Negro League Baseball and its storied legacy rightfully began in the late 1880s, but on this day in 1920, Andrew “Rube” Foster, known universally as the “father of Black baseball,” established the Negro National League (NNL) and held its first game in Indianapolis.
Foster was considered by many the best Black pitcher of his time, and even played on a multi-ethnic minor league team in the early 1900s. Black players were able to play professionally in small leagues and in Latin America before the NNL’s existence, all done in response to not being unable to play for the largely White major and minor leagues.
Foster, like many other Black players, found fame as a Negro League player. Much like his predecessors of the 1880s, Foster joined forces with other team owners in the Midwest to form the NNL in response to the lack of opportunities present for Black baseball players who were just as gifted as their White counterparts.
The NNL lasted from 1920 to 1931, making it the first Negro League to find success beyond one season. Foster’s Chicago American Giants faced off against teams from Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cleveland and other cities in the region.
However, Foster’s mental health and finances declined and the NNL failed under the pressures of The Great Depression. The NNL’s success did give rise to a series of other Black baseball leagues, such as the Eastern Colored League (ECL) and the Negro American League (NAL).
When Major League Baseball (MLB) was looking for an infusion of talent, they started looking at the the often faster and stronger players in the Negro Leagues. That ultimately led to Jackie Robinson breaking the MLB the color barrier in 1947 as a player for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The NAL was the only major Black league to continue in the Robinson era. While packed with stars, it could not compete with the quickly expanding MLB and its attractive salaries and perks.
It is telling that the MLB was at first resistant to Black players but couldn’t deny their talent. Robinson and other Black players endured taunts and death threats but still found a way to blossom on the field.
That unconquerable spirit present in Robinson, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson and other great Black players over the years was all due to the foresight of Rube Foster and his extraordinary contribution to the game.