball: A Separate Game

1885 - 1924

"Nothing is ever said or written about drawing the color line in the (National League). But it appears to be generally understood that none but whites shall make up the League teams, and so it goes."

William Howard Taft, 1910

Sporting Life, June 29, 1895

Blackball: A Separate Game

1885 - 1924

From the pre-Civil War America when slaves played a new game called town ball to that quintessential American moment of April 18, 1946, when Jack Roosevelt Robinson took the field for the Montreal Royals of the International League of Baseball Clubs to integrate professional baseball, two versions of America’s National Pastime existed. For most, the daily papers extolled the exploits of our great ballplayers, almost all of them white. For the others, play was often extraordinary but always strikingly apart. One notable journalist called the black version of America’s Game, “Sundown” baseball. Others simply called it “blackball.” That version of our National Game’s pioneer chroniclers, such as Robert Peterson and John Holway, memorably wrote about largely forgotten great teams and great players that played America’s grand game on fields where, well, “only the ball was white.”

A SEPARATE GAME gives us all an opportunity to learn about the grace of ball playing on the field and at-bat where black ballplayers mostly played against other black ballplayers. We will learn of ballplaying not covered in the daily press of their times, and through extraordinary photographs and artifacts we will view those who played their ball throughout America’s 100 years of Jim Crow law on teams and in leagues whose exploits are only now being uncovered and savored. Theirs were fields where strictures were in place that kept many ballplayers off the playing field altogether. Sadly, if you were black in Jim Crow America, at times you might secure access to our nation’s playing fields only as clowns and entertainers for white audiences who expected stereotypical buffoonery. But throughout the first half of the 20th century, and even before, there was another extraordinary group of ball players who embraced the game because of their sheer love of it. Sometimes, we will learn that a player might even regularly hit a ball as long as Babe Ruth (Josh Gibson), pitch as hard and fast as Walter Johnson or Bobby Feller (Satchel Paige and others), or tear across the base paths with the speed (“Cool Papa” Bell) or ferociousness (Oscar Charleston) of the fierce Ty Cobb. And, in the “offseason,” those in this “separate game” could even play against white teams in exhibition, postseason, and barnstorming contests galore as long as their presence could make the turnstiles click sufficiently enough to swell the bank accounts of mostly white hosts.

Much of our focus will be celebratory, for “Sundown” baseball was a game that the men and women who played it relished with a glee and possessiveness that only those who have had the doors of life’s opportunity closed in their face can really experience. “There is nothing like getting your body to do all it has to do on a baseball field,” Buck O’Neil said, remembering his days as a Kansas City Monarch in the Negro American League. Later, when recalling playing on those black diamonds, Buck extolled: “It was as good as great music. It fills you up. Waste no tears on me,” he smiled and famously said, “I didn’t come along too early (to play in the white Major Leagues). I was right on time.”

So we tell our baseball story, through artifacts and photos of a bygone era — but in truth the tale that those relics weave is, indeed, much more. What the renowned historian and social critic Jacques Barzun has said about America certainly fits doesn’t it? “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game, and do it first by watching some high school or small town teams. Then go from there.” Then an observer just might get a glimpse of America. One could follow far less fruitful paths in seeking “the heart and mind” of the American people than the path offered by the history of our nation’s National Pastime, the American game of baseball — especially, as you shall see, by witnessing the “Sundown” version of our great game.

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  • 1884

    Although African-Americans played baseball as early as the 1840s and ‘50s, Moses “Fleetwood” Walker becomes the first African-American player in white Major League Baseball history when he signs with the Toledo Base Ball Club in the American Association.

  • <p>1885-1886 Cuban Giants team photo, the first...
  • 1885

    The first all-black professional (salaried) baseball team, the Cuban Giants, is founded by Frank P. Thompson in Babylon, New York. In 1887, this team defeats white Major League opponents in Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

  • <p>1899 twelve-month calendar of W.S. Peter’s...
  • <p>1902 letter from Walter Schlichter of the...
  • <p>1906 Harrisburg Giants team photo with Manager...
  • 1880-1890

    Many black ballplayers are active on rosters of white minor league baseball teams during this period.

  • <p>Sol White’s <i>History of Colored Base Ball....
  • <p>1909 Philadelphia Giants team photo with Sol...
  • <p>Bruce Petway Punch Cigarros Cuban Baseball...
  • 1907

    Although black baseball is mostly ignored in the white-owned newspapers, Sol White’s History of Colored Base Ball documents the National Game as it is played by African-Americans from the late 1870s on.

  • <p>Frank Duncan of the 1909 Philadelphia Giants...
  • <p>Sol White of the 1909 Philadelphia Giants</p>
  • <p>July 2, 1911, Chicago Giants vs.</p>
  • <p>John “Pop” Lloyd of the 1909 Philadelphia...
  • <p>1910 New York Black Sox team photo with...
  • 1887-1947

    Following an unwritten but rock-solid ban, the various permeations of the white Major Leagues bar African-Americans from playing professional ball.

  • <p>1915 Rube Foster signed Letter on American...
  • <p>1914 Chicago American Giants team photo with...
  • <p>1909 Andrew “Rube” Foster photo</p>
  • <p>Oscar Charleston game-used baseball bat</p>
  • <p>1916 25th Infantry team “The Wreckers”...
  • 1895-1930

    Great independent black baseball teams, with many outstanding salaried ballplayers, mushroom throughout the country. These teams play baseball not only in the United States, but some play overseas as well.

  • <p>1916 Indianapolis ABC’s “Royal Poinciana” team...
  • <p>1918 Chicago American Giants team photo with...
  • <p>Photo postcard from the 1916 Championship...
  • <p>“Smokey Joe” Williams professional model...
  • <p>1916 Louis Santop game-used bat</p>
  • 1920

    Andrew "Rube" Foster, pitcher, organizer and owner of the Chicago American Giants, helps form the Negro National League. The league would last until 1931.

  • <p>1923 panorama of C.I.</p>
  • <p>Bruce Petway game-used baseball bat</p>
  • 1923

    Ed Bolden, owner of the Hilldale Club, and Nat Strong, owner of the Brooklyn Royal Giants, organize the Eastern Colored League.

  • <p>The first Negro League World Series is played...
  • <p>First Colored World Series opening game, third...
  • 1924

    The first Negro League World Series is played between the Kansas City Monarchs, the Negro National League champions, and the Hilldale Club, the Eastern Colored League champions. Kansas City wins the championship, five games to four.

  • 1924

    The first Negro League World Series is played between the Kansas City Monarchs, the Negro National League champions, and the Hilldale Club, the Eastern Colored League champions. Kansas City wins the championship, five games to four.

Origins of the GameOur National PastimeFrom Dead Ball to Live BallBabe Ruth and the Long BallFrom the Ballfields to the Battlefields

Why is baseball universally considered our National Pastime? Some say the game, at its apex, often achieves something lofty. However expressed, we all can agree that baseball, with its deep American roots, touches us all.

 

 

When a baseball player uses the main tool of his trade, the baseball bat, he is gripping the most important single weapon in his arsenal. Each is customized to a certain weight, length, and feel. This exhibit features the bats used by some of baseball’s greats during their professional career.