Quick Takes


    Thanks for the many e-mails giving me a thumbs-up on the Negro Leagues feature article last week. It continues (and ends) this week. I’m pleased you find the subject informative.


    Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby has become the youngest NHL player to reach 200 career points. Wayne Gretzky was the only other teenager to reach 200 points, reaching that mark shortly before his 20th birthday. Crosby won't be 20 until August. Is he another Gretzky? Is he better than Gretzky? Only time will tell, but he’s got to stay injury-free through his entire career as #99 did.


    A rule change in pro basketball took place in 1937 that revolutionized the game. It was the elimination of the mid-court jump ball following each and every basket. One can only imagine how slow and boring basketball was before that.


    Joe Flynn, age 21, shot an 82 at the 6,228-yard Port Royal Golf Course in Bermuda on March 27, 1975. “Shot” is a poor choice of words. He did it without any clubs; he threw and rolled all 82 balls. I’ll have to try that; it’s the closest I’ll ever get to a golf score of 82. Come to think of it, I just hope I live to 82.


    Another guy not bad at tossing balls in the air was Terry Bradshaw. He became the dominant quarterback of the NFL and led the Pittsburgh Steelers to eight AFC Central championships, and an unprecedented four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period from 1974 to 1979. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that Bradshaw set a national high school record at 17 in 1966 for the javelin throw of 243’-7”. That’s 81 yards. A football later became his javelin at Louisiana Tech and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I still maintain that Terry Bradshaw was as fine a QB as ever played in the NFL.


Story of the Week


Part 2 Of 2 (Continued From 3-8-07)


    The Negro National League continued on a sound footing for most of the 1920s, ultimately succumbing to the financial pressures of the Great Depression and dissolving after the 1931 season. The second Negro National League, organized by Pittsburgh bar owner Gus Greenlee, quickly took up where Foster's league left off and became the dominant force in black baseball from 1933 through 1949.


    The Negro Southern League was in continuous operation from 1920 through the 1940s and held the position as black baseball's only operating major circuit for the 1931 season. In 1937 the Negro American League was launched, bringing into its fold the best clubs in the South and Midwest, and stood as the opposing circuit to Greenlee's Negro National League until the latter league disbanded after the 1949 season.


    Despite the difficult econmic challenges posed to the entire nation by the Depression, the three major Negro League circuits weathered the storm and steadily built what was to become one of the largest and most successful black-owned enterprises in America. The existence and success of these leagues stood as a testament to the determination and resolve of black America to forge ahead in the face of racial segregation and social disadvantage.


3. The Golden Years Of Black Baseball.


    When Gus Greenlee organized the new Negro National League in 1933 it was his firm intention to field the most powerful baseball team in America. He may well have achieved his goal. In 1935 his Pittsburgh Crawfords lineup showcased the talents of no fewer than five future Hall-Of-Famers - Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson and Oscar Charleston.


    While the Crawfords were, undoubtedly, black baseball's premier team during the mid-1930s, by the end of the decade Cumberland Posey's Homestead Grays had wrested the title from the Crawfords, winning 9 consecutive Negro National League titles from the late 1930s through the mid-1940s. Featuring former Crawfords stars Gibson and Bell, the Grays augmented their lineup with Hall-Of-Fame talent such as that of power-hitting first baseman Buck Leonard.


    Contributing greatly to the ever-growing national popularity of Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s was the East-West All-Star game played annually at Chicago's Comiskey Park. Originally conceived as a promotional tool by Gus Greenlee in 1933, the game quickly became black baseball's most popular attraction and biggest money maker. From the first game forward the East-West classic regularly packed Comiskey Park while showcasing the Negro League's finest talent.


    As World War II came to a close and the demands for social justice swelled throughout the country, many felt that it could not be long until baseball's color barrier would come crashing down. Not only had African-Americans proven themselves on the battlefield and seized an indisputable moral claim to an equal share in American life, the stars of the black baseball had proven their skills in venues like the East-West Classic and countless exhibition games against major league stars. The time for integration had come.


4. The Color Barrier Is Broken.


    Baseball's color barrier cracked on April 18, 1946 when Jackie Robinson, signed to the Dodgers organization by owner Branch Rickey, made his first appearance with the Montreal Royals in the International League. After a single season with Montreal, Robinson joined the parent club and helped propel the Dodgers to a National League pennant. Along the way he also earned National League Rookie Of The Year honors.


    Robinson's success opened the floodgates for a steady stream of black players into organized baseball. Robinson was shortly joined in Brooklyn by Negro League stars Roy Campanella, Joe Black and Don Newcombe, and Larry Doby became the American League's first black star with the Cleveland Indians. By 1952 there were 150 black players in organized baseball, and the "cream of the crop" had been lured from Negro League rosters to the integrated minors and majors.


    During the four years immediately following Robinson's debut with the Dodgers virtually all of the Negro Leagues' best talent had either left the league for opportunities with integrated teams or had grown too old to attract the attention of major league scouts. With this sudden and dramatic departure of talent black team owners witnessed a financially devastating decline in attendance at Negro League games. The attention of black fans had forever turned to the integrated major leagues, and the handwriting was on the wall for the Negro Leagues.


    The Negro National League disbanded after the 1949 season, never to return. After a long and successful run black baseball's senior circuit was no longer a viable commercial enterprise. Though the Negro American League continued on throughout the 1950s, it had lost the bulk of its talent and virtually all of its fan appeal. After a decade of operating as a shadow of its former self, the league closed its doors for good in 1962.

    The beloved goodwill spokesman for the Negro Leagues, Buck O’Neil, died last September in Kansas City, eight months after he fell just one vote short of the Hall of Fame. He was 94.
    John "Buck" O’Neil was a first baseman and a manager in the Negro Leagues for 18 years (1937-55). In 1962, O’Neil became the first black major league coach when he was hired as coach of the Chicago Cubs. He coached Hall-of-Famers ala Ernie Banks, Lou Brock and Billy Williams. O’Neil was the star of two Negro League World Series, and he won a Negro National League batting title. While he was manager of the Kansas City Monarchs, he helped over 36 black players get into major league baseball.


    Kansas City, MO. is the home of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.


Last Week’s Trivia


    Norm Van Brocklin is the only quarterback to ever beat Lombardi in a NFL playoff game. In 1960, he led the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL title game over the Green Bay Packers. “The Dutchman” was one great passer.


Trivia Question of the Week


    As long as we’re on the subject of quarterbacks, who was the first QB to be named Super Bowl MVP despite not throwing a TD pass in the game? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.