You’ll never know how easy you and Jackie and Doby and Campy made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field.
-Martin Luther King Jr.,
speaking to Dodger great, Don Newcombe about a month before King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Only recently have the exploits of Negro Leagues players been officially recognized by Major League Baseball (MLB). These players along with their statistics, records, and teams are now considered Major League. A wrong has finally been righted, so let’s get to know some of these greats and have some fun at the same time with a trivia quiz!
Sitting through nine innings gives baseball fans plenty of time to split hairs about facts and figures, so let’s just get the boring disclaimers out of the way now: 1) No statistics mentioned are deemed to be 100% accurate due to the lack of uniform record-keeping standards during the Negro Leagues era. 2) Teams associated with a particular player indicate that player’s primary team, not necessarily the only team he played on throughout his career. 3) Date range displayed next to names indicates active years unless otherwise noted.
Time to play ball!
- Which two-way player for the Pittsburgh Crawfords was given the moniker “Double Duty” by baseball writer Damon Runyon in the 1930s?
- Jersey number 42 has been permanently retired for all Major League Baseball teams to honor what player?
- Who was the first woman to play professional baseball regularly in a major men’s baseball league?
- Name the Kansas City Monarchs’ pitcher who made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians) on his 42nd birthday and later that same season became the first Black player to pitch in a World Series.
- Name the Kansas City Monarchs’ star first baseman who became the first ever Black coach (not manager) in the Major Leagues when he was hired by the Chicago Cubs in 1962.
- Name the catcher for the Homestead Grays who was known as the “Black Babe Ruth” for being a legendary slugger.
- Who is considered the first Black professional baseball player to play on an integrated team?
- What Cuban-born pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs was known as “El Diamante Negro” or the Black Diamond?
- Who was the first and only woman to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
- Legend has it that he stole 175 bases in a 200-game season and could round the bases in 12 seconds flat. However, he earned his nickname for being cool under pressure. Who was he?
- Who played shortstop for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 before becoming a member of the Milwaukee Braves the following season?
- Who was considered by legendary catcher Roy Campanella as the “greatest all-around player I have ever seen”?
- Before becoming Jackie Robinson’s teammate as with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, and eventually three-time National League MVP, he was the catcher for the Baltimore Elite Giants in the Negro Leagues. Who was he?
- Who became the first Black baseball player to compete in the American League and the second player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier?
- Who was the founder of the Pythian Base Ball club of Philadelphia in 1865 and play in the first documented interracial baseball game?
1.Which two-way player for the Pittsburgh Crawfords was given the moniker “Double Duty” by baseball writer Damon Runyon in the 1930s?
Ted Radcliffe (active: 1928-1950): Both a catcher and a pitcher for several Negro League teams, Radcliffe would often pitch the first game and then catch the second game of a doubleheader. In 1932, after witnessing him catch for Satchel Paige to win the first game 4-0, and then pitch a shutout (5-0) in the second game of a doubleheader against the Black New York Yankees, Damon Runyon wrote, “it was worth the price of two admissions to see ‘Double Duty’ Radcliffe play” (McCrary, 1994, p. 71).
2. Jersey number 42 has been permanently retired for all Major League Baseball teams to honor what player?
Jackie Robinson (active: 1945-1956) – Robinson spent just a single season in the Negro Leagues with the powerhouse Kansas City Monarchs playing alongside greats like Satchel Page, “Double Duty” Radcliffe, and “Cool Papa” Bell, who taught him how to slide (Holway, 2001). Though, clearly not the best player in the Negro Leagues, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, chose Robinson as the point man to desegregate Major League baseball. The interesting part is why.
Unlike most of his Black teammates, Robinson grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Pasadena, California and was the first to letter in four sports, including baseball, while attending UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), an integrated institution. Rickey was looking for a star athlete who was educated, a teetotaler, and used to competing with and against white players. Robinson met all three criteria and on April 15, 1947, made history upon stepping onto the baseball diamond at Ebbets Field as a second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie Robinson was inducted into Cooperstown in 1962, his first year of eligibility five years after retirement.
On April 15, 1997, the 50th Anniversary of Robinson’s debut, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, retired no. 42 from baseball. April 15th might be Tax Day, but for us baseball fans it will always be Jackie Robinson Day.
