Negro League History


Early Baseball History:

Americans began playing baseball in the early 1800s on informal teams and using local rules. By the 1860s, the sport, unrivaled in popularity, was being described as America's “national pastime.”

  • 1845: Alexander Cartwright published a set of baseball rules for the Knickerbocker Club of New York, and his rules were widely adopted.
  • 1869: The Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first salaried team and are thus considered the first professional team.
  • 1871: The first professional baseball league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, was established.
  • 1876:The first major league, the National League, was formed.

Negro Baseball Beginnings:

Negro Americans played baseball throughout the 1800’s, and by the 1860’s notable black amateur teams such as the Colored Union Club, in Brooklyn and the Pythian Club, in Philadelphia had formed. All-black professional teams began in the 1880s, among them the St. Louis Black Stockings and the Cuban Giants (of New York). Reflecting American society in general, amateur and professional baseball remained largely segregated

During the 1890s, most professional black players were limited to playing in exhibition games on "colored" teams on the barnstorming circuit. Players on major league teams also barnstormed in cities and towns after the regular season was over. In some places black teams and white teams played each other, and some blacks played for all-black teams in otherwise all-white leagues.

  • 1878:Bud Fowler, becomes the first Negro player to cross the color barrier as a pitcher for the Lynn, Mass. Live Oaks of the International League.
  • 1883:Moses Fleetwood "Fleet" Walker, joins  the minor league Toledo Blue Stockings as a catcher.  When the Blue Stockings joined the American Association in 1884, Walker became the first Negro major leaguer.
  • 1885: the (NY) Cuban Giantsbecame the very first salaried professional black baseball team.
  • 1887: In July of 1887, the International League banned future contracts with black players, although it allowed black players already under contract to stay on with their teams.
  • 1894:Bud Fowlerforms an independent Page Fence Giants team in Adrian, Michigan.
  • 1901: In an attempt to bypass the color barrier, Baltimore Oriole manager John McGraw introduced his new player as Chief Charlie Tokohama, a full blooded American Indian.  McGraw’s plan backfired when fans in Chicago recognized the ‘Chief’ as actually being Charlie Grant, a well known star for the Page Fence Giants.
  • 1907: Pitcher Rube Foster begins his managerial career with the Leland Giants as a player-manager.
  • 1920: On February 14, Rube Foster organizes the first black professional baseball league (Negro National League) consisting of eight teams: Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABC’s, Kansas City Monarchs, St. Louis Giants, and the Cuban Stars.
    See the next column to learn about the Negro Major Leagues and what happens next...

History of the Negro Major Leagues
by Todd Bolton, NLBPA Historian
For more info on the history of baseball visit

The first successful organized Negro League was established on February 13, 1920, at a YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri. Andrew "Rube" Foster was the driving force behind the organization of this league and served as its president.

As a result of his leadership role in the early years of the leagues, Foster is known as "the father of black baseball." This first league was known as the Negro National League with member teams in the South and Midwest. The NNL operated successfully until 1931.

Three years after the founding of the NNL, the Eastern Colored League was formed on December 16, 1923, with Edward H. Bolden serving as chairman. In 1924, the very first Negro World Series was played between the ECL and the NNL champions. The ECL collapsed in the spring of 1928 but the member teams reemerged in 1929 as the American Negro League.

The depression years were especially difficult times for black baseball. In 1932, the East-West League was formed, but folded before the season ended. The Negro Southern League was the only black professional league to survive the 1932 season. The NSL was a minor league before and after the 1932 season.

In 1933, a second Negro National League was formed, and was the only black professional league operating until 1937. The league included teams from the East and the Midwest through 1935. By 1936, the NNL was operating exclusively in the East.

In 1937, teams in the South and the Midwest formed the Negro American League. The NAL and the NNL coexisted through the 1948 season. In 1949, the NNL was absorbed in the NAL, which operated as the last black major league through 1960.

As in the white major leagues, the Negro leagues had their own World Series. Over the years, eleven inter-league Black World Series were held. The NNL and ECL played from 1924 through 1927. Champions from the second NNL and the NAL competed from 1942 through 1948. Also in 1933, the black teams began all-star game competition. The game was known as the East-West game and was played each summer at Chicago's Comiskey Park. This game was considered more important than the World Series and annually attracted between 20,000 and 50,000 fans.