Jackie Robinson’s number “42” has come to symbolize the triumph of the human spirit over incredible odds. This biographical tale follows the life of Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to cross the color line into Major League Baseball. A real-life hero and a tribute to the power of persistence and determination in the face of adversity, Robinson has inspired many people; but we would be remiss during Black History Month if we didn't correct a misconception: he was definitely not the first black man to play professional baseball.
True baseball fans may already be well aware of the Negro leagues. The term can be used broadly to describe multiple leagues, the best-known of which played during the height of the Jim Crow era from 1920-1948. There were also traveling teams that played against local white teams across the country. You may have seen the movie "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings."
There were also other semi-pro black teams that played each other from time to time and occasionally local white teams but didn't operate in any organized league. This reporter watched multiple games as a child involving some of these teams.
Those who know the history of the game are sure to recognize the name of another African-American, whose chance to play in the Major Leagues only came years after he reached his peak in Negro League baseball.
Leroy Robert "Satchel" Paige (July 7, 1906 – June 8, 1982) had a career that spanned five decades and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Had segregation not kept him out of MLB, he would likely have eclipsed records of most of the white pitchers whose names line the record books.
A right-handed pitcher, Paige first played for the semi-pro Mobile Tigers from 1924 to 1926. He began his professional baseball career in 1926 with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts of the Negro Southern League and became one of the most famous and successful players from the Negro leagues. In exhibition games, Paige would sometimes have his infielders sit down behind him and then routinely strike out the side.
At age 42 in 1948, Paige made his major league debut for the Cleveland Indians as only the seventh black player to play in Major League Baseball. He was the first black pitcher to play in the American League.
Since this is Black History Month, let's turn back the clock a little further for this history lesson. Moses Fleetwood Walker was likelythe first African-American to play professional baseball.
Born in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, and raised in Steubenville near the Ohio-West Virginia border, Walker played catcher during the 1884 season for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, which competed with the National League. Although Jackie Robinson is widely recognized as the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues, Walker is acknowledged by historians at the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the first--six decades before Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947.
Walker, who was 67 when he died in 1924, was born when slavery was still legal in the US. Growing up as a free man, he overcame the odds and broke into professional baseball 19 years after the end of the Civil War. He played in the minor leagues until 1889, when baseball enforced a color barrier that remained in place until Robinson’s arrival.
For more information about this and other programs offered by the Cleveland County Arts Concil, call 704-484-2787 or visit https://www.ccartscouncil.org/.
A special Black History Month program being presented by the Cleveland County Arts Council doesn't tell about Paige or Walker. "42" tells about Robinson and is program which will be enjoyed by kindergarteners through adults. It's available to watch online through Feb. 28th using this link:
This is not, by the way, the movie "42," which you may have seen and we highly recommend. This program is a production of Bright Star Theatre, based in Asheville.