3. Who was the first woman to play professional baseball regularly in a major men’s baseball league?
Toni Stone (active: 1950-1953) – Upon replacing Hank Aaron as second baseman (person?) for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, Stone became the first woman to play professional baseball regularly in a major men’s baseball league. That same year she got a hit off Satchel Paige, arguably the greatest pitcher in the Negro Leagues. She was disrespected and mistreated by her male teammates, but proudly displayed the battle scars she received from being spiked by their shoes. See Toni Stone: First Woman to Play Big-League Baseball, part of the Library’s Headlines and Heroes blogs to learn more.
4. Name the Kansas City Monarchs’ pitcher who made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians) on his 42nd birthday and later that same season became the first Black player to pitch in a World Series.
Satchel Paige (active: 1926-1953) – Leroy “Satchel” Paige was without a doubt the most prolific player in the Negro Leagues. The stories of his mastery on the mound are legendary and numerous, so we’ll limit ourselves to just a couple of them. First up is how Paige got his nickname which also led to him becoming a baseball player. As a child, Paige worked as a porter at the L&N train station near his home in Mobile, Alabama, lugging passenger’s suitcases from the station to the Battle House hotel. He earned a dime (10 cents) per bag. To increase his earnings, Paige took a pole and some rope and fashioned a rig that would allow him to carry four suitcases at a time. His fellow baggage handlers thought Paige resembled “a walking satchel tree” with suitcases dangling from his pole. The name stuck and he did quadruple his profit.
Unfortunately, by the time Paige was 12-years old, he preferred stealing suitcases rather than delivering them which landed him in reform school. This is where Paige mastered the hurler’s art and his trademark pre-release high kick motion that “blacked out the sky and befuddled the batter.”
Now, we fast forward to 1942 with Paige in top form pitching for the Kansas City Monarchs in Game 2 of the Negro Leagues World Series against the Homestead Grays. Monarchs are up 2-0 with a man on first and no outs. Paige calls out to Buck O’Neil, “Heh, Nancy, I’m gonna put [Vic] Harris on base, I’m gonna put [Howard] Easterling on base. I’m gonna pitch to Josh Gibson.” O’Neil thinks he’s lost his mind. Both the manager and owner overhear the exchange, run onto the field, and start waving their arms like crazy trying to keep Paige from going up against the “Black Babe Ruth.” Paige assures them he’ll strike Gibson out.
But, it’s not enough that Paige has loaded the bases just to pitch to Gibson, he goads him further saying, “I heard all about how good you could hit me. Now I fixed it for you. Let’s see how good you can hit me now. Look at you, you’re not ready.” Well, here’s how Gibson’s at-bat went according to Paige’s recollection:
- Strike One: Fastball, sidearm, knee-high
- Strike Two: Another fastball, but faster than the last
- Strike Three: Curveball, three-quarter sidearm knee-high on the outside corner
Apparently, Gibson reacted by tossing his bat and storming off the field (Holway, 2001).
It wasn’t until his 42nd birthday on July 7, 1948, that major league baseball finally got to take advantage of Paige’s talent. That same year, as a Cleveland Indian, he became the first Black player to pitch in a World Series. He pitched for the last time on September 25, 1965. The 59-year old Paige pitched three scoreless innings for the Kansas City Athletics with only Carl Yastrzemski managing to get a hit. Satchel Paige was inducted into the Hall of Fame as the first selectee of the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues in 1971.
5. Name the Kansas City Monarchs’ star first baseman who became the first ever Black coach (not manager) in the Major Leagues when he was hired by the Chicago Cubs in 1962.
Buck O’Neil (active: 1937-2006) – O’Neil was a standout first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs and later managed, resulting in a career spanning more than two decades with the same organization. He also made history when the Chicago Cubs hired him as coach in 1962. He became the first Black coach in the Major Leagues. But, it was his contributions off the field after his playing days that made him worthy for enshrinement into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022.
