How would you like to be pitched a greeting by showman Satchell Paige? Or stand face to face with some of his contemporaries — Rube and Willie Foster, Hilton Smith, and Josh Gibson? Patrons of the Allen County Public Library are invited to do just that, and find out what made these athletes great, in a striking display of Negro Baseball League photographs.
Visitors may return as many times as they like to the Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery at the main branch in downtown Fort Wayne to learn more, for free, during library hours. The photos are presented in black and white, the way the world saw baseball until segregated teams were dissolved in 1960. Negro League games were played in major urban centers in the US and Canada. Teams would also “barnstorm,” or travel to play their white counterparts from the parallel Major Leagues.
In 1905, a player named Samson demonstrates his form.
How many know that the first Negro World Series was played in 1924? This took place four years after the establishment of the first league, the National Negro League. Andrew “Rube” Foster, a former player, manager and owner, was the guiding force in its organization. Soon rival leagues were formed in eastern and southern states.
Though most everyone knows him as “Jackie” Robinson, his wife has said he felt the name was condescending; family and friends called him “Jack.” He began his career with the Monarchs before being famously signed by Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, breaking the color barrier for good in the Major Leagues. He was MVP in 1949 and appeared on the cover of Life Magazine the next year. As his popularity grew, Robinson was invited to radio talk shows and featured in household ads and on TV.
Roy Campanella began playing with the Baltimore Elite Giants at fifteen. He joined the Dodgers in 1948, winning MVP honors in 1951, 1953 and 1955. Then in 1957, his baseball career ended tragically when he was paralyzed in an automobile accident.
Original pennants of long-ago teams flank the players’ portraits in the gallery. Clubs also included the Cuban Giants, Leland Giants, Chicago American Giants, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Atlanta Black Crackers, Birmingham Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox, St. Louis Stars, and Indianapolis Clowns, where a young player named Henry Aaron got his start.
More information about this chapter in sports history may be found by visiting http://nlbm.com, http://mlb.com, and http://www.coe.k-state.edu. YouTube provides excerpts from some early TV shows, What’s My Line? where you can listen to Roy Campanella; and I’ve Got a Secret, in which Leroy Satchel Paige is a guest star.
Ken Burns’ epic documentary Baseball devotes a section to the Negro Leagues. To read a moving interview with first baseman Buck O’Neil in his later years, see http://pbs.org/kenburns/baseball/shadowball/oneil.html. Among other gems, you’ll find out that while in the dugout Rube Foster blew smoke rings from his pipe to signal players on the field.
The exhibition Discover Greatness, which originated from the Negro Baseball Leagues Museum in Kansas City, will be on display in Fort Wayne until December 3. It was funded by the ACPL Friends of the Library and is the last to be organized by Gallery Librarian Amy Griffin, who has taken a new position at the Central Library in Indianapolis as Lifelong Learning Team Leader. We are proud of your hard work, Amy. Congratualations!