FROM 1867 TO 1947 NEGRO LEAGUES ONLY PLACE FOR AFRO-AMERICAN BALLPLAYERS
Photographic broadside; Pittsburgh Crawfords; 1933; 19 by 26 inches; sold: $2,200. Photo courtesy of Hunt Auctions
When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the baseball field in 1947 as a Brooklyn Dodger, he was eager. Like a comet hurling toward earth he was powerful, aggressive and relentless.
He was also Afro-American and keenly aware of his role as a crusader in smashing the color barrier. Had he been white, he probably would have been on the field five or six years earlier.
Up until that day in 1947, the only other place an Afro-American could play organized baseball in the 20th century was the Negro baseball leagues.
The “gentleman’s game” of baseball turned exclusive on Dec. 11, 1867 when the National Association of Baseball Players voted unanimously to bar “any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons.” After that, black players gradually faded from white leagues until they disappeared.
What they did was organize their own leagues, the Negro National League in 1933, and the Negro American League in 1937. The leagues thrived until the color line went bust.
Teams with names like the Pittsburgh Crawfords, the Kansas City Monarchs, the Homestead Grays and the Chicago American Giants surfaced. It was on these teams that athletes like Satchel Paige with his scorching fastball and Josh Gibson with his Babe Ruthian batting power got their start.
Given the racial indifference of today’s game, what happened back then reads like a fairytale. Or a horror story, depending on how you view it.
But “blackball” as it was called was probably the first national black business and its players played long and hard for their bed and board. And when there were no beds, their mitts served as pillows and they curled up on the field. And the games went on because that’s what they did. They played baseball.
Along with the social history, there’s a certain charm associated with Negro league memorabilia today. Players like Smokey Joe Williams, Cool Papa Bell and Bullet Rogan not only had catchy names but were also great ballplayers.
There are a lot of directions to go in collecting. Some baseball memorabilia collectors focus on certain players, or Hall of Famers. Some collect players that went from the Negro leagues to the major leagues. Other collectors focus on specific teams.
There are team photos, individual photos, pennants, broadsides, tickets and whatever else you can think of out there to collect.
The market for sports memorabilia is constantly changing and demand often determines value. So, it’s important to stay on top of the market.
On Feb. 22 and 23, Hunt Auctions in Exton, Pa., featured a selection of Negro league items in its baseball memorabilia and cards auction. Here are some current values.
Photos; 2; Satchel Paige in Indians uniform, seated in dugout with several men; circa 1949; 8 inches by 10 inches; $165.
Team photo; Indianapolis Clowns; signed by several players including Ferrer and Cabrera; circa 1940s; 8 inches by 10 inches; $165.
Pennant; Brooklyn Eagles Negro League; rare; one year style as the Eagles were moved to Newark in 1936; $550.
Autograph photo; Willie Wells as manager of Winnipeg Buffaloes; Wells was recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; black-and-white, 4 inches by 6 inches; $1,210.
Tickets; 33; for Hilldale Daisies; full box seats and general admission tickets; marked Globe Ticket Co. in Philadelphia; circa 1920s; $1,705.
Photographic broadside; Pittsburgh Crawfords; on thick stock paper advertising the Crawfords team with images of Josh Gibson; Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, etc., 1933; 19 inches by 26 inches; $2,200.
Correspondence; over 100 letters from files of Henry Gray’s Baseball Club of Chicago; written on numerous team stationary; circa 1908 to 1918; $3,630.
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