Sunday, February 28, 2010

Community and Baseball

In Gregory's The Black Metropolis, we learned about the communities of Blacks in major cities with an emphasis on the different achievements, institutions and cultural elements created by and present in these communities. Being from a baseball family and a life-long fan myself, I was particularly interested in the part about the Negro Baseball Leagues and the impact they had on these Black Metropolises. Sports are one of those rare things that can unite entire communities while still fostering healthy competition and creating heroes. People like to be proud of their teams and feel involved with their success and triumphs as well as their heartbreaks and failures. Because of segregation, African Americans weren't allowed to play in the Major leagues, but they still wanted to play baseball, so from 1887 to 1952, Negro Leagues existed almost continuously in some way. Chicago played an integral role in many of these leagues, especially after Rube Foster created the Negro National League in 1920. The city had two teams: The Chicago American Giants and the Chicago Giants. The Chicago American Giants, Rube Foster's team, was one of the best teams in the league and was able to survive after the Negro National League folded, moving to the Negro Southern League. Many things can be attributed to this success, but the strong presence of the various media in Chicago, notably the Chicago Defender newspaper, and the amount of support from the community contributed to a hearty league that could only succumb to financial pressures of the Great Depression.

While Rube Foster is known as the "father of Black baseball,” he died in 1930 and missed some of the most noteworthy games in the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues. In 1933, the owner of the Pittsburg Crawfords, Gus Greenlee, created the East-West All-Star Game for the Negro teams, played through 1962, the majority of the games in Chicago at Comiskey Park. The distinctive element of these games is that the fans picked the pitchers through newspaper balloting. The Chicago Defender was the central newspaper for this voting, because it had one of the biggest and most influential circulations. It is interesting to see practical uses for this newspaper, which has been extremely significant in the various histories of the African Diaspora, music, entertainment and sports of this time, not only in Chicago but everywhere it had readers. People from all over the country could vote for players for the All-Star games, important, because players came from all over the country. Most of the players in these leagues came from the South, but the big teams were in the North. Generally, fan-bases are local, but there is also a strong connection between communities that send a boy away to play ball, and his new home team. I'm from a small town, and currently we have a hometown boy playing quarterback for a major NFL team. It has been interesting to watch his team, one hardly anyone local rooted for before he signed with them, become a favorite in our town. I imagine this was a common occurrence with the Negro League teams, and was made stronger through the influence of media outlets such as the Chicago Defender.

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