The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball

The new exhibit honors the history of Black baseball and celebrates its impact on the game and on our country.

Located on the Museum’s second floor in the Yawkey Gallery, The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball spotlights the decades-long history of Black baseball prior to the formation of the Negro Leagues, through the complexities of baseball’s re-integration, to the challenges that remain today, revealing the deep connections between baseball and Black America.

The exhibit features men and women telling the story of Black baseball in their own voices. Sections cover stories of early Black baseball, the Negro Leagues era, the complexities of reintegration, Jackie Robinson, post-reintegration progress and retrogress, and calls for change in today’s game. 


Tony Gwynn’s helmet 

I love to hit. I can’t wait until it’s my turn. Sometimes, I think that’s all baseball is. I root for the other team to go down 1-2-3 so I can hit again.

Tony Gwynn

A maestro with the bat, Gwynn hit above .300 in 19 of 20 major league seasons and won a record-tying eight NL batting titles. A beloved player across the big leagues, Mr. Padre wore this helmet during the 1995 season when he won his sixth batting title.

Buck Leonard’s jersey, c. 1946

I played with the Homestead Grays 17 years and never missed a payday. You were always booked to play somewhere every day. There never came a day when you weren’t booked to play a game somewhere. Never.

Buck Leonard

A power hitter who regularly batted over .330, Leonard starred for the Negro National League Homestead Grays from 1934 through 1950. The first baseman rarely missed a game while helping the club garner nine pennants and three Negro Leagues World Championships.

Frank Robinson’s jersey

It’s the same for all of us in the positions we’ve achieved. If we don’t speak up and speak out, who will?

Frank Robinson

The storybook ending to Robinson’s playing days was fulfilled when he became the first full-time Black manager in AL or NL history with the Cleveland Indians. In front of a thunderous crowd of 56,715 fans at Cleveland Stadium on Opening Day in 1975, Robinson crushed a solo home run while wearing this jersey in his first game as the club’s player-manager.

Ken Griffey Jr.’s cap, 1997

I just wanted to wear my dad’s hat, the Cincinnati Reds hat.

Ken Griffey Jr.

With his charisma and swagger, Griffey had every kid wearing their cap backward in the 1990s and 2000s. As it turns out, his iconic turn of the cap did not begin as a fashion statement. When the young Griffey wore his dad’s cap, the bill fell over his eyes, so he put it on backward.

Cool Papa Bell’s cleats

I’ve scored from first base on singles lots of times. Sometimes I could even score on a bunt.

Cool Papa Bell

Fleet afoot and dangerous at the plate, Bell was one of the greatest ball players of his era. The stellar center fielder wore these cleats in the 1940s, near the end of his 21 seasons in the Negro Leagues.

Mookie Betts’ 2022 All-Star Game shirt

I would love to see some people that look like me in the stands, and I’m sure they want to see people that look like them on the field.

Mookie Betts

Baseball figures such as Tony Clark, CC Sabathia, and Mookie Betts have cited the declining numbers of Black participants in baseball, from players to fans, and called for meaningful programs to be put in place to fix this problem.

Hank Aaron’s Sally League Ring

At the end of the season, we still heard a few choice names being shouted at us from the stands, but not as often or as loudly as in the beginning. Little by little—one by one—the fans accepted us.

Hank Aaron

In 1953, Hank Aaron and four other players broke the Southern Atlantic League’s color barrier. The 19-year-old Aaron was awarded this ring after he helped the Jacksonville Braves win that year’s regular-season championship.

Fleet Walker with Toledo Base Ball Club, 1883

The subordinate race grows more and more restless under discriminating laws and customs as the people learn to recognize their social, industrial, and political ostracism.

Fleet Walker

As a Black professional ballplayer in the 1880s, Walker (back row, center) endured multiple incidents in which bigoted opponents refused to play against him. Nonetheless, the catcher played ball throughout the decade, then turned to activism, eventually becoming an author and promoter of the back-to-Africa movement.

Joe Black’s first NL victory baseball, 1952

Some of the players on the Cincinnati Reds thought that they would greet me with a few bars of Old Black Joe…My first pitch was ‘up and in.’…A few more ‘in-shoots’ and the singing came to a halt.

Joe Black

Disproving the racial stereotype that Black players could not play “thinking positions” like pitcher and catcher, Joe Black took the National League by storm in 1952. The NL Rookie of the Year pitched the Brooklyn Dodgers to the pennant with a 15-4 record, 15 saves, and a 2.15 ERA.

Florida A&M cap from 2024 Andre Dawson Classic

It’s exciting now to see the strides that have been made with a lot of the initiatives to get these African Americans to get back on the playing field, grasp the game, learn the game, and enjoy the game for what it is.

Andre Dawson

To improve scouting at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), MLB’s Andre Dawson Classic is an annual multi-day tournament that showcases players from six HBCUs. Launched in 2008 and named in honor of the Florida A&M graduate and Hall of Fame outfielder, the tournament has featured more than 25 HBCU athletes who have been selected in the MLB Draft.

More than a new Exhibit

Through this initiative, we have developed outreach programs and online content that are making a positive impact on communities. 


Is made possible by: 


with additional support from