New Orleans becomes a major league city

Allen Page (left) later in life with Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells. (Photo courtesy of Rodney Page.)

Editor’s note: This is the unabridged version of an article that I wrote for the April 26 issue of the Louisiana Weekly. I started the article a couple months ago, so a few of the time-related references, such as the beginning of this year’s MLB season, are a little dated, but only by a month or two.

In the June 22, 1940, issue of the Louisiana Weekly, sports columnist Eddie Burbridge confirmed the reports that had swirled around Black New Orleans for a few weeks.

The city was joining the baseball big leagues.

In a recruiting and economic coup, local businessman, promoter and baseball kingpin Allen Page had become part owner of the St. Louis Stars of the Negro American League, which, along with the venerated Negro National League, was one of the segregation-era Black major leagues.

Beginning with a July 7 clash with the Cleveland Bears at Pelican Stadium, the Stars would split their second-half season with the Gateway City as the New Orleans-St. Louis Stars.

After steadily growing in national influence and economic clout on baseball’s biggest stage for several years, Page had landed what he and the city’s African-American hardball fans had dreamed of — recognition and reward in America’s pastime.

Burbridge voiced the elation and pride of the Crescent City’s Black fandom:

“This column wishes Allen Page the best of luck in his new venture. He has long tried to provide the city with major baseball, and it looks like his efforts have been crowned at last.”

However, running under the exhilaration was an ever present current of frustration and lingering melancholy, one the city’s Black population had battled for decades — that because of intransigent segregation and acute racism, the Stars, like all of Black baseball, and indeed all of Black society, were still viewed by mainstream white America as second-class and unworthy of respect or equality.

As long as the looming shadow of Jim Crow and its pernicious, lingering impact on history continued to exist, the Stars and the fans who loved them would never get their full due.

However, after decades of persistent advocacy and tireless, exhaustive research, that has now, at long last, changed.

In December of last year, Major League Baseball announced that the histories and statistical records of seven top-level Negro baseball circuits — including the Negro American League between 1937 and 1948 — would now be considered fully major league, equals with every long-recognized MLB leagues of so-called “Organized baseball.”

That means that now, finally, after decades in the shadows, legendary slugger Josh Gibson is officially equal to Babe Ruth, that ageless pitcher Satchel Paige is officially on a par with Walter Johnson, and tenacious, pugnacious Oscar Charleston — the man long considered by many as the greatest all-around player in history, regardless of race or era — officially stands shoulder to shoulder with Ty Cobb, the infamous racist whose malevolent bigotry held undo sway on the minds of white America and helped maintain Jim Crow in baseball. (To be fair, a great deal of information and literature has emerged in recent years arguing that Cobb’s reputation as a bigot is overblown. You be the judge.)

It also means that every team that was a member of those seven Negro Leagues during the stated time periods are now officially, in every way, Major League teams. That includes the 1940-42 New Orleans-St. Louis Stars of the Negro American League and every player and manager on its rosters.

New Orleans now, for the first time ever, has a history as a Major League Baseball city.

Something that no white teams based in the Big Easy ever reached was achieved by Allen Page and the players and managers of the Stars.

March 2, 1940, Chicago Defender

The news struck a deeply personal chord with Rodney Page, son of Allen Page, the entrepreneur and unflagging advocate for New Orleans Black baseball who brought the Stars to the Big Easy.

“This milestone achievement is deeply personal for me,” said Rodney, who now lives in Austin, Texas. “It is an important part of my life’s journey, and a significant dimension of my family’s story. It is something that I am extremely proud of and treasure immensely.”

Rodney said he continues to be awed by the myriad roles his father played both locally and nationally, as a savvy baseball team owner and executive, gutsy and influential sports promoter, executive officer in the Negro Southern League, and frequent attendee of the boisterous, high-stakes national meetings of the NNL and NAL.

Rodney said those connections, forged by hard-nosed negotiations and entrepreneurial daring, are what brought major league heft to New Orleans.

Rodney Page with the author

“His business acumen and stellar contributions were well known in New Orleans and throughout the South,” he said. “His risk-taking nature was on full display in 1940 as he became the owner of the New Orleans-St. Louis Stars of the Negro American League with the designation of official major league status.”

