Last week, Major League Baseball spring training camps opened in Arizona and Florida. The Kansas City Royals are working out in Surprise, Ariz., and the St. Louis Cardinals are training in Jupiter, Fla. Countdown to opening day!
For me, it’s natural to see people of color playing on my teams, but not that long ago, players like Dexter Fowler or Alcides Escobar wouldn’t have been allowed to play in the majors. Then, Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate; he “broke baseball’s color barrier” when he started for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Before Jackie, though, black athletes played segregated baseball in the Negro Leagues. You can learn about this part of history in an amazing place in Kansas City, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, located in the 18th & Vine National Historic District.
The first professional black baseball team goes way back to 1885. Although they never made near the money white players did, at one time, the league was the third-largest black business in the country. Missouri’s teams were the Kansas City Monarchs and the St. Louis Giants. The last Negro League game was played in 1958.
And the athletes were incredible! Josh Gibson, a catcher and power hitter, is called by many “the best of any league.” In 1934, Josh slammed 69 home runs. Satchel Paige might be the best pitcher in history; he attracted huge crowds wherever he pitched, and when he moved into Major League Baseball (Cleveland Indians) in 1948, he was the oldest “rookie” at 42. Satchel went on to play for the St. Louis Browns until he was 47.
Buck O’Neil played first base for the Monarchs from 1938-1955. He became a baseball scout and was the first black coach in the majors in 1962 for the Chicago Cubs. Buck, who’s been honored by President George W. Bush and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., played a big part in bringing the Negro Leagues Museum to Kansas City.
When you visit, start with the short film as an intro to the museum. Walk through the different sections and see uniforms, photographs, more video, and the very cool Field of Legends, a pretend ball diamond with bronze sculptures of the best players in the league.
This has been Jayla, sports reporter for Show Me Adventure Kids on assignment for Black History Month. Next time you’re at a game watching the Royals at Kauffman or the Cards at Busch, remember what black baseball players had to do to play the game they loved.
Admission to the Negro League Baseball Museum is $6 for kids and $10 for adults. Get more info at https://www.nlbm.com/s/index.cfm.
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