Negro League Baseball’s Maiden Voyage


On February 13th and 14th in 1920, the first officially organized African American professional baseball league was formed in Kansas City, Missouri. The brainchild of black baseball team owner/manager Andrew “Rube” Foster, the Negro National League (NNL) was patterned after the two Major Leagues who at that time did not allow African American and dark-skinned Latino players to participate.   Foster’s Chicago American Giants along with the Kansas City Monarchs, Dayton Marcos, Indianapolis ABC’s, St. Louis Giants, Detroit Stars, Cuban Stars, and Chicago Giants were the initial teams in the league. Several black leagues had been previously organized, but none operated long enough to be historically significant.

“We are the ship, all else the sea”, is what Foster said to describe the NNL. He saw it as a ship travelling through the sea troubled by the stormy strong winds of racial segregation and discrimination.    Long term, Foster hoped the success of the NNL would highlight the talents of African American and Latino ballplayers; eventually leading to the breaking down of the racial barriers and integrating the Major Leagues.

After the second all black league was formed in 1923, the Eastern Colored League (ECL), the first Negro League World Series was played in 1924. The NNL’s Kansas City Monarchs were crowned champions as they defeated the ECL’s Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania.

As the decade ended, Foster suffered from mental illness and could not effectively operate the NNL as it faced financial problems caused by the “Great Depression” which rocked the country beginning in 1929. He died in December of 1930 and the NNL dissolved after the next season.

But, league structure Foster set up for black baseball would continue as the original NNL became the precursor for both the new Negro National League (NNL) that formed in 1933 and the Negro American League (NAL) which began in 1937. Both of these leagues, just as Foster hoped, continued to give African Americans and dark-skinned Latino ballplayers the opportunity to professionally express their God given talent; the opportunity not given them by white organized baseball.

Also; Foster’s vision became a reality when Jackie Robinson, a former Negro League player, in 1947 became the first African American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century.  Fifty other former Negro League players went on to have Major League baseball careers after Robinson erased the “invisible color line”.

Name the teams that were in the 1923 Eastern Colored League (ECL).

 To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:

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