A Day to Remember Jackie and Rube

Foster

The great Andrew “Rube” Foster

Hiddily ho neighborinos, I apologize greatly for being so delinquent in getting things moving again after a too-long break. However, Home Plate Don’t Move is hopefully back in high gear and ready get down to some serious business.

I also deeply apologize to Kevin Mitchell, who wrote the guest post below about Rube Foster’s connection to last Friday’s Jackie Robinson Day. Here it is, a bit late, but it’s really an excellent summation of the importance of last Friday, which, Kevin says, celebrated not only Robinson’s trailblazing efforts, but also the legacy of Rube Foster, the Father of the Negro Leagues.

Kevin’s column starts below. Please read, enjoy and comment if you are moved. And many, many thanks again to Kevin! …

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American since before the turn of the century to play Major League baseball. Wearing No. 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson played first base and batted second in the team’s home opener at Ebbets Field against the Boston Braves. In three at bats, he reached base on an error and scored a run in the Dodgers’ 5-3 win.

To celebrate the day of Robinson’s debut, this past Friday was designated “Jackie Robinson Day” by Major League Baseball. All Major League players that day wore No. 42 on their uniforms.

In the midst of all the events that took place at Major League ballparks to honor Robinson, let us not forget the name Andrew “Rube” Foster. That spring day in 1947 was also a great one for him!

“We are the ship, all else is the sea,” Foster famously said. Foster, a National Baseball Hall of Fame Negro League pitcher and manager and the founder of the first Negro National League (NNL) in 1920, saw Negro League baseball at that time as a ship sailing through the sea troubled by the stormy winds of racial segregation and discrimination that kept African Americans out of Major League baseball.

Foster’s NNL stands as the first successful official, long-lasting Negro baseball league, and it provided a structured environment for African-American and dark-skinned Latino players to apply and develop their God-given athletic talents in hopes that their efforts would lead someday to the integration of Organized Baseball.

Foster owned the Chicago American Giants, one of the league’s eight charter teams along with the Chicago Giants, St. Louis Giants, Detroit Stars, Dayton Marcos, Indianapolis ABCs, Kansas City Monarchs and Cuban All-Stars (Cincinnati). But Foster died in 1930 as “the ship” began a journey through the nation’s worst economic depression in history.

However, Negro League baseball did survive, and when Robinson took the field to begin the 1947 season in a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, Andrew Foster’s vision became a reality 17 years after his death. It was his hope that the NNL he formed would someday break down the racial barriers in professional baseball.

Although Foster’s original league folded in 1931 a year after he died, two other leagues were formed following his same structure later that decade.  In 1933, another Negro National League (NNL) was formed, and in 1937 the Negro American League (NAL) was birthed. It would be the players from these latter leagues that would fulfill Foster’s vision by finally breaking through the invisible color line beginning in 1947.

Jackie Robinson

The one and only Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson, the first of those Negro League players to crack Organized Baseball’s color line, was discovered by the Dodgers in 1945 while playing with the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson had spent less than one season in blackball, but that still made him a product of the leagues foundation began by Foster.

Fifty-one other former Negro League players had careers in the Major Leagues, including Hall of Famers Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks and Satchel Paige. They not only changed forever how the game was played, but they also helped to initiate the period that many historically call baseball’s Golden Age.

Amongst all that was said last Friday about the significance of Jackie Robinson playing in the game that day in 1947, hopefully the name of Andrew “Rube” Foster was mentioned. That day was the fulfillment of his vision. For him, it was the day “the ship” reached its destination.

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