1st Inning: We are the Ship, All Else the Sea. Beginnings

“I aint never had a job. I just always played baseball.” –Satchel Paige

     Seems like we've been playing baseball for a mighty long time. ‘Least as long as we've been free. Baseball's the best game there ever was. It's a beautifully designed game that requires a quick wit, a strong body and a cool head.
     They say baseball was invented by a fellow named Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, NY back in the mid 1800s, but that’s just another tall tale, ‘cause no one really knows for sure. But one thing is for sure, soon after that, you could find a baseball game being played just about everywhere in this grand ol’ country of ours. Particularly in the big cities like New York and Chicago. People of all types loved to play and watch the game: Irish, Italian, German, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and African-American—but back then we were called Negro or Colored. Every neighborhood and every town had a team and they would all play one another. ‘Fore long there were professional teams and organized leagues.
     In the mid 1860s, most professional baseball teams had only white ballplayers, but there were a number of Negroes who did play, though they weren't treated any better than most Negroes in the country at the time. Truth is, those poor fellows were treated downright disgracefully. They were called just about every horrible name in the book, and then some. Several teams wouldn't play another team if it had a Negro on the roster, and in some states Negroes weren't allowed to play at all. When we did play, we got the wrong directions from the manager and were targets for pitchers and base runners, which was a dangerous thing because back in those days, no one wore any type of protective gear—not even the catcher. Well, that was until Bud Fowler, the first Negro to play professional baseball, came along. Too many times he was forced to leave the field on crutches from being spiked by base runners. Now, this was a terrible thing, but some good came out of it. His scarred shins gave him the idea to attach wooden staves from a barrel to his legs for protection. They were the first shin guards, and the first protective gear in baseball. They just about saved his legs and his baseball career—or what was left of it, anyway. And don’t you know that those white fellows tried like the dickens to break those shin guards. It just gave them a little more ambition to slide feet first when a Negro was covering the base.
     Despite the cruel treatment Negroes received, there were a few who became quite good ballplayers. Like brothers Welday and Moses Fleetwood Walker, Charlie Grant, Pete Hill, Sol. White, Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Ben Taylor, and Frank Grant. These fellows were great ballplayers by any measure. But none of that mattered ‘cause they were still Negroes, and most white ballplayers didn't want to play ‘longside them.
     By the late 1800s, Negroes began to disappear from professional baseball teams and were soon gone from them altogether. Now, there was never any written rule that prohibited Negroes from playing professional baseball, but soon after 1887, somehow Negroes all over couldn't get on a professional baseball team. Come to find out that all the white owners had come together in secret and decided to do away with Negroes in professional baseball. They agreed not to add any more to their teams and to let go of the ones they had. Called it a "gentlemen's agreement.” And I’ll tell you this, those "gentlemen" held to that agreement for almost sixty years.
     So, what were we Negroes left to do? We loved to play baseball and a lot of guys had genuine talent. Sure, we could play against small semipro teams or get a job working in some factory, but who wanted to do that? Especially after tastin’ the fruits of what professional baseball had to offer. We had no choice but to start our own professional teams—our own leagues. And so, that's just what we did.
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