When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, that was just a glimpse of the history that was hidden from many people. Byron Motley is a son of former Negro League umpire Bob Motley. He spoke at Irvine Valley College on Monday, Feb. 4th about the history of the Negro Leagues as a part of Black History Month.
As discussed at the event, the Negro Leagues were founded in 1920 by Andrew Rube Foster. An accomplished ball player in his own right, Foster was a visionary and was quoted saying “we are the ship all others are the sea.”
There were two divisions in the Negro Leagues, the Negro National League and the Negro American League. They consisted of six teams per league, making for a total of 12 teams.
The Kansas City Monarchs were the royalty of the league as described by Motley, who said “They were like the New York Yankees of today, only better.”
When Robinson broke the color barrier, he opened the flood gates for hundreds of ball players to play in the Major Leagues. Larry Doby was the first Negro League player to be signed by an American League club, the Cleveland Indians. Satchel Paige was soon signed after and, at the age of 42, had his rookie season in the Majors.
Josh Gibson was the Babe Ruth of the Negro Leagues. He was the first and only player to hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium. The Negro Leagues had a lot of firsts. They were the first baseball league of any kind to have its players wear a batting helmet and its catchers to wear shin guards. To this day, it is required on every level of organized baseball to use both a batting helmet and shin guards. In 1931, they played the first night baseball game. Seventy-five percent of all Major League Baseball games are played at night. The Negro Leagues also were the first to travel to Japan and play exhibition games with Japanese teams.
“It is truly amazing learning about the hidden treasures of baseball” said Jessica Martinez, 19, psychology.
The Negro Leagues officially dismantled in 1960. Most players went into the Majors, but there legend is not forgotten. Motley is making sure of that.