The significance of the Stars’ elevation to major league status is certainly appreciated by Negro Leagues researchers, writers and educators nationwide. Kent State professor, Negro Leagues author and Society for American Baseball Research official Leslie Heaphy noted Allen Page’s many accomplishments — including the establishment and operation of the annual North-South All-Star Game at Pelican Stadium — as evidence of New Orleans’ importance to Black baseball history. She hopes that might help the modern baseball world shine a light on the Big Easy.

“Allen Page helped bring the team to the city to promote and elevate the level of play in the city,” Heaphy said. “With his support of the North-South All-Star game, it made it easier to bring the team to the city. Seeing the team as a major-league team now will hopefully bring more attention to all those who played, managed and owned the ball club.”

It cannot be understated the massive role Page played on the New Orleans sports and business over four decades in the city, within the Black community and in reaching and forming partnerships with white leaders. His business savvy, promotion and marketing savvy, and his dedication to local baseball also brought him renown and respect nationally. In October 1943, legendary Pittsburgh Courier journalist Wendell Smith called Page “a fair and unbiased promoter … whose whose record stands for itself …” Smith added that “Mr. Page has done more good for Negro baseball than any promoter in the South …”

Page’s dedication to the game and the resulting high regard in which he was held was also reflected in 1947, when he was chosen president of the Negro Southern League. Page, who also at the time owned the New Orleans Creoles, an NSL member team, was described thusly by journalist C.J. Kincaide in coverage of the June 1947 league meeting:

“Mr. Page is no new figure to baseball. In addition to being a successful businessman in New Orleans, he has been a promoter of baseball for a number of years and is well known and highly respected by owners and managers of both the Negro American and National Leagues.”

But while Allen Page was building his businesses and amassing clout in the baseball world, America and Black Americans as a whole were impacted by global events that would eventual plant the seeds of the modern Civil Rights movement.

Ray Doswell, vice president of curatorial services at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, noted that at the time the Stars moved to New Orleans, America was on the verge of a great awakening of national awareness and social conscience, one precipitated by the entry of the United States into the Second World War.

World War II was a major revelation,” Doswell said. “African Americans were fighting valiantly against fascists and Nazis abroad, while suffering indignities and bias at home. Among the opportunities denied African Americans, of course, was the ability to play Major League Baseball. This irony is not lost on many observers in progressive politics, the Black press, as well as the communist left press and others. It was often reported, reflected and investigated.”

The effects of World War II were also immediately and more tangibly visible on the baseball diamond. Between the draft and the military enlistment of hundreds of professional players, both Black and white, the quality of the game presented in the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues suffered to varying degrees.

Ray Doswell

However, Doswell said, the impact of the personnel drain on Black baseball was less significant, meaning the Negro Leagues now often offered a more exciting, appealing version of the game than the depleted major leagues, a development that opened the eyes of a growing number of whites to the top-notch quality of Black baseball.

On top of the slowly increasing awareness of Black baseball among white fans, the war brought financial success for some Negro Leagues teams and players, who discovered that the greater attention being paid to Black baseball translated to increases at the turnstiles and in the financial ledgers.

In addition, with thousands of young men heading off to Europe or the Pacific, high-paying jobs in American factories and other industrial businesses opened up to Black workers who previously would have been barred from such white-dominated jobs. Thus, as the vast wartime industrial growth benefited many Black workers and their families, it also enriched Black communities as a whole.

Thus, on several levels, World War brought the potential for greater advancement for Black Americans — socially, economically, politically and culturally — for which the Negro Leagues served as a microcosm. The early 1940s saw what has become known as a golden age of Black baseball.

“Fans and others began to question the validity of segregated baseball,” Doswell said. “This is not to say that all Negro Leagues teams enjoyed the same success as the [Homestead] Grays or the Kansas City Monarchs on the field and with fans, but as Black communities and economies fared, so did Black baseball.”

Such a heady situation is what birthed the New Orleans-St. Louis Stars, whose migration to the Big Easy also reflected the clout Allen Page had on the national scene.

