Negro Leagues should be required history lesson for Major Leaguers

February 4, 2013 by Laurie Bollig

I’ve always said if I could time travel, I’d go back to the early 1920s or 30s. And I know the exact place I would want to go – Muehlebach Field in Kansas City on a hot Sunday afternoon, watching the Kansas City Monarchs play the Homestead Grays in a Negro Leagues baseball game.

Sure, I might stick out a little – a white woman in a crowd of extremely well dressed black men and women. But I wouldn’t care. I would be too busy taking in the sights and sounds of a major league baseball game. Church services would be finished, and the crowd would be gathering – dressed to the nines – to watch some of the most talented and explosive players who ever played the game.

Can you imagine watching Josh Gibson of the Grays – dubbed the black Babe Ruth by some – square off against Monarchs’ Satchel Paige? In 1931, Gibson hit more than 70 home runs and led the Homestead Grays to an incredible 138-6 record. One player said Paige threw the ball so hard, it disappeared before it reached the catcher’s mitt.

Women had just been granted the right to vote. Babe Ruth – known to some as the white Josh Gibson – had been traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees. And Andrew “Rube” Foster convened a meeting at the YMCA on The Paseo in Kansas City that would result in the formation of the Negro National League.

The Monarchs and the Grays went on to become two of the most successful franchises in the Negro Leagues. The players who passed through the Negro Leagues from the 1920s through 1965 were quite simply some of the greatest athletes of all time.

The history of the Negro Leagues follows the timeline of America’s story of racial integration. It is a story of perseverance and tolerance, of opportunity, and finding the good in mankind.

In 1945 Jackie Robinson left the Monarchs of the Negro Leagues to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the Major Leagues – and the rest, as they say, is history. The Negro Leagues continued through the early 1960s, but the best black players were now playing in the Major Leagues.

The story of Negro Leagues baseball is captured in an amazing building at 18th and Vine in Kansas City – right down the street from the old YMCA building – at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The museum’s executive director Bob Kendrick is the most knowledgeable person in the country about the league and has amazing stories of the players and personalities who comprised it. A tour of the museum is an American history lesson – one that should be required of every player to don an MLB uniform. How can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been?

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum will take you back in time. And if you’re lucky, you’ll end up at Muehlebach Field on a hot Sunday afternoon in 1922. I’ll save you a seat.