- Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1902–1931: The Negro National and Eastern Colored Leagues by Michael Lomax
Michael Lomax’s Black Baseball Entrepreneurs is a detailed journey into the business history of black baseball from 1902 to 1931. Looking at teams’ business practices and examining the struggle to create viable black professional leagues, Lomax situates black baseball within a self-help model popularized by Booker T. Washington. Demonstrating