Jan. 24, 1942, Chicago Defender

The seeds of the Stars’ move were sowed in the years immediately preceding 1940, when Page routinely recruited numerous top-level Negro Leagues teams from across the country — including the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Kansas City Monarchs, Birmingham Black Barons and Chicago American Giants — to come to New Orleans for preseason and post-season exhibition games, usually at Pelican Stadium. Thousands of fans usually attended the games — some reached 10,000 or more — and helped raise the Crescent City’s baseball profile.

That build-up in popularity got another huge shot of adrenaline in the fall of 1939, when Page hatched the North-South All-Star Game. Designed as a postseason complement to the prestigious East-West All-Star Game held each year in Chicago that was the highlight of each Negro League season.

While the North-South game never developed into the same grand spectacle as the East-West contest, it became a staple of the Negro Leagues’ post-season festivities and exhibitions, drawing the best players from across the country, including, specifically, players from New Orleans, Louisiana and the South as a whole. The contest further cemented New Orleans as a reliable, attractive Black baseball outpost in the South, a region that traditionally didn’t have a baseball scene as thriving and vibrant as the more traditional ones in the North and Midwest.

With high-profile exhibitions filling out the baseball calendar and the North-South game remaining a staple in New Orleans for a decade, the time was ripe for Page to execute his greatest coup. In March 1940, he trekked to Chicago to rub shoulders and shake hands at the spring meeting of the executives of the NNL and NAL teams; although Page didn’t yet have ownership or management of a team in either league, his presence doubtlessly allowed him to establish the connections and partnerships needed to land a big-time club of his own.

Pelican Stadium

After returning to his home base, Page promptly arranged several April exhibitions between NNL and NAL squads that were touring the South as part of spring training. He also called a meeting of New Orleans baseball prospects to lay out his plans for the upcoming season and brief them on how local lads would fit into those exploits. Penned Burbridge in the March, 16, 1940 issue of the Louisiana Weekly:

“With popular interests in New Orleans stimulated by major attractions presented last season, Mr. Page expects 1940 to prove a banner year for local baseball fans and has made plans to present the best talent possible.”

And boy, did Page deliver on the promise.

“New Orleans became the home of a major ball club this week,” trumpeted the Jun 1, 1940, Pittsburgh Courier, one of the country’s most important Black newspapers, “following the announcement that Allen Paige [sic], well known New Orleans sportsman, had purchased the St. Louis Stars of the Negro American League.”

Added the Courier:

“One of the best baseball cities in the country, New Orleans has been dickering for a team in organized baseball for some time. Paige’s [sic] purchase now assures Crescent City fans a season of topnotch [sic] baseball.”

The St. Louis Stars had been foundering a little at the gate and on the field — they’d finished far behind the first-half pennant winners in the NAL — and Page and the rest of the NAL executives hoped the move to a dual-city home base would be a shot in the arm that the franchise needed. 

Gary Ashwill, on his stellar Agate Type blog, actually discussed the travails of the late-1930s St. Louis Stars in a May 2018 post. The article chronicles the saga of a team — or rather, a team name, because over the course of three decades there were several iterations of the “St. Louis Stars,” with different owners, executives, players, origins, geographic paths and home parks.

The 1939 Stars, Gary notes, were the third version of the team, owned by real estate tycoon, night club owner and numbers runner Allen Johnson, who founded the club in Illinois in the mid-1930s as an independent team. They joined the NAL in 1937.

Gary points to a few of the challenges that faced the 1939 that might have spurred Johnson to usher Allen Page and New Orleans into the Stars’ fold.

“Few teams have suffered quite as much at the hands of an incomplete historical record as the 1939 St. Louis Stars,” he writes. “They were a pretty good team — the second half champions of the Negro American League, in fact, losing the pennant in a five-game series to the first-half champion Monarchs. But scouring the newspapers at the time reveals a paltry 15-16 record [the mark has been updated to 17-16 after further research] for the Stars in the Negro American League regular season (along with three losses to NNL teams). Clearly a large number of games were not reported, at least in the newspapers that have been found so far, and a lot remains to be uncovered.”

