Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues

Jackie Robinson was not the best or most accomplished player in the Negro Leagues when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was however, the man Branch Rickey felt could withstand the abuse the first African-American player would face when he stepped on a major League diamond.  The players’ temperament and self-control were nearly as important as talent for Rickey.  African-American players faced abuse wherever they traveled to play their games.  The individual and collective hell they went through to play the game they love has fortunately become less of a reality in the decades since Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs.  Racism, intolerance, and ignorance are not confined to the past however, but they are no longer held by the overwhelming majority.

Jackie Robinson, 1945 Kansas City Monarchs (www.americaslibrary.gov)

Jackie Robinson, 1945 Kansas City Monarchs (www.americaslibrary.gov)

The 1945 season was Jackie Robinson’s only season in the Negro Leagues.  He played 47 games for the Kansas City Monarchs.  During his lone season with the Monarchs. Robinson had 58 AB, 24 hits, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, scored 12 runs, stole 2 bases, had 5 walk, .414 BA, .460 OBP, .569 SLG, and 1.029 OPS.  Good but not great numbers for the small sample size we have available.  Robinson’s statistics are incomplete; this problem exists throughout the records of the Negro Leagues.  Robinson played shortstop for the Monarchs, but the statistics for his defensive play are murky and his offensive statistics are incomplete.  This lack of extensive record keeping unfortunately prevents later generations from properly appreciating the greatness of the men who played in the Negro Leagues.  During a time when those involved with the Negro Leagues were simply trying to make a living and survive, it is not surprising that the statistical record keeping was not a top priority.  It is a sad, but understandable reality.

The Kansas City Monarchs finished fourth in the Negro American League standings in 1945.  The Monarchs finished behind the Cleveland Buckeyes, the Birmingham Black Barons, the Chicago American Giants, and ahead of the Cincinnati Clowns and the Memphis Red Sox.  The Cleveland Buckeyes went on to win the Negro World Series against the Washington Homestead Grays.  The 1945 Monarchs featured two future Major League pitchers in Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith.  The rigors of the baseball season, though shorter than the Major League season, helped to prepare Robinson for life with the Dodgers.  Long bus rides, having to deal with racism on the road at hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and a million other places along the way were part of being a player in the Negro Leagues.  This was his first taste of professional baseball, both the good and the bad.

1945 Kansas City Monarchs (www.captainsblog.info)

1945 Kansas City Monarchs (www.captainsblog.info)

Jackie Robinson was just one of numerous players in the Negro Leagues who had the talent to play in the Major Leagues.  Some did eventually follow Robinson to the Majors, but far too many never had the chance to show their abilities to the entire baseball world.  The celebration and admiration bestowed upon Jackie Robinson since 1947 are unquestionably deserved.  Robinson’s success was the beginning of the end for the Negro Leagues.  Less than 20 years after Robinson joined the Dodgers in Brooklyn the Negro Leagues were gone.  The Negro Leagues were the home of beautiful baseball, colorful characters, and plenty of fun.  The existence of the Negro Leagues was, and will remain, a national disgrace, as it put racism, ignorance, and intolerance on full display.  African-American players used the Negro Leagues as their only means to play the game they loved, due to the barrier Major League Baseball had erected to prevent them from playing in its league.  Jackie Robinson broke through the barrier and survived the gauntlet to integrate the Major Leagues and to close the Negro Leagues.  The injustice of segregation began to crack and would soon crumble.  Jackie Robinson helped to lead the charge in baseball that would see the best players in the world play in only one league, the Major Leagues.

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