The Negro League After Jackie Robinson

Daniel Johnson
Sports Editor


PC: Chris Murphy/Flickr

Prior to the 1995 MLB season, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed 27 year old Japanese pitching superstar Hideo Nomo. Though Nomo was not the first Japanese player to play in the pros, (he was second, Masanori Murakami played for the San Francisco Giants from 1964-65) he quickly became the best that had played in the U.S. to that point. His instant success in the league became the first of 53 more Japanese-born Major Leaguers.

Despite some of the top players in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, Japan’s pro league, the league has been in operation for decades after Nomo. It has hit a few snags here and there, as the league has to compete with the pro baseball in the States; teams still average 20,000 attendance per game, illustrating a strong base. The MLB and Nippon league has even been able to work together to form a system that allows the Nippon league to hold onto their best players for a time and where the teams are well compensated for their Japanese stars called the “posting system.”

In 2000, when Ichiro Suzuki, the greatest Japanese player of to play in the Majors, the Seattle Mariners first had to pay the Orix BlueWave, Ichiro’s team, $13 million dollars just to negotiate with him.

This system and conference between the two leagues is something that was non-existent almost 50 years earlier, when the Brooklyn Dodgers opened the flood doors by introducing Major League Baseball to Jackie Robinson and the youthful talent in the Negro Leagues.

Compared to the 53 Japanese players to enter Major League Baseball after Hideo Nomo, in the decade after Jackie’s debut in April of 1947, 72 more former Negro Leaguers would find themselves in the Majors. Out of the 73 total players who made the jump, eight found there way into Cooperstown, NY and the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame. Like with professional baseball in Japan, as well as around the world, the Majors find the best players in these sports and are able to put them into a MLB uniform. However, with the Negro League players, it was less of a negotiation and more a war of attrition between the rich MLB and the poor and desperate Negro Leagues.

Jackie’s departure from the Kansas City Monarchs to the Dodgers prompted owners from the Negro League and the MLB to meet up to discuss the future of professional baseball in the new integrated game. Owners from the Negro League tried to entice the idea of having two of the more popular franchises, the Monarchs and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, to join the professional game. This was dismissed. Then the owners attempted to convince the MLB to join the league as a Minor League team. This was also voted down by the MLB. It was clear that the MLB had no desire to work at all with the Negro League owners in any way. The only time they two parties would speak would be when the MLB saw a player they wanted in their league, and they would buy the player out of his Negro League contract.

Larry Doby, the second African American to play in professional baseball with the Cleveland Indians (making him the first to play in the American League. Jackie Robinson played for the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers) was acquired from the Newark Eagles by Indians’ owner Bill Veeck for $15,000 dollars. Hank Aaron was bought out from the Indianapolis Clowns for $10,000. We see from this, both players entering their prime like Doby and young future stars like Aaron were snatched from the Negro Leagues for very little. Black-owned newspapers began to share their space between the two leagues, meaning less space for publicity for the Negro Leagues. Fans began to depart the stadiums and follow the talent to the MLB. A decade later, the Negro American League would have their final World Series.

The end of WWII marked what was believed to be a new day for the African American community and Negro league baseball. The 1920s saw an increase in black-owned business, a sense of pride and nationalism from the teachings of Marcus Garvey and the Harlem Renaissance, and Negro League baseball was at one of its strongest points under the leadership of Rube Foster. The Great Depression of course hit the community hard, as well as Foster’s untimely death, but the 1940s saw a new day.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. With Jackie Robinson going to play baseball and breaking the color barrier, that opened the door for stars of the Negro Leagues to join him. But for the rest of the Negro League, and those players who did not have the same talent as the best players in the game, the color barrier coming down, and the MLB waging a war of attrition on the league forced it out of business.

Categories: Baseball, Pro Sports, Sports

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