A look back at life for Negro League baseball players

Posted at 6:21 AM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 08:47:23-05

The journey from Negro League to "Major League" status takes us back in time -- back to when Black players had to work twice as hard, not just to play baseball but simply to live during the era of Jim Crow.

RELATED: Negro League baseball to be recognized as 'Major League'

Dr. Raymond Doswell is the Vice President and Curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

"You had to love it to endure it," he said. "And thank God that they did it because without the Negro League, there wasn't a place to nurture a Jackie Robinson or a Henry Aaron to become baseball players, as they could have done other things."

After a long train or bus ride, players couldn't just book hotel rooms or go to restaurants because many towns in the Jim Crow South didn't allow Black guests.

Players often depended on what was known as the "Green Book" that listed friendly Black and White patrons along the road, willing to provide food and lodging.

Surviving Negro League baseball team owner recalls history

"That may have meant camping out on someone's farm and fishing for your food," Doswell said. "Or one person having to go into a grocery store and buy peanut butter, crackers and bologna, and soda-pop for everyone, because they wouldn't allow Black people in the restaurant, and you had to go to the back door to do that."

But the players marched on, sometimes playing two or three games a day to earn a living. Many took on the role of showman during "barnstorming" exhibitions to promote their name and the game. However, most players loved the life, especially compared to the alternative.

Phoenix author Jeremy Beer wrote the book on Negro League legend Oscar Charleston.

"They got paid way better than the Black worker at the time," Beer said. "They also got paid better than the average White worker at the time. So even though there wasn't much money, talent got paid."

But when it comes to the recent "Major League" designation, the question is: why now?

MLB recognizes Negro League players

"In terms of what took so long, we're in a unique juncture in American History," said Scott Bush, CEO of the Society For American Baseball Research. "And I don't think (without) the events of this summer, and the amplified messaging around things like the Black Lives Matter movement, I don't think we would have gotten to this place."

Still, some believe the Negro League never needed, and still doesn't need, MLB's recognition to validate its greatness.

"We, at the museum, felt these players never needed any additional validation for their success and for their talent," Doswell said. "But having said that, there is a great deal of interest in this. There's a great deal of pride that comes with this designation and this recognition, and the baseball community and many fans across the country are extremely excited about this news. We want to be able to support their understanding of this as much as possible."

Major League Baseball has yet to announce any official roll-out of the new designation.

You can find more information on all things Negro Leagues at