Famous Players in the Negro Baseball Leagues

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Lewis, Femi. "Famous Players in the Negro Baseball Leagues." ThoughtCo, Feb. 4, 2017, thoughtco.com/famous-players-negro-baseball-leagues-45172. Lewis, Femi. (2017, February 4). Famous Players in the Negro Baseball Leagues. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-players-negro-baseball-leagues-45172 Lewis, Femi. "Famous Players in the Negro Baseball Leagues." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-players-negro-baseball-leagues-45172 (accessed October 23, 2017).
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Negro Baseball Leagues

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Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Ted Paige and Judy Johnson posing for a group photo during a Negro League baseball game, San Francisco, California, 1940. Getty Images

The Negro Baseball Leagues were professional leagues in the United States for players of African descent. At its height of popularity--from 1920 through World War II, Negro Baseball Leagues were an integral part of African-American life and culture during the Jim Crow Era

But who were prominent players in the Negro Baseball leagues? How did their work as athletes help keep audiences mesmerized season after season? 

This article features several baseball players who played an integral role in the Negro Baseball Leagues. 

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Jackie Robinson: 1919 to 1972

Public Domain

 In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to integrate major league baseball. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin argues that Robinson's ability to desegregate the Major League Baseball  "allowed black and white Americans to be more respectful and open to one another and more appreciative of everyone's abilities."

Yet Robinson did not begin his career as a baseball player in the Major Leagues. Instead, he began his career two years earlier by playing with the Kansas City Monarchs. In his first year as a player, Robinson was part of the 1945 Negro League All-Star Game. As a member of the Kansas City Monarchs, Robinson played 47 games as a shortstop, registered 13 stolen bases and hit .387 with five home runs.

Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Ga. His parents were sharecroppers and Robinson was the youngest of five children.

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Satchel Paige: 1906 to 1982

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Satchel Paige, Negro Baseball league pitcher. Public Domain

Satchel Paige begins his career as a baseball player in 1924 when he joins the Mobile Tigers. Two years later, Paige made his debut in the Negro Baseball Leagues by playing with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts.

Soon, Paige was playing with the Negro National League Teams and was considered a popular player amongst audience members. Playing for teams throughout the United States, Paige also played in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Paige once described his technique as: "I got bloopers, loopers and droppers. I got a jump ball, a be ball, a screw ball, a wobbly ball, a whipsy-dipsy-do, a hurry-up ball, a nothin' ball and a bat dodger. My be ball is a be ball 'cause it 'be' right were I want it, high and inside. It wiggles like a worm. Some I throw with my knuckles, some with two fingers. My whips-dipsy-do is a special fork ball I throw underhand and sidearm that slithers and sinks. I keep my thumb off the ball and use three fingers. The middle finger sticks up high, like a bent fork."

In between seasons, Paige organized the “Satchel Paige All-Stars.” New York Yankess player Joe DiMaggio once said that Paige was “the best and fastest pitcher I ever faced.”

By 1942, Paige was the highest-paid African-American baseball player.

Six years later, in 1948, Paige became the oldest rookie in Major League Baseball. 

 Paige was born on July7 to Josh and Lula Paige in Mobile, Ala. At the age of seven, he received his nickname "Satchel" for working as a baggage handler at a railroad station. He died in 1982. 

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Josh Gibson: 1911 to 1947

Josh Gibson, 1930. Getty Images

Joshua “Josh” Gibson was one of the stars of the Negro Baseball Leagues. Known as the “Black Babe Ruth,” Gibson is considered one of the best power hitters and catchers in baseball history.

Gibson made his debut in the Negro Baseball Leagues by playing for the Homestead Grays. Soon after, he played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords. He also played in the Dominican Republic for Ciudad Trujillo and the Mexican League for Rojos del Aguila de Veracruz.  Gibson also served as the manager of the Santurce Crabbers, a team affiliated with the Puerto Rico Baseball League.

In 1972, Gibson was the second player to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Gibson was born on December 21, 1911 in Georgia. His family moved to Pittsburgh as part of the Great Migration. Gibson died on January 20, 1947 after suffering from a stroke.