Gary adds that “[I]n addition to a tangled history and poor reportage, the ’39 St. Louis Stars have suffered from a lack of recognizable stars.” The highest-profile member of the ’39 Stars was probably catcher Quincy Trouppe, who was the team’s only bona fide star. The rest of the roster consisted mostly of solid, if somewhat unremarkable, players and pitchers, several of whom made the transition to New Orleans in 1940 with the franchise. I’ll get to the 1940 New Orleans roster in a bit.

The 1939 St. Louis Stars, before moving to New Orleans. (Photo courtesy Gary Ashwill.)

Unfortunately, Trouppe was not among them; following the 1939 campaign, he played in the Mexican League for several years, then finished up his playing career in the States, before managing in the Puerto Rico League. In 1952, at the age of 39, cracked the lineup of the Cleveland Indians, catching six games for the MLB club before suiting up for 80-odd games with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. He later scouted for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The newly branded New Orleans-St. Louis Stars debuted in their new hometown, and launched the second half of the league’s split season — on July 7 at Pelican Stadium, where they hosted the Cleveland Bears.

Unfortunately, the Stars fizzled out in their home opener, losing three of four games to Cleveland in the opening series. About 2,000 fans attended the contest, which was probably under expectations.

George Mitchell

The team that now called the Big Easy its “half home” was managed by George Mitchell, a 40-year-old Sparta, Ill., native whose career as a journeyman pitcher in the Negro Leagues was winding down. He first joined the Stars organization as player-manager in 1938 and piloted the club through the 1941 season.

Mitchell came to the franchise with some serious cred. In 1939, the Atlanta Daily World called Mitchell “one of the shrewdest baseball managers in the business,” and in January 1940 Homestead Grays owner and eventual member of two sports national halls of fame Cum Posey named Mitchell the manager of Posey’s annual “all-american” team in the Pittsburgh Courier.

(In hindsight, columnist Fay Young in 1944 declared Mitchell’s time as the New Orleans Stars’ skipper of marginal success at best; the Defender writer stated that “Mitchell tried New Orleans out a few years ago and didn’t do so well. Maybe it was because the St. Louis tag injured him with the New Orleans fans.” Young’s comments reveal one reason why the Stars’ tenure in the Crescent City, while historically significant now in modern day, never achieved the lofty heights predicted for it.)

The Stars’ pitching staff was anchored by Gene Smith, a 24-year-old righty from Ansley, a small community in Jackson Parish in north central Louisiana. Smith was just starting his career as a hurler, debuting with the Atlanta Black Crackers in 1938. Overall, Smith spent eight seasons pitching in the Negro Leagues, a tenure broken up by a three-year hitch in the Army, and his biggest claim to baseball fame would be pitching three no-hitters during his time as a professional moundsman.

Also pitching for the Stars during the tenure in New Orleans was right-hander Jack Bruton, an Alabama native whose brief Negro Leagues career lasted five season; Walter “Lefty” Calhoun of Tennessee, whose lengthy, respected time in Black baseball stretched for a decade and a half from 1932 to 1946 and included stops with the Montgomery Grey Sox, the Memphis Red Sox, the New York Black Yankees and the Indianapolis Clowns; and righty Frank McAllister, a kid from Arkansas whose career spanned several years in the 1930s and 1940s with a handful of teams.

In the field, the Stars were bolstered by a lineup of solid, if somewhat unremarkable, veterans, including Missouri native John “the Brute” Lyles, an infielder who was in his late 20s and whose career also included stops in Indianapolis, Homestead and Cleveland; Jackson, Miss., native Buddy Armour, an outfielder whose career spanned 19 seasons, beginning with the Indianapolis ABCs in 1933 and concluding in the early 1950s, when he actually broke into Organized Baseball with a couple minor-league teams in Canada; Alabaman Bobby Robinson, a dependable, well respected infielder whose defensive prowess made him a familiar name to many Black baseball fans and whose career was in its twilight by the time he hooked up with the Stars; Marshall Riddle, a heavy-hitting, 22-year-old infielder from Arkansas whose career spanned a half-dozen or so years; and outfielder and three-time East-West All-Star Dan Wilson from Yazoo City, Miss., who played for a dozen years that included a debut with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1938 and subsequent stops with the New York Black Yankees, Homestead Grays and Philadelphia Stars.

