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Baseball: Negro League museum tells segregation tale
In this April 8, 1999 file photo, baseball great Hank Aaron waves to the crowd during a ceremony that unveiled the Hank Aaron Award on the 25th anniversary of his historic 755th home run before the start of the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies game at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia. The San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals -- who are battling for this year's World Series title -- have rosters featuring whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians. But multi-cultural squads were not always the norm. Just down the highway from where the Major League Baseball champion will be crowned this week, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum tells a different story -- one of segregation and struggle. While some black players -- like Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947 with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers -- rose to the sport's highest heights, others never made it to the big leagues. AFP PHOTO/STEVE SCHAEFER / FILES.

By: Jim Slater


KANSAS CITY, MO (AFP).- The San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals -- who are battling for this year's World Series title -- have rosters featuring whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians.

But multi-cultural squads were not always the norm.

Just down the highway from where the Major League Baseball champion will be crowned this week, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum tells a different story -- one of segregation and struggle.

While some black players -- like Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947 with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers -- rose to the sport's highest heights, others never made it to the big leagues.

The segregation policy began as early as the 1880s, when Cap Anson, an influential white star of the time, refused to play an 1883 exhibition for Chicago against a Toledo squad featuring black catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker.

From there, a "gentlemen's agreement" emerged, under which elite all-white teams did not sign African-American talent.

Frustrated by the unofficial ban, black players moved to form their own leagues. The games attracted huge crowds in their heyday.

World-class players 
Andrew "Rube" Foster pulled together the first all-black circuit during the Roaring 20s in Kansas City, a major hub of the Negro Leagues into the early 1960s.

League teams withstood the Great Depression of the 1930s thanks to regional tours, at times playing in towns in the American south and Midwest where some people would not sell food to blacks or refuel their buses.

Players even had to pitch tents because they were refused lodging.

Teams flourished again in the 1940s, when soldiers of all races fought side-by-side in World War II and helped drive cross-cultural understanding that would bring integration in US sports and, later, racial integration in US society.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum -- located near jazz clubs where players relaxed after games -- opened in 1997. Former star Buck O'Neil helped create the heritage display before his death in 2006 at age 94.

"All the players I played against were world-class players," O'Neil says in a museum video. 

"The level was as good as anyone was playing."

First homer at Jingu
Negro League played at night using portable lights from 1930 -- five years before the technology was first used by Major League teams.

And before US Major League All-Star teams toured Japan in the 1930s, the Philadelphia Royal Giants traveled to the country in 1927. 

Negro League catcher Biz Mackey even hit the first home run at Tokyo's then-new Jingu Stadium, according to a museum display.

For every Major League legend such as Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees, there was a Negro League star like Josh Gibson or James "Cool Papa" Bell of the Homestead Grays who never had the chance to compete against them.

In all, more than 2,600 players competed in the Negro Leagues.

Some followed Robinson into the Major Leagues, such as Leroy "Satchel" Paige, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, a former Indianapolis Clowns standout who would break Ruth's all-time home run record with his 715th in 1974.


© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse





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