Rube Foster’s writing predicted future of Black baseball
Major League baseball commemorated the 100th anniversary of the 1920 founding of the Negro Leagues. The centennial celebration – which included all MLB players, managers, coaches and umpires wearing a symbolic Negro Leagues 100th anniversary logo patch during games – can be traced back to the groundbreaking work of Foster.
In 1920, the United States saw women win the right to vote and prohibition enacted. But in a small corner of the Midwest, an event – almost a footnote at the time – took place that would in both the short- and long-term change the face of the National Pastime.
“Race fans should be very thankful for a league and do their very best in turning out to the games in full force, showing their appreciation toward Mr. Foster and his league. They will find the same caliber of high class play that is dished up by the white major leagues.”
Judge W.C. Hueston, president of the NNL in the late 1920s, stated that it was his belief that the league was the greatest leveler of prejudice. “It was also the best propaganda possible in advance of the theory that our group could do anything as well as whites.”
Judging by the number of NNL players who would eventually be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, such as Rube Foster’s half-brother Bill Foster, Turkey Stearnes, Pete Hill, Oscar Charleston, Biz Mackey, Ben Taylor, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown, Andy Cooper, Pop Lloyd, Jose Méndez, Joe Rogan, Mule Suttles, Cristóbal Torriente and Willie Wells, there’s no doubt about the high caliber of play.
As for Rube Foster, who would be elected by the Hall of Fame’s Committee on Veterans in 1981, he would serve his team and the NNL until late in 1926 when illness forced his retirement. He died four years later at 51.
In a Dec. 20, 1930, Chicago Defender editorial, it was written that: “Foster was not a ‘Colored’ baseball man – he was a person of consequence wherever baseball was discussed. He proved to a doubtful public that white people have no monopoly on baseball, either from the playing or box office point of view. He proved that persistency, ability and a knowledge of the game are all the attributes essential to a successful undertaking in any game. Even the color of his skin was no barrier to the success of Rube Foster – it may be said that he profited by it. Certainly he climbed to heights untrod before by a baseball man of his color, and he made some steps that have already proved most difficult to follow.”
In the summer of 1931, after having been without Foster’s guidance for four years, the NNL, which added and subtracted numerous cities to its roster over the years, folded. But ultimately, Foster proved that segregated baseball could be a viable business for Black entrepreneurs.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum