Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience SECTION 1 Cuban Giants season ticket, 1887 Courtesy of Larry Hogan Collection National Baseball Hall of Fame Library Almost as soon as the game’s rules were codified, Americans played baseball so passionately that writers of the time called it a mania. African Americans were no different, but in baseball, as in much of American life, they played mostly in segregated settings, including southern plantations, as early as the 1850s. After the Civil War, African Americans had the opportunity to play ball with white players, even professionally, but those opportunities diminished as Reconstruction ended and segregation became entrenched as part of American culture. By the late 19th century, African Americans had developed baseball to its fullest potential on their own sandlots and diamonds. Black communities took pride in these teams and their dynamic brand of the National Pastime. It was here that black baseball became the seedbed for those talented players who eventually paved the way to integrated baseball. Dozens of barnstorming black teams had developed and were playing around the country by the time the first successful black league was formed in 1920. As the number of black baseball leagues changed and grew, this form of segregated ball was embraced by local towns and neighborhoods, with teams and players earning both legendary status as well as income for their communities. Following World War II and the loyal service of more than one million segregated African-American soldiers, the game itself finally became a testing ground for integrating American life. Jackie Robinson’s “breaking of the color barrier” in 1947 eventually led to desegregation of the sport at every level. Given new opportunity, many talented black players took the majors by storm, dominating the most important awards and making their mark in the record books. By 1959, every major league team’s roster was integrated, but questions concerning true equality at every level of the sport, from the executive office to the locker room, remained. Despite progress on many fronts, such issues continue in baseball today. African-American participation in the sport is at its lowest level in almost 50 years, and limited opportunities for management and front office positions are still critical topics for discussion. Finding a Way in Hard Times 1860 – 1887 “The prejudices of race are rapidly disappearing. A week or two ago we chronicled a game between the Pythian (colored) and Olympics (white) clubs of Philadelphia. This affair was a great success, financially and otherwise.” ––New York Clipper, 1869 Following the Civil War (1861-1865), Reconstruction was meant to establish freedom and fairness for former slaves. It failed dismally, even in baseball, a game spread throughout the nation by the war. In both the North and the South, opportunities for black players in organized baseball narrowed as racial prejudice deepened. As black communities became worlds of their own within the larger American society, African Americans established teams in clubs and schools. By the mid-1880s, they were also forming their own professional teams. African-American ballplayer and his wife, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, c. 1880 Courtesy of Bob and Adelyn Mayer, Spring Fever Memorabilia, Putnam Valley, New York The Closing Door Some journalists continued to fan the dying embers of hope for integration in the Reconstruction era, but many Americans were already busy closing opportunity to African Americans. Black teams like the Pythians of Philadelphia played all comers, including white teams, but opportunities for such interracial contests quickly diminished. Ironically, Pythians captain and star player Octavius Catto was murdered during riots in Philadelphia on the day of the first important election in which black men were legally allowed to vote, October 10, 1871. Octavius V. Catto, Philadelphia schoolteacher, civil rights advocate and captain of the all-black Philadelphia Pythians baseball team, c. 1867 Courtesy of the Urban Archives, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Scorecard from a baseball match between the all-black Pythians of Philadelphia and the Washington Mutuals, a famous amateur white team, June 28, 1867 Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), Leon Gardiner Collection Integrated Ball in the 1800s By the late 1880s, more than 30 African Americans played in the major and minor leagu

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