An avid storyteller, O’Neil, pretty much single-handedly kept the memory of the Negro Leagues alive. He appeared in Ken Burn’s documentary “Baseball,” late-night talk shows, and did speaking engagements recounting his experience in the Negro Leagues. The establishment of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri is thanks to Buck O’Neil’s influence. It was his idea that the institution be a museum instead of a Negro Leagues Hall of Fame, because, “If you were good enough, you should be recognized at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.”
O’Neil was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. In 2008, the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award was created to honor “an individual whose extraordinary efforts enhanced baseball’s positive impact on society, broadened the game’s appeal, and whose character, integrity and dignity are comparable to the qualities exhibited by O’Neil.”
6. Name the catcher for the Homestead Grays who was known as the “Black Babe Ruth” for being a legendary slugger.
Josh Gibson (active: 1930-1946) – Dubbed the “Brown Bambino of Baseball,” Gibson, catcher for the Homestead Grays, was often compared to Babe Ruth due to the prodigious number of balls he launched out of ballparks with the swing of his bat. His Hall of Fame plaque states that Gibson hit “almost 800 home runs…during his 17-year career.” Due to the dearth of official Negro Leagues statistics and lack of uniform record-keeping standards in those days, that number can never be confirmed.
What’s worse is that had Gibson not been excluded from the Majors, he might have dethroned Babe Ruth as the Sultan of Swat. Legendary (white) pitcher Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators thought Gibson was good enough to play in the big leagues noting that, “He can do everything. He hits the ball a mile. He catches so easy he might as well be in a rocking chair. Throws like a rifle.” Gibson was inducted into Cooperstown in 1972.
7. Who is considered the first Black professional baseball player to play on an integrated team?
Bud Fowler (active: 1878-1908) – In May 1878, when he was brought in to pitch for the Lynn Live Oaks minor league team along with his white teammate, George Wood, playing right field, Fowler “became the first African American to integrate a team in minor league history and thus the game’s first African American pro.”
Fowler, like many other Black players prior to the formal organization of the Negro Leagues in 1920, barnstormed or played for one team after another across the country. Often, white players refused to play with him due to the color of his skin, so Bud kept moving on. By 1895, he had played for 12 professional ball clubs. Not only did he play well, but could do so while injured. As a catcher for the Stillwaters (St. Paul, MN) in 1884, Fowler got stomped on by a base runner at home plate resulting in a broken toe. The doctor thought it would be several days before he could return. Fowler promised he’d be ready to go for the next game three days later. He returned, hitting a double, stealing two bases, and also injuring his finger playing second base while trying to stop a ground ball. His career spanned over 30 years. In 2022, he was finally inducted into Cooperstown where he grew up.
8. What Cuban-born pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs was known as “El Diamante Negro” or the Black Diamond?
José Méndez (active: 1908-1926) – Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the first Cuban-born baseball star of the pre-Negro Leagues era, Mendez was often compared to pitching great, Christy Mathewson, whom he pitched against several times. He was even nicknamed “Cuba’s Black Mathewson” as a starting pitcher for the Cuban League Almendares Blues. In his first season with the Blues, Mendez pitched 17 innings and only allowed four runs for an astounding 0.48 ERA (earned run average).
In 1920, the inaugural season of the Negro Leagues, Mendez was signed as a player/manager for the Kansas City Monarchs. Four years and three pennants later Mendez led the Monarchs to victory from the mound in the first Colored World Series. After pitching ten innings as a reliever through the first nine games of the ten game series, Mendez started Game 10 and threw a shutout to seal the win.
9. Who was the first and only woman to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
Effa Manley (active: 1935-48) – An activist, avid baseball fan, and shrewd businesswoman, Manley used her influence as owner of the Newark Eagles to fight discrimination against African Americans. She organized a boycott of Harlem stores that refused to hire Black people. After six weeks the store owners relented. Manley was the treasurer for both the Negro Leagues and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Her most important impact as an owner, however, was ensuring that Negro Leagues team owners were fairly compensated and player contracts were honored by the Major Leagues. In 1947, Larry Doby was the first player for which the Negro Leagues received compensation when he signed with Cleveland Indians.
In 2006, for her activism and contribution to the Negro Leagues, including a victory for her Newark Eagles in the 1946 Negro Leagues World Series, Manley became the first woman ever enshrined in Cooperstown.
10. Legend has it that he stole 175 bases in a 200-game season and could round the bases in 12 seconds flat. However, he earned his nickname for being cool under pressure. Who was he?
James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell (active: 1922-1950) – Due to his phenomenal speed around the base paths, Bell was one of the most skilled base-stealers in the Negro Leagues, if not professional baseball period. Legend has it he could round the bases in 12 seconds flat. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for Bell to steal two bases on a single pitch. Bell stole 330 bases throughout his career. For a year, Olympic track and field star Jesse Owens traveled with Bell’s team, the Pittsburgh Crawfords, racing fans and even horses as pre-game entertainment. Rumor has it Owens refused to race Bell even though he had several chances to do so.
The “Cool Papa” moniker had nothing to do with Bell’s speed, but rather for his veteran-like calmness under pressure on the mound. His manager Bill Gatewood (St. Louis Stars), bestowed the nickname upon Bell after witnessing him strikeout Oscar Charleston to get out of a sticky situation. In 1974, Cool Papa became the fifth Negro Leagues player inducted into Cooperstown.
11. Who played shortstop for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 before becoming a member of the Milwaukee Braves the following season?
Hank Aaron (active: 1952-1976) – In 1952, the Indianapolis Clowns signed an eighteen year-old shortstop named Henry “Hank” Aaron. During that season he was scouted by the Boston Braves and the New York Giants. For some reason, the Giants didn’t think much of him. By the end of the season Aaron had a batting average of .336 with nine home runs and was named rookie of the year. The following season, playing in the minor leagues, his batting average increased to .362 with 22 home runs. The following year Aaron made the jump to the Majors as an outfielder for the Milwaukee Braves. Twenty-three years and 755 long balls later Aaron was crowned the all-time home run king. Aaron’s no. 44 was retired by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1976 and he was enshrined into Cooperstown in 1982.
12. Who was considered by legendary catcher Roy Campanella as the “greatest all-around player I have ever seen”?
Monty Irvin (active: 1937-1956) – If it had been up to Negro Leagues owners to decide which player should be chosen to break organized baseball’s color barrier in 1947, they would have chosen Irvin. Most agree that he was the best player in the league at the time. By 1941, as a 22 year old infielder for the Newark Eagles, he’d won a batting title hitting .395 in 157 plate appearances. The following year, playing for the Vera Cruz Blues in the Mexican League, Irvin hit 20 home runs and almost won the Triple Crown. Legend has it that one of those home runs was ordered up by the Blues’ owner. After his service in World War II, Irvin led the Newark Eagles to victory in the 1946 Negro League World Series hitting .462 with three home runs against the Kansas City Monarchs whose pitching staff included stars Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith. In 1947, a year before entering the Majors, he won a championship in the Cuban winter leagues and practiced with a young pitcher named Fidel Castro.
13. Before becoming Jackie Robinson’s teammate on the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, and later three-time National League MVP, he was the catcher for the Baltimore Elite Giants in the Negro Leagues. Who was he?
Roy Campanella (active: 1937-1957) – One of the best catchers of all time in both the Negro and Major Leagues, Roy “Campy” Campanella was the offspring of an African American mother and an Italian-American father. As a child growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he was ridiculed as a “half-breed” by white and Black kids alike. In high school, he excelled at all sports, especially baseball, and was invariably selected as team captain despite his darker skin complexion. In fact, Campy was so good that it was rumored that he was invited to work out with the Phillies in 1937. However, when they found out he was Black, the Phillies pulled the offer.
The Phillies loss was the Baltimore Elite Giants’ gain. By 1939, 17-year old Campy became the club’s starting catcher. In 1945, Effa Manley, treasurer of the Negro Leagues and owner of the Newark Eagles, tapped Campy for a Black all-star team to play in five exhibition games against Major Leaguers at Ebbets Field. Charlie Dressen, the manager of the Major League side and a Dodgers’ coach, noticed Campy’s proficiency behind the plate and arranged a meeting with his boss, Branch Rickey. He was offered a spot in the Brooklyn organization, but turned it down because he thought he was being selected to play for the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, a new Negro League club that Rickey was starting up. At a Harlem hotel a couple of days later, Campy bumped into Jackie Robinson who told him he’d just signed with the big league Dodgers. Campy fired off a letter to Rickey expressing his interest in playing in the Majors.
Three years later on Opening Day, April 20, 1948, Roy Campanella made his debut as a Brooklyn Dodger and would remain with the organization for his entire 10-year career. He was named National League MVP three times. Campy also caught a record 100 games per season for nine consecutive seasons, and this was before catchers’ mitts were designed for catching the ball one-handed. As a result, Campy broke a lot of fingers but still managed to maintain a career .283 batting average with 259 home runs. In 1969, Campanella was inducted into Cooperstown. His uniform no. 39, Robinson’s no. 42, and Sandy Koufax’s no. 32 were all retired by the Dodgers on June 4, 1972.
14. Who became the first Black baseball player to compete in the American League and the second player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier?
Larry Doby (active: 1942-1959) – Before donning a Cleveland Indians (now Guardians) uniform to become the first Black player in the American League, Doby was a star second baseman for the Newark Eagles. He won a Negro League World Series against Satchel Paige and the rest of the start-studded Kansas City Monarchs. Doby hit a home run and caught a pop fly for the final out of the series. Two years later as a Cleveland Indian, he became the first Black player to hit a home run in the World Series. As a result, Doby shares the distinct honor with Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Monte Irvin of having played in both a Negro World Series and a Major League World Series. Larry Doby was inducted into Cooperstown in 1998.
15. Who was the founder of the Pythian Base Ball Club of Philadelphia in 1865 and play in the first documented interracial baseball game?
Octavius Catto (active: 1839-1871) – Born a freeman in 1839, Catto grew up to be an abolitionist, educator, and baseball pioneer who relentlessly fought for civil rights, including voting rights for Black people during Reconstruction. Ninety years before Rosa Parks helped desegregate buses in Montgomery, Alabama, Catto succeeded in desegregating streetcars in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Catto also used his passion for baseball to promote equal rights and help improve race relations. He believed that baseball could “promote high moral character and good health habits among the Black populace.” In 1866, he formed the Pythian Base Ball Club with players from his college alma mater, the Institute for Colored Youth (later Cheyne University, the first historically Black college in the U.S.) where he played as a student before becoming a professor there. Catto was the team captain and star shortstop. At the time, Philadelphia was a major hub for amateur baseball and extremely popular. The Pythians were a really good team, but were relegated to playing against other Black teams. In 1867, the Pythians won 10 out of 13 games and the following year the team went undefeated.
Winning wasn’t enough for Catto. He wanted to integrate baseball, so he applied for membership to the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), an all-White professional league. Despite support from a white team, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Pythians’ petition was turned down. Meanwhile, 265 white teams gained entry. They were also denied national NABBP membership resulting in the formal segregation of baseball for the next 80 years. This didn’t stop Catto from challenging white teams to play against his Pythians. Only the Olympics, the oldest baseball team in Philadelphia, accepted the invitation. On September 3, 1869, with both teams on the field, the first recorded professional baseball game between white and Black teams was played.
The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving African Americans the right to vote, was ratified in 1870. Catto, an outspoken supporter of voting rights, encouraged Blacks to vote during the 1871 Philadelphia mayoral elections. Voter intimidation was fierce and sparked riots. On Election Day, Major Octavius Catto was murdered on his way home to pick up his equipment to aid his 5th Colored Brigade in quelling the riots. He was 32 years old. Today, near the southwest corner of City Hall in Philadelphia, stands a statue of Catto honoring his accomplishments and sacrifice.
- Search Chronicling America* for more newspaper articles about the Negro Leagues.
- By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s
- Holway, John B. 2001. The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History. Fern Park, FL: Hastings House Publishers.
- McNary, Kyle P. 1994. Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe: 36 Years of Pitching & Catching in Baseball’s Negro leagues. Minneapolis: McNary Pub.
- Ribowsky, Mark. 1995. A Complete History of the Negro leagues, 1884 to 1955. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group.
- Seamheads.com Negro Leagues Database
- Negro Leagues Baseball Museum eMuseum
- Baseball-Reference.com (Bullpen) – includes glossary
- SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) Biography Project
*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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