May 24, 1941, Chicago Defender

So how did the New Orleans-St. Louis Stars fare? Despite the early blush of optimism experienced by the New Orleans faithful in summer 1940, the team did … OK. They finished the season at .500, with a mark of 22-22, placing them in fourth place in the seven-team NAL. Riddle led the team in batting at .377, and Smith paced the pitching staff with a mark of 4-3 and an ERA of 2.76. Riddle and Calhoun were selected for the 1940 East-West All-Star Game, while Smith pitched for the South in the North-South contest.

Of significance was the fact that the vast majority of the Stars’ home games took place in New Orleans, which validated the NAL’s faith in the Crescent City as a location for a big-league franchise (as well as highlighted the plummeting enthusiasm for the Stars in St. Louis).

Through the 1940 campaign, the Stars were somewhat streaky — they began the league season with a calamitous run of losses — and were never able to grab hold of a solid winning streak or make a serious play for the second-half NAL pennant. The June 22 Chicago Defender said the Stars “have caused many of the clubs that thought they were pennant bound plenty of trouble,” and in early August the Stars played the Baltimore Elite Giants as part of a four-team doubleheader in Yankee Stadium, with the New Orleans-St. Louis team winning 6-4, while the Memphis Red Sox topped the New York Black Yankees in the other game.

Another highlight, especially for the Big Easy’s fans, occurred when an exhibition by Olympic legend Jesse Owens — he won a race against, of all things, a motorcycle cop — punctuated a Stars doubleheader sweep over the Toledo Crawfords, who represented the shambling remnants of the once-great Pittsburgh Crawfords franchise. (Also of significance was who pitched against the Stars in one of the games — Johnny Wright, the native New Orleanian who would later play in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system.)

An apparent rivalry ignited between the New Orleans-St. Louis club and their fellow NALers, the Memphis Red Sox; in early September, following the teams’ 3-3 split in a recent six-game series, Mitchell reportedly challenged the Tennessee team to a rubber-match series to determine the better Mississippi River squad team. Stated the Defender:

“A grudge series playoff for undisputed possession of second place is what Manager George Mitchell desires from the Red Sox management. He believes with the great spirit of rivalry existing between the two clubs, fans who witness the games are likely to see as much or better baseball than in a world series.”

Unfortunately, it’s not immediately clear if such a grudge series occurred.

The 1941 season started out fairly well for the Stars, whose big bats kept them lively through the first third of the campaign or so, while in June, Allen Page traveled to New York City to again attend the summer meeting of NNL and NAL executives.

The early part of the ’41 Stars campaign featured a barnstorming series of preseason exhibitions with the Chicago American Giants; the tour was scheduled to stop in several Louisiana locales, including Baton Rouge, Hammond and Monroe (now itself the unlikely home of a major-league team), as well as games in southwest Mississippi. In mid-season came a brutal, month-long barnstorming excursion for the Stars, during which the dual-home club flashed serious clout at the plate and rounded into shape on the mound after a rocky start to the season for the New Orleans pitchers.

Tom Parker

Another highlight was the mid-season signing of well-traveled slugger Tom Parker, a native of Alexandria, La., who had played several years with the Homestead Grays and most recently suited up for the New York Black Yankees. The Louisiana Weekly subsequently sang Parker’s praises in its June 7, 1941, issue, reporting that the new acquisition had clubbed three homers, two triples and six doubles since joining Allen Page’s aggregation. The publication stated:

“… Parker proved one of the best outfielders and greatest hitters in the Negro National League. He has also been used as a relief hurler and showed brilliant form on the mound. He possesses one of the greatest throwing arms in the game.”

The paper added that “[Parker’s] desire to be near home, because of business interest, gave the Stars an opportunity to obtain his services.” (Parker would later serve in the Army during the war and ultimately retire from baseball in 1948. He died in 1964 at age 52 near his hometown in Rapides Parish.)

In June the team went on a tear in the early summer — the Weekly described them as “[c]harging down upon the Negro American League leaders with vengeance in their bats and red pennants dangling before their eyes” — before hosting a familiar face at Pelican Stadium in mid-June.

