Yesterday, Major League Baseball celebrated the 100 anniversary of the first viable Negro League, the Negro National League.
Rube Foster’s first name was Andrew, named after his father, who was a preacher. He received his nickname after defeating Rube Waddell in a postseason exhibition game played sometime between 1902 and 1905. Foster’s career participating in barnstorming leagues saw him post records of 25-3, 20-6, and 13-2 and playing on a team that finished its season 123-6.
According to legend, John McGraw hired Foster to teach Christy Matthewson the screwball. He played for teams in Chicago, Philadelphia and the “Cuban” Giants. Foster formed a venture with Charlie Comiskey’s son-in-law, managing the Chicago Leland Giants.
Foster’s vision grew into reality as eight teams participated in the inaugural season of the NNL. The teams were: Foster’s Chicago American Giants, the Indianapolis ABCs, Chicago Giants, Kansas City (Missouri) Monarchs, Detroit Stars, St. Louis Giants, Dayton (Ohio) Marcos, and the Cuban Stars, who had no home city.
The early years saw financial problems due to the discrepancy in talent, inconsistency of umpires (the home team had the responsibility of hiring them), and availability of ballparks.
Foster often faced accusations of favoritism towards his Giants team, which scheduled a disproportionate number of home games. That led to some accusing Foster of forming the league to help fund the Giants by reaping the rewards of consistent home games. His teams also regularly took the best players from other organizations. Other problems included teams choosing non-league barnstorming teams due to an increased payday. Owners in cities featuring major and minor league teams made access to those stadiums difficult.
By 1923, a rival league, the Eastern Colored League (ECL) formed, after pulling out of an agreement with the NNL. When the ECL began raiding his players’ roster, both leagues formed an alliance respecting players’ contracts and facing off in a championship series. In 1924, the first Nergo World Series saw the Kansas City Monarchs of the NNL defeat Hilldale (ECL) five games to four.
The NNL finally fell apart in 1931 under the economic stress of the Great Depression. As for Rube Foster, psychological problems that saw him grow increasingly paranoid led to extreme delusions, including believing he would be receiving a call to pitch in the World Series. He was hospitalized later in 1926 and never recovered his sanity, dying in a mental institution in 1930.
Foster’s legacy grew through the years, and in 1981 he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was the first representative of the Negro leagues elected as a pioneer or executive. Without his sacrifices and vision, Jackie Robinson might never have broken the color barrier. MLB owes a great deal of gratitude to Foster.
PLAYERS OF NOTE
Andy Cooper – the left-hander won 95 games for the Detroit Stars and Kansas City Monarchs from 1920-31. Member of both MLB and Negro League Hall of Fame.
Pete Hill – The player-manager of the Detroit Stars drew comparisons to Ty Cobb. In 1952, the African-American weekly Pittsburgh Courier named him the fourth-best outfielder in Negro League history, behind Oscar Charleston, Monte Irvin, and Cristobal Torriente. Member of both MLB and Negro League Hall of Fame.
Oscar Charleston – Legend has Charleston with just under 3,000 hits in his Negro League career. Many consider him the greatest player in league history. Member of both MLB and Negro League Hall of Fame.
Other greats included Turkey Stearnes, Martin Dihigo, Pop Lloyd, Smokey Joe Williams, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, and eventually Jackie Robinson.