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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Comparing the two leagues
Doby, Irvin: More togetherness in Negro Leagues than Majors
By Tom Singer

Monte Irvin's best years came when he was playing for the Newark Eagles in the 1940s.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson's first footprints in Ebbets Field's infield dirt signaled the beginning of an era.

But they also represented the end of an era for the Negro League veterans who followed him to the Majors and for countless others who would never experience playing for the Kansas City Monarchs or Homestead Grays or the other clubs that comprised the Negro Leagues.

It was the end of the age of innocence, of games played and lives lived with a tight bond. Baseball anywhere else was never the same.

"We were young, talented. Coming out of the Depression, we'd never been anywhere," recalled Monte Irvin, a two-time Negro League batting champ who joined the New York Giants in 1949. "The Negro League gave us a chance to earn a few dollars playing a game we'd play for nothing.

"It was very thrilling to travel around the country. The Negro League took us to places we'd never been before."

"Negro League Baseball was the kind of baseball I'll never forget," said Larry Doby, the one-time Newark outfielder who became the American League's first Black player on July 5, 1947 when he joined the Cleveland Indians. "I loved playing with those folks.

"It was much easier playing with those guys. It was a lot easier just being one of the guys."


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Branch Rickey had several reasons for signing Jackie Robinson to a pro contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Historian Steve Goldman has the details. More>>

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They were all just "one of the guys," members of an irreplaceable brotherhood.

"The camaraderie of the Negro Leagues was so much greater," concluded James A. Riley, a Negro League historian. "Most of the guys were young, seeing the world for the first time. Because of the circumstances, they rode the same bus, ate in the same restaurant, stayed in the same hotel."

Or as Irvin put it, "You were playing with your own. After games, we'd get together and do things together."

The opportunity to cross the Majors' erased color line was not only a chance, but an obligation, to their families and to an entire race.

"We knew the Majors was where the money would be," Irvin said. "It behooved you to leave the Negro Leagues and succeed there. That's where growth would come from."

The pleasures became less private, and more profound.

In the anthology, "This I believe," Jackie Robinson himself reflected on a moment near the end of his first big-league season with bursting pride: "At the beginning of the World Series of 1947, I experienced a completely new emotion, when the National Anthem was played. This time, I thought it is being played for me as much as for anyone else. This is organized Major League baseball and I am standing here with all the others; and everything that takes place includes me."

Compared to such impact on history, the big-league adjustments transplanted Negro Leaguers had to make seemed like minor inconveniences.

In 1947, Larry Doby became the first African-American to play in the American League.
"I'd heard the words many times before," Irvin said, lightly, dismissing the verbal abuse. "It just made you want to perform well, to get them off your back. We were venturing into a new field and didn't know what to expect.

"Life in the Majors was a little more difficult. After games, everyone went their separate ways. But you got used to that; that was no problem, either."

The game was the same, but the approaches to it differed greatly. As Riley summed up, Negro Leaguers just showed up, played, had a great time. When they reached the Majors, they were introduced to a new regiment.

"The White leagues were more structured," Riley said. "In the Negro Leagues, you didn't get the instruction Major Leaguers got. Natural talent just developed. They learned from doing. They didn't have coaches. A lot of times, they didn't even have managers, just players who got a few extra dollars for also acting as the manager."

They were special days. Borrowing from literature, Riley characterized the Negro Leagues as "the best of times, and the worst of times." But the mind's scrapbook invariable celebrates the highs.

"I've been to a lot of reunions of Negro League players," Riley said, "and they never dwell on the hard times. They're always celebrations of the good times they had."

Tom Singer covers the Angels for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.