Arriving in New Orleans for a doubleheader was Winfield “Lucky” Welch, another son of Louisiana whose professional baseball career began more than a decade earlier in N’Awlins. Welch was skippering the Birmingham Black Barons, the greatest, most storied Black baseball team in the South; he’d later lead the Barons to two straight NAL championships in 1943 and ’44. As far as the doubleheader at hand in June 1941, the Alabamians won the first game, and the second game was rained out.

In late June 1941, the Pittsburgh Courier reported on the Stars’ hot start, albeit with a touch of sarcastic skepticism. The paper stated:

“Reports trickling in from the road show that Manager Mitchell’s great aggregations, formerly known as the St. Louis Stars, and which has so impressed the sports scribes of the nation that many of them inevitably call them the St. Louis Stars or the New Orleans-St. Louis Stars or the whatchamacallits, are going great guns and setting up a terrific pace …”

But the team sputtered as the season wore on and finished in third place in the now-six-team NAL with a record of 17-24. Leading the aggregation at the plate was Wilson, who swatted .323 for the season, while McAllister paced the pitchers at a paltry 2-4 mark and a 4.88 ERA. Although the team enjoyed a solid season on offense, the pitching dropped off significantly from the previous year.

That was the second, and, as it turned out, last complete season enjoyed by the Stars during their time in New Orleans. The 1942 edition of the team never really got off the ground and folded early in the season, marking a substantial disappointment for Page, the team and their fans. The franchise reappeared in 1943 as the Harrisburg Stars in Pennsylvania, but that phase of the club’s existence also didn’t go well.

(As a side note in the Stars’ epilogue, George Mitchell bailed from St. Louis in 1945 as the last vestiges of the franchise collapsed and landed, coincidentally, as the manager of the Chicago Brown Bombers of the nascent but ill-fated United States Baseball League, the half-baked enterprise established by Gus Greenlee and Branch Rickey as a feeder Negro league for the Dodgers and, in Rickey’s hopes, the rest of Organized Baseball. Mitchell then signed on for the lasts gasps of another Black baseball franchise when in 1949 he became business manager of the NAL’s Houston Eagles, a rickety venture allegedly representing a new phase of the legendary Newark Eagles franchised forged by Effa and Abe Manley. Mitchell’s service in Houston lasted well less than a year. He died four years later in Sparta at the age of 53.)

The post-mortem on the New Orleans-St. Louis Stars read like the ones of other Negro American League teams over the course of the loop’s existence. The NAL remained weaker than the NNL for much of that stretch, and the franchises as a whole also proved a little less stable and permanent than those of the senior league. Clubs often came and went, some lasting just a season or two.

The Page Hotel on Dryades Street in New Orleans, where Allen Page conducted his many businesses, including sport promoting and team ownership and management. (Photo courtesy of Rodney Page.)

Such was the economics of Black baseball in the South, and Black baseball in general. However, the Stars time in New Orleans was nonetheless significant and, in hindsight, quite an accomplishment given the rough haul Southern teams faced compared to their big brothers in the North. It also must be kept in mind that for decades, no Major League Baseball teams existed in Organized Baseball in the South; while Negro Leagues teams like the Stars, the Birmingham Black Barons and the Memphis Red Sox did reach the top levels of Black baseball for several years on and off, the South only had minor-league teams in white baseball. (The first MLB team to lay down roots in the South was the Atlanta Braves, who moved to Georgia from Milwaukee in 1966.)

Rodney Page said that his father’s tireless efforts at promoting Black baseball in New Orleans, including the arrival of the Stars in 1940, left an indelible mark on the city, and a place of pride in Rodney’s heart. He said:

“I am continually amazed at my father’s many accomplishments as he transcended and excelled despite the shackles of the Jim Crow South and racism in America. I can only imagine the obstacles he had to face and overcome. I am honored to call him dad, and proud to be his son.”

While Allen Page deserves a book-length biography, I want to at least highlight his experiences following the Stars’ departure and as his career in New Orleans reached its twilight. The esteem, admiration and appreciation the city held for Page was expressed in October 1950 with a testimonial dinner that, according to the Louisiana Weekly, “commemorat[ed] twenty years of faithful and successful services in the baseball promotion field and achieving a position as one of Louisiana’s leading sportsmen.”

At the event, Page received a bronze plaque, and the keynote speech was given by Grambling College (now University) President Dr. Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones. Music was presented by Mary Wilson (who was not the Mary Wilson of the Supremes), and live coverage of the dinner was broadcast on radio station WMRY.

Page moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s to be with family, and he passed away there in 1979 at the age of 80 (although some official documents list birth dates for him that would have made him in his later 80s).

In sum, Page’s philosophy on presenting New Orleans with the best the national pastime had to offer was illustrated in an interview he gave to the Pittsburgh Courier in 1944 for an article about a trio of blockbuster Negro Leagues games he’d booked for that fall. Page said:

“[A]ll three of these games are of big league caliber and will go over great in New Orleans, the biggest and best sports town in the South. The fans here have been so loyal and enthusiastic that I would not be doing them justice if I did not bring in the best teams and players possible.”

Now, as the 2021 Major League Baseball season unfolds and the nation gears up for more pennant races and the best the modern American pastime has to offer, the Negro Leagues enter a new era of fame and recognition.

However, Doswell urged caution and measured optimism when it comes to celebrating the Negro Leagues’ new presence in the Major League record books. He said much work still needs to be done in terms completing the accumulation, evaluation and integration of the complete statistical record of the Negro Leagues into that of Major League Baseball.

Doswell said much of segregation-era Black baseball’s statistical record needs to be uncovered and compiled. As a result of shoddy record keeping and spotty media coverage, countless Negro Leagues games and league standings have remained incomplete and hidden in history; what statistics that have been found and compiled so far are the results of the tireless investigative efforts of a handful of dogged researchers.

Also remaining to be ascertained and agreed upon is the exact process by which Negro Leagues stats will be officially and mathematically integrated in the MLB record books.

As a result, while MLB’s historic announcement last December was certainly cause for celebration, Doswell said, there is still much, much to yet be done — just as in American society as a whole. The nation, including its national pastime, continues to suffer the repercussions of racial oppression.

“I applaud Major League Baseball for recognizing that the fuller recognition of the Negro Leagues has been a gross oversight for many years,” he said. “They have begun the path of correcting that with this announcement. Still, the decision is nuanced, fluid and not a cut and dry decision or conclusion, because so much on the data side of this question has been lost to history. That’s part of the story of segregation in America.

“There are many historians who have been diligently working to piece more material together,” he added, “but we may never have a complete statistical record of even the finite scope of years this decision encompasses (1920-1948). As [MLB’s official historian] John Thorn told me, ‘History is a process, not a product.’ This story is ever evolving. We won’t have the satisfaction of turning to a book source to settle all bar bets and arguments on baseball history, but the Negro Leagues are now, as they should have always been, a greater part of the conversation.”

Leslie Heaphy

Rodney Page, son of New Orleans businessman and baseball kingpin Allen Page, expressed similar thoughts as Doswell’s. But he added that, as he can personally attest, those involved in the Negro Leagues in many ways never needed the validation of mainstream white America to remind them of Black baseball’s brilliance.

Rodney said that for him, as for the dwindling number of living Negro Leaguers and the descendants of the Black baseball legends of yesteryear, the Negro Leagues were and have always been great, imbued with the pride of those who toiled, then as now, to persevere and thrive despite the prejudice and oppression at Jim Crow’s hands.

“As a young boy growing up in New Orleans, and the Negro League environment, I always heard and remember the term ‘Negro Major League Baseball,’” Page said. “I’m not sure when the emphasis changed to just Negro Leagues. But, for me, it has always been Negro Major League Baseball. Those I grew up around, the players, managers, coaches and other officials, defined themselves as Negro Major League Baseball. They knew their worth, excellence and significance. Self-definition is a powerful tonic and statement of self-worth.

“Major League Baseball’s acknowledgment represents atonement and proper recognition for the Negro Leagues contributions to the game of baseball and our country,” Page added. “It is not just baseball history or Black history — it’s American history. The great work and consistent, bulldog determination of Negro League historians and researchers made it possible. Their efforts keep alive the memories, faces, and voices of so many who have gone before and remain worthy of remembrance and recognition.”