One of the greatest African American players of the 19th century may have been Frank Grant who played second base for the Buffalo Bisons of the International Association. By the age of 20, he led the International League in hitting, but he was also subjected to constant harassment from opposing teams.
Moses Fleetwood Walker studied at Oberlin College where he started a varsity baseball team with the help of his younger brother. In 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first Black to play in the major leagues. He played as a catcher for the American Association Toledo Blue Stockings. His own teammates refused to play with him. Threatening letters called for the removal of Walker from the team.
In 1887, Fleetwood Walker, Bud Fowler, Frank Grant, Robert Higgins, George Stovey, and three other Black players went to play in the newly organized International League. Playing in the International League was also difficult for Blacks. Teams were comprised of both white and Black players and the Black players were often treated unkindly by the white players.
Racism in the International League continued to grow. One umpire said he would make calls against the team with Black players. In an effort to avoid the constant confrontation, major league owners made an agreement to no longer sign Black players. The minor leagues followed suite and declared that Black players would no longer be welcome on their teams. Teams stopped recruiting Black players, and they soon disappeared from organized white baseball. Black players would not return to white organized baseball for over sixty years. During the late 19th century at least 70 Black players played some level of organized baseball. Beyond this involvement, Blacks were on the outside looking in on the game of professional baseball.
Andrew "Rube" Foster was one of the most prominent individuals in the history of Black baseball. Born in 1879 in Calvert Texas, Foster pitched for several other teams throughout his career and was considered one of the best of his era.
Following his spectacular playing career, Foster became a manager, at which he greatly excelled; utilizing the bunt, stealing, and the hit-and-run. In 1920, he created the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, also known as the Negro League which was comprised of teams from Chicago (Giants and American Giants), Detroit (Stars), St. Louis (Giants), Dayton (Marcos), Indianapolis (ABCs) and the Cuban Giants. There was one exception however, the Kansas City Monarchs - founded in 1920 and controlled by white businessman J.L. Wilkinson. The league was disbanded in 1931 after the death of Rube Foster.
Other great Black ballplayers that you may know include Hall of Fame players Martin Dihigo, James "Cool Papa" Bell, Judy Johnson, Josh Gibson (shown in photo), and Buck Leonard.
Sometimes we think that Blacks in baseball began with Jackie Robinson. I hope that you've enjoyed the journey back into the original heroes of the game. Who are you rooting for in this year's World Series?