The history of the Negro Baseball Leagues is well-documented, with many stars from the league going on to careers in major league baseball and beyond the sport itself. What might not be as well known is that a large number of athletes who played in the Negro Leagues were well-educated men who used the sport as a pathway to life away from baseball.
A report from education magazine Diverse: Issues In Higher Education detailed the connection between historically Black colleges and universities and the Negro Leagues, noting that around 40 percent of the League’s players were college athletes. Unlike the major leagues, which had farm systems and recruits players out of high school to this day, the Negro Leagues didn’t have that luxury.
In fact, the HBCUs became a de facto farm system for the Negro Leagues, with players squaring off against college teams in the off-season to prepare for games. Some Negro League stars used the money they earned from playing to pay for graduate and medical school studies as opportunities to head to the majors was nonexistent.
Unlike much of the 20th Century, Black baseball player numbers are on a decline. Today, mostly Hispanic and Latino players are continuing the legacy of the sport. The connection between the communities was solidified back during the Negro Leagues heyday as players from Latin America and other countries who weren’t allowed to play in the segregated Major Leagues landed in the Negro Leagues and flourished.
Negro League stars, such as Alcorn State legend Bill Foster and former Wiley College star Grady “Dip” Orange were men who used their Negro Leagues stints as a springboard. Foster went on to graduate from the school then became its athletic director at Division I Alcorn State. The school’s baseball stadium was named after the late Foster in 2010.
Orange played for four teams between 1925 and 1931 to earn enough money to enroll in Nashville’s Meharry Medical College. The nickname “Dip” is short for “Diploma.”
Both Foster and Orange are inductees in the Baseball Hall of Fame.