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Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary Commemorative: Breaking

A look at how the racial barrier was erected, then eventually torn down, in professional baseball:

March 31, 1997

"I am positive that if Josh Gibson were white, he would be a major league star."

--New York Daily News columnist Jim Powers, 1939.



In 1867, the National Assn. of Baseball Players, one of eight professional leagues at the time, bans teams with black players. Many teams refuse to play even exhibitions against teams with blacks. Although blacks are not yet universally excluded, it is eight decades before major league baseball is finally integrated.

Future Hall of Famer Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings is instrumental in canceling an exhibition against a semipro team with a black player in 1883, saying, "If you want me to play, you'll have to get that . . . off the field."

In 1884, catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker becomes the first black to play in the majors, with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Assn. Tony Mullane describes Walker as the best catcher he has ever thrown to, but he disregards his signs because "I dislike Negroes." After 46 games, during which he hit .263, Walker is released.


Black waiters at New York's Argyle Hotel in New York form a barnstorming team in 1895, playing many major league teams. Because most teams refuse to play against blacks, the waiters call themselves the Cuban Giants and speak in gibberish on the field to pass themselves off as Cubans.

Two years later, the night before a scheduled exhibition against the St. Louis Browns, a St. Louis player recognizes one of the Giants as a waiter. Eight members of the Browns tell the owner they won't play. The next day, owner Chris Van Der Ahe informs 7,000 fans who have gathered that the Browns have too many injuries and the game is canceled. The Cuban Giants fold.

In their two years of existence, mostly playing major league teams, the Giants' record is 103-1.


The first black organized league, the Southern League of Colored Base Ballists, begins play in 1886, and is followed the next year by the National Colored Baseball League, which folds in seven weeks because of death threats to players and owners. At the same time, the International League's board of directors bans contracts with black players. John Fowler, a black player with a career average of .389, is released by New Castle.

In one 1917 exhibition, Joe Williams of the Negro league New York Lincoln Giants pitches a no-hitter against the National League champion New York Giants, striking out 20. In an exhibition in 1934, Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays hit the only fair ball out of Yankee Stadium, over the wall next to the left-field bullpen.


On April 5 at Dodger Stadium, before the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel, will be on hand for a 30-minute pregame ceremony. Fans will also receive a commemorative item saluting Robinson's career.

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