2020 marks the centennial of the founding of the Negro Leagues. I shouldn’t have to type this, but for those unaware, the Negro Leagues are generally recognized as the group of Negro major leagues that operated from 1920 until around 1950. There were other leagues that were part of the Negro Leagues, before 1920 and after 1950. However, when someone says Negro Leagues they are generally referring to one of the Negro National League, Eastern Colored League, American Negro League, East-West League, Negro Southern League, and Negro American League. These leagues all operated during the timeframe in question and depending on the year were considered to be the very best that Black baseball had to offer.
There have been numerous posts, articles, and events honoring the Negro Leagues Centennial. Coronavirus got in the way of much of the celebrations, canceling many of the festivities the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum had planned with Major League Baseball itself. This has, unfortunately, had the effect of the Negro League Centennial celebrations being less than what they should be. It’s great that I’m writing about them, that the Society for American Baseball Research has focused on them, and that very popular baseball entities like the Effectively Wild podcast have focused entire weeks on the cause.
All of what I described above is a niche, the sort of stuff that will only truly reach hardcore fans and miss the more casual fans that the joining MLB/NLBM celebrations would have attracted. There are groups who could be doing more, Baseball Reference could pull the trigger on the long-overdue inclusion of Negro major league stats with white MLB stats, but they won’t. MLB could get their paid historians to officially declare that the Negro Leagues were on par with anything MLB could offer and should be included in the same breath, but they won’t, not yet at least. The problem remains that even these moves would be niche in nature (though huge for those of us who are more historically inclined), and the Negro Leagues deserve more than niche.
This week I was scrolling Twitter like I usually do when someone retweeted this,
This is what the Negro Leagues Centennial needs more of, this is what would help to get fans of all generations to better appreciate what the Negro Leagues were all about. Andrew McCutchen is a rarer breed, he’s a player who has always had a deep-rooted interest in the Negro Leagues. For years now he has been doing his part to get the word out about the Negro Leagues, what they were, why they were and still are important, and the players and personalities that made them tick. Right now, perhaps more than ever, the baseball world needs more Andrew McCutchen’s. The Negro Leagues need stars like Cutch advocating for them, because that is what will cause fans to stop and listen.
All it takes is one seed, that’s all that’s needed for someone to get hooked on the Negro Leagues. Think of how easily those seeds could be planted if more active players were using their voices to get the word out about the Negro Leagues? Anthony Rizzo is a beloved figure in Chicago sports, and if he started talking about the Chicago American Giants and what Rube Foster meant not just to Black baseball but to baseball in general it would make an impact. If ten fans heard him talk and started digging into the Negro Leagues and then through their advocacy, another five fans were reached and so on and so forth then the Negro Leagues would find the new life that they need.
I’m not expecting Rizzo, or any player really, to be Andrew McCutchen. He has tirelessly represented the Negro Leagues at every opportunity. What I am asking for is for other players to start advocating in smaller ways. Hey, if more of them want to be like Cutch, that’s great. Whether we’re talking white, Cuban, Mexican, or Black big leaguers every single one of them has some connection to the Negro Leagues in some way. They can, and should, be using their voices to get more fans on board with the Negro Leagues as the important fabric of baseball history that they are. Be just a little like Cutch, and the baseball world will be an infinitely better place while the Negro Leagues will continue to live on for many more celebrations to come.