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Rube Foster - The Negro National League

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The atmosphere at the time Foster formed a separate league for black baseball players was one of growth and change, even violent unrest, in Chicago. The African-American population of the city had doubled between 1910 and 1920, as blacks fled ill treatment in the South and moved north for jobs in factories and stockyards. In 1919, Chicago and other cities were torn by race riots. National Guardsmen moved in after thirty-eight people were killed in the city. Although opportunities were plentiful for black entrepreneurs, many of the profits were retained by whites. African-American intellectual John Hope had said, "The white man has converted and reconverted the Negro's labor and the Negro's money into capital until we find an immense section of the developed country owned by whites and worked by colored…. We must take in some, if not all, of the wages, turn it into capital, hold it, increase it."

What was true in the general economy for blacks was also true in black baseball. White interests controlled the stadiums where black teams played and took large percentages of the gate. Teams that objected were not allowed to play. White booking agents had already begun to do away with black team owners and control the teams themselves. Foster wanted to create an all-black baseball enterprise that would keep money earned from games in black pockets. He wanted to form a league for black players that would mirror the major leagues and would eventually play the white leagues in World Series games. He also foresaw the integration of baseball and wanted to be ready to accept white teams into black leagues and vice versa.

Launching a public relations campaign through the Chicago Defender, in 1919 Foster called a meeting of the Midwest's best black ball clubs and proposed the formation of a Negro National League, to be governed by the National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs. After a year-long struggle, on February 13 and 14, 1920, Foster met with owners of the black clubs at the Kansas City, Missouri, Young Men's Christian Association and presented to them a constitution forming the league, with complete incorporation papers. The constitution laid down rules of conduct during games and prohibited team-jumping and raiding other teams for players, among other restrictions. Foster said his goal in forming the league was "to create a profession that would equal the earning capacity of any other profession… keep Colored baseball from the control of whites [and] do something concrete for the loyalty of the Race." The owners accepted the agreement, and within the year the Negro National League (NNL), whose motto was "We are the ship, all else the sea," played its first contest.

The original NNL consisted of the Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, St. Louis Giants, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Cincinnati Cuban Stars, and the Kansas City Monarchs. It provided for black ownership of all Negro National League teams, but one white owner, J. L. Wilkinson of the Kansas City Monarchs, was retained. A highly popular owner who proved to have the players' best interests at heart, Wilkinson managed the Monarchs to become one of the most successful black teams in history. By the mid-1940s, the Monarchs would include such players as Buck O'Neil and Jackie Robinson. In his mid-eighties, O'Neil was considered a national spokesman for Negro league baseball and was featured prominently in the nine-part film by Ken Burns, Baseball, which covers the Negro leagues and deals with the subject of race in baseball as an underlying theme.

The club owners elected Foster as first NNL commissioner, and he worked wholeheartedly to make the league and its teams a success. He sent his former player Pete Hill to coach the Detroit Stars and gave up Oscar Charleston to the Indianapolis ABCs in order to strengthen those teams. To ensure that payrolls were met on time, Foster sometimes took out loans or paid salaries out of his own pocket. He called everyone "Darlin'" and smoked a big pipe, and he is said to have had total control over his players on the field. He constantly shifted players within the league to bring equality to teams and avoid criticism from some owners who claimed he had too much power and could hire umpires favorable to his own team, the American Giants. Some even called him the Godfather of Black Baseball, because he had a majority interest in the Detroit Stars and the Dayton Marcos as well. A successful businessman, Foster also owned a barbershop and an automobile service shop.

Foster's Chicago American Giants continued to play as well as ever under the new league, winning the pennant in 1920, 1921, and 1922. Inspired by the NNL, Southern teams formed the Southern Negro League in the spring of 1920. It was made up of teams from Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Birmingham, and Nashville. Although not as prosperous as the NNL, these teams supplied northern teams with some players who would become famous in their day, such as George "Mule" Suttles, Norman "Turkey" Stearnes, and the great pitcher Satchel Paige.

Awards and Accomplishments

1906 Pitched Philadelphia Giants to 3-2 win over Cuban X-Giants for Negro Championship Cup
1907 Managed and played for Leland Giants, to 110-10 finish and
pennant win in Chicago's otherwise all-white City League
1911-12 Managed American Giants to win Chicago semipro crown
1914 Managed American Giants to win Chicago City League pennant
1915 Managed American Giants to tie for pennant with New York Lincoln Stars
1915 Managed American Giants to win California Winter League Crown in competition with white major leaguers after end of
season
1916 Managed American Giants to win colored World Series
1917 Managed American Giants to win Chicago City League pennant
1920-22 Managed American Giants to three Negro National League pennant wins
1981 Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame

In 1923, East Coast teams formed the Eastern Colored League (ECL), including teams from Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Atlantic City, Baltimore, and two New York teams. According to Cooper, in 1922 the American Giants had faced off against the Atlantic City Bacharachs and played for nineteen innings with neither team scoring. Finally, the Bacharachs placed a right fielder with a weak arm, and Foster signaled his batter to hit to right field. The fielder's throw fell short of home plate, and the Giants won the game 1-0.

Foster continued to manage his Giants and the NNL in 1923, and he made efforts to merge the NNL and the ECL in 1924 but was unsuccessful. The Kansas City Monarchs met the Philadelphia Hilldale Club in the first Negro World Series in 1924. After a tie of four wins apiece in games played in four different cities, the Monarchs won the World Series title in the last game, 5-0. In 1925, the Hilldale Club beat the Monarchs in the Series; the American Giants won the Negro World Series in 1926 and 1927, although Foster was too ill to see them play.

Rube Foster - Awards And Accomplishments [next] [back] Rube Foster - Related Biography: Baseball Executive Ban Johnson

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