This summer, I was inspired by our programs at National Park to explore my own family connections with baseball. This post is a follow-up to my colleague Lauren’s post, “Baseball History: Reflections & Family History Activities”.
My grandfather grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, home of his baseball hero—Larry Doby. After serving in World War II, Doby played in the Negro Leagues before being signed to an American League team, the Cleveland Indians. He made his debut eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson broke professional baseball’s color barrier. When Larry Doby played for the minor league team the Newark Eagles, my grandfather was a bat boy, paid fifty cents per day to climb on the stadium roof and throw baseballs back. Though my grandfather has since passed away, the story of his connection to Doby is preserved in an oral history interview my sister conducted for the National Park Service.
Whenever my grandfather talked about baseball, however, he expressed sadness that Larry Doby did not receive equal recognition as Jackie Robinson. Doby and other Black players of the era faced much of the same discrimination that Robinson did—such as getting jeered at by fans and fellow players, missing out on career opportunities, and being forced to lodge and eat separately from his teammates while playing in segregated stadiums. In honor of his overlooked contributions, we wanted to highlight Doby and other Negro League baseball players that you can discuss with your own family, much like my grandfather taught me about Larry Doby.
Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige
You may know the number “42” as Jackie Robinson’s jersey number, but it’s also the age that LeRoy Robert “Satchel” Paige was when he played his first American League game. Like Larry Doby, he played for the Cleveland Indians—and they led the team to win the World Series in 1948. Paige pitched professionally in the Negro Leagues for over twenty years before he became the oldest American or National league debutant, a record that still stands today. Check out this photograph of him in the Library’s collection from his Negro League days on the Kansas City Monarchs.
Family Discussion Questions & Activities
- What more can your children learn about Satchel Paige? Encourage your children to search his name on “Chronicling America”, the Library of Congress’s digitized newspaper database. Keep in mind these sources might use terms from the time that are outdated today.
- Check out this 1948 article in the Chicago Star and this 1954 article in the Saint Paul Recorder. What does your family and children learn about Paige from these articles? Even though Paige was eventually allowed into the American and National Leagues, discrimination affected his career. Ask your children to identify how.
This summer, during our sessions at Nationals Park, pitcher Sean Doolittle read a children’s book about Josh Gibson. This encouraged me to research Gibson in our collection. I found this article in the Apache Sentinel, that shares Gibson’s impressive stats, but laments that he is “practically unknown to most of the baseball fans of the nation” because he played in the Negro Leagues, which were not recognized as part of Major League Baseball until 2020.
I also learned through Library resources that Gibson’s story had a tragic end. He never played in the American or National leagues. Sadly, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, and died of a stroke in 1947 at the age of thirty-five, three months before Jackie Robinson broke the color line. Because Gibson played for the Washington Homestead Grays—the District of Columbia’s Negro Leagues team—he is memorialized in a statue outside Nationals Park.
Discussion Questions and Activities
- What more can your child discover about Josh Gibson? Encourage your child to search his name on Chronicling America. Make it a fun challenge—if you have more than one child in your family, ask your children to search his name and identify a favorite source. Do your kids identify the same source?
- Ask your child to make a list of three facts that they learn about Josh Gibson
- The article laments that Gibson was relatively unknown when he played. Encourage your child to make a poster, baseball card, or other visual organizer so they can share what they learned about Gibson with family and friends.
What else can you and your family discover about early Black baseball players? Check out these additional Library resources:
- This trivia post from Headlines and Heroes can test your family’s knowledge of the Negro Leagues. Scroll to the bottom for answers and sources!
- Who’s Playing, a section of the Baseball Americana exhibit
- Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson- collections, articles, and essays including “The One Hundred Percent Wrong Club”, a speech by baseball executive Branch Rickey on integration
- Learn more about Branch Rickey in this blog post
- This map of Washington D.C. depicts Griffith Stadium, home of the Negro League’s Homestead Grays and the Washington Senators
Let us know in the comments if you find any other Library sources related to the Negro Leagues for your children and family to discuss!