Quick Takes


    Per Shaquille O’Neal and his reference to being voted into the NBA All-Star Game after playing just 10 games this season: “I’m like President Bush. You may not like me. You may not respect me. But you voted me in.” No, Shaq did not deserve to be in this year’s game. The main difference between the two, however, is that O’Neal is far better at his job than Bush is at his.


    Hard to believe that Roberto Clemente has been dead for 34 years. He died valiantly on December 31, 1972 in a plane crash while en route to delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua His body was never recovered. In that 1972 season, Clemente eerily referred to his 3,000th career hit that he would later get in the last game of that season by stating that “I have to get that hit this year. I might be dead before next season.” For more about the great Clemente, see my article dated 5-29-03.


    Here’s to the NFL’s salary cap. Some teams have to cut loose quality players while other teams can afford to sign them. Their salary cap is exactly why the NFL is a level field.


    ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls own top NBA regular season record at 72-10. The Dallas Mavs have lost just nine games this season. What a run!


    Sunday is March Madness team selections, brackets and seeds. As I state each year, although it doesn’t help, here’s to the University of Memphis to win it all, but they won’t…………they shoot their free throws like Shaq.


Story of the Week


    The source of this article is Negro League Baseball. I chose to reproduce it on my site because it does the subject far more justice than I could, and because the subject is very interesting and important to me. It’s lengthy, so I’ve chosen to break it down into two parts in back-to-back articles; I’ve never done that before.


Negro League Baseball.

    Most everyone knows that Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play major league baseball during the modern era. Surprisingly, few people have given much thought to how Robinson came to the attention of major league scouts, where he played before signing with the Dodgers, or just what the nature of baseball in the black community might have been before professional baseball's integration.


    In the following paragraphs we'll take a quick trip through the years of baseball in black America that led up to Robinson's 1947 debut in Brooklyn. Our tour is intended to introduce those who are just learning about the Negro Leagues to this fascinating era in the history of American sports and society.


    There won't be much here to interest the baseball afficianado -- just a brief introduction for those newly discovering Negro League baseball.


1. The Baseball World Before 1890.


    While it would be quite a stretch to say that professional baseball in the North was integrated between the end of the Civil War and 1890, quite a number of African-Americans played alongside white athletes on minor league and major league teams during the period. Although the original National Association of Base Ball Players, formed in 1867, had banned black athletes, by the late 1870s several African-American players were active on the rosters of white, minor league teams. Most of these players fell victim to regional prejudices and an unofficial color ban after brief stays with white teams, but some notable exceptions built long and solid careers in white professional baseball.


    In 1884 the Stillwater, Minnesota club in the Northwestern league signed John W. "Bud" Fowler, an African-American with more than a decade's experience as an itinerate, professional player. Fowler, a second-baseman by preference, played virtually every position on the field for Stillwater, enhancing the reputation that had brought him to the attention of white team owners. Fowler's baseball career continued through the end of the 19th Century, much of it spent on the rosters of minor league clubs in organized baseball.


    In 1883 former Oberlin College star Moses "Fleetwood" Walker began his professional career with Toledo in the Northwestern League. A more than average hitter, Walker was among baseball's finest catchers almost from the beginning of his career. When the Toledo club joined the American Association in 1884 Walker became the first black player to play with a major league franchise.


    In 1886 both Walker and Fowler were in the white minor leagues along with two other black stars, George Stovey and Frank Grant. Doubtless, many other black players were playing with teams in the "outlaw" leagues and independent barnstorming clubs. At least in the North and Midwest the best black players found a measure of tolerance, if not acceptance, in white baseball until the end of the 1880s. But in 1890 this situation abruptly changed.


    As the season of 1890 began there were no black players in the International League, the most prestigious of the minor league circuits. Without making a formal announcement, a gentlemen's agreement had been made which would bar black players from participation for the next fifty-five years. Though black players continued to find work in lesser leagues for a time, within only a few short years no team in organized baseball would accept black players. By the turn of the century the color barrier was firmly in place.


2. Professional Black Baseball Comes To The Fore.


    While Fowler, Walker, Grant and others were working to find a spot (and keep it) in organized baseball, other black players were pursuing careers with the more than 200 all-black independent teams that performed throughout the country from the early 1880s forward. Eastern teams like the powerful Cuban Giants, Cuban X Giants and Harrisburg Giants played both independently and in loosely organized leagues through the end of the century, and in the early 1900s professional black baseball began to blossom throughout America's heartland and even in the South.


    The early years of the 20th Century saw an emergence of several powerful black clubs in the Midwest. Teams like the Chicago Giants, Indianapolis ABCs, St. Louis Giants and Kansas City Monarchs rose to prominence and presented a legitimate challenge to the claim of diamond supremacy made by Eastern clubs like the Lincoln Giants in New York, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Cuban Stars and Homestead (Pa.) Grays. In the South, black baseball was flourishing in Birmingham's industrial leagues, and teams like the Nashville Standard Giants and Birmingham Black Barons were establishing solid regional reputations.


    By the end of World War I black baseball had become, perhaps, the number one entertainment attraction for urban black populations throughout the country. It was at that time that Andrew "Rube" Foster, owner of the Chicago American Giants and black baseball's most influential personality, determined that the time had arrived for a truly organized and stable Negro league. Under Foster's leadership in 1920 the Negro National League was born in Kansas City, fielding eight teams: Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Kansas City Monarchs and St. Louis Giants.


    In the same year Thomas T. Wilson, owner of the Nashville Elite Giants, organized the Negro Southern League with teams in Nashville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Montgomery and New Orleans. Only three years later the Eastern Colored League was formed in1923 featuring the Hilldale Club, Cuban Stars (East), Brooklyn Royal Giants, Bacharach Giants, Lincoln Giants and Baltimore black Sox.


To be continued next week.


Last Week’s Trivia


    The absolutely amazing Babe Ruth was the youngest lefty to win 20 games in the majors. He did it as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 1916. He won 23 games. He was 21.


Trivia Question of the Week


    Who is the only NFL quarterback to defeat a Vince Lombardi-coached team in a playoff game? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.