There are many African Americans that have made their way to the Major Leagues, but not everyone knows about them. Even those who follow baseball are probably not aware of all of the players that have played for black teams. With so few African American players in professional baseball, it makes it even more challenging for other African Americans to make it to the big leagues. It’s not just because of a lack of talent either. As a result of systemic racism and segregation, there were fewer opportunities for black athletes than their counterparts in other sports. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be proud of them when they do make it! This post will explore five famous African American baseball players you should know about.
The legacy of Josh Gibson, an African-American baseball player, has become legendary. The ‘black Babe Ruth’ dominated the Negro Leagues and is regarded as one of the greatest power hitters and catchers in history. In the USA, racial segregation and discrimination against civil rights were still common at the time. But even in the Negro Leagues, Josh Gibson left a lasting impression on baseball history. Gibson played in the Mexican and Cuban leagues as well. Over 800 home runs, Josh Gibson played for teams like ‘Homestead Grays’, ‘Dragones de Ciudad Trujillo’, ‘Pittsburgh Crawfords’, and ‘Azules de Veracruz’. He was also a twelve-time All-Star at the ‘East-West All-Star Game’ of the Negro league baseball. In addition, Josh Gibson was a two-time ‘Negro World Series’ champion, as well as a two-time ‘Negro World Series’ champion. He was consequently inducted into the ‘Baseball Hall of Fame’ for all his achievements. Gibson’s heartbreak stemmed from the fact that he was not able to break the American League color barrier that Jackie Robinson had previously broken.
Paige was a pitcher who played in the Negro Leagues from the 1920s until the 1950s. Paige was named the best left-handed pitcher in the Negro Leagues in the 1930s. He was 6 feet 3 and weighed over 200 pounds, giving him a powerful and buggy-whipped fastball. Paige’s ability to overpower batters made him the most popular player in Negro baseball. Paige frequently played a lot of games in the Negro Leagues and took advantage of barnstorming opportunities as she continued switching between clubs to receive the best compensation. Paige participated in 1930s Negro National League games for the Pittsburgh Crawfords; however, he also spent significant time in the Dominican Republic and North Dakota.
In the late 1938, Paige started experience problems in his arm for the first time. Paige was signed to the ‘B’ team of JL Wilkinson’s Kansas City Monarchs; here, he was allowed to heal. In less than a year, Paige’s shoulder fully recovered, and he resumed throwing his fastball. Now his primary attack, Paige’s control had been impressive as a pitcher. On on July 7, 1948, Bill Veeck, the owner of the Indians, signed Paige to a one-year contract, thereby making Paige the oldest person ever to play in the MLB. Two days later, Paige debuted for a Cleveland club that was one of the most competitive in the history of the American League. Paige pitched for a Cleveland team on July 29, 1948, that had been vying for the championship all summer and into the fall. He had a 2.48 earned run average, went 6-1, and recorded three complete games and a save. Cleveland overcame Boston in a one-game playoff for the American League pennant before defeating the Braves in six games to claim the World Series. Paige pitched for two-thirds of an inning to qualify for Game 5 of the World Series.
From 1949 to 1951, Paige pitched for the Cleveland Indians and was selected for two All-Star Games. From 1951 to 1953, he played for the St. Louis Browns, and from 1953 to 1955, he played for the Washington Senators. In 1965, Paige spent a few years in the minors and in barnstorming before resurfacing as an MLB pitcher. He pitched three shutout innings for the Athletics at the age of 59.
After Jackie Robinson paved the way, Larry Doby became the second black player in the American or National League in history. He was the first black manager in the same leagues, Frank Robinson. Although he may not have been the finest black player ever, Larry Doby was a huge deal. He began his baseball career as a standout infielder for the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League and also played in the ABL, an early incarnation of the NBA. After serving in the military during the Second World War, Larry Doby returned to the NNL and led the Newark Eagles to the Negro League championship in 1946.
In December of 1947, Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians, became the first American League club to sign a Black player when he signed Larry Doby. Doby endured the same hardships as Jackie Robinson, but his travails did not garner the same media attention as Robinson’s. While staying in separate hotels and eating in separate restaurants while on the road was not permitted to Robinson, Doby endured the same taunts. In 1948, he became the first African-American to homer during the World Series. In 1952, Doby became the first African-American to be named the American League’s home run champion, despite the same bigotry that tormented Jackie Robinson.
Between 1947 and his retirement in 1968, Larry Doby hit over 1,000 career home runs, with 100 RBI or more five times and 20 home runs or more once. After managing the Chicago White Sox in 1978, Bill Veeck hired him as a baseball manager. On June 18, 2003, he died at the age of 70. President George W. Bush said of him after his passing: “Larry Doby was a great player and a good and moral man. He had a significant impact on baseball.”
African Americans have been playing baseball since the beginning of the sport. Many of the best players in baseball history are black. Let’s celebrate these athletes and all that they have done!