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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Stars of the Negro Leagues

He's the man
Foster is the reason Negro Leagues became successful
By Jonathan Mayo/MLB.com


Rube Foster once taught Christy Matthewson how to throw the screwball.
Born: September 17, 1879, Calvert, Texas
Died: December 9, 1930, Kankakee, Ill.
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Hall of Fame induction: 1981

Cool Papa Bell talks about Rube Foster 56k | 300k

Andrew "Rube" Foster was the ultimate baseball Renaissance man. You name it, he did it. He excelled as a pitcher, a manager, an owner and a commissioner, often wearing more than one of those hats at a time.

As a young pitcher, he excelled in the dead-ball era. A monster of a man, the 6-4, 200-pounder played as a teenager with the Yellow Jackets, a traveling team in Texas. The Giants' John McGraw saw Foster pitch during Spring Training in 1901 (or so it's thought) and wanted to sign him and other black players for his team.

Since the color barrier would not be broken for another 46 years, McGraw instead asked Foster to teach his pitchers. Christy Matthewson reportedly learned his famous "fadeaway," a screwball, from Foster.

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Over the next couple of years, Foster established himself as the best black pitcher in the country. He supposedly picked up his nickname when he defeated Rube Waddell in a 1902 game. He's credited with winning 51 games in 1904.

The top players in the Major Leagues raved about him. Frank Chance described him as "the most finished product I've ever seen in the pitcher's box," and Honus Wagner called him "one of the greatest pitchers of all time ... smartest pitcher I've ever seen. ..."

Foster added manager to his title in 1907, leading the Chicago Leland Giants to a 110-10 record. The next year, they went 64-21-1. Foster challenged the Cubs to a series in 1909, one the Cubs narrowly won in three close games. Foster himself pitched the second game, carrying a 5-2 lead into the ninth before losing, 6-5.

In his final season with the Lelands, Foster and company went 123-6 in 1910. He then formed a partnership with white businessman John C. Schorling to form the Chicago American Giants, one of the greatest teams in black baseball. Foster added "owner" to his list of accomplishments.

The American Giants were dominant, winning Negro League championships in 1914 and 1917, while sharing the title in 1917. They won the California Winter League title after the 1915 season, playing against white major leaguers.

In 1920, it was time for Foster to become a commissioner as well. He formed the Negro National League, the first fully-organized black major league. The team names most widely known today were in this league: the Kansas City Monarchs, the Kansas City Monarchs, Indianapolis ABCs, Dayton Marcos, Chicago Giants, Detroit Stars, St. Louis Giants, and, of course, the Chicago American Giants. The league attracted more than 400,000 fans in 1923.

Foster managed through the 1925 season, winning the first three National League pennants.

White businessmen formed the Eastern Colored League in 1922, and the two leagues met in the first World Series in 1924, with Foster's National League winning, thanks to the Kansas City Monarchs.

The league continued to flourish, even though Foster spent the final four years of his life in a state hospital battling mental illness. Shortly after his death in 1930, the National League fell apart. But it was resurrected in 1933, ensuring Foster's legacy as pitcher, manager, owner and commissioner lived on.

He was finally recognized for that legacy when he was enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.

Jonathan Mayo is a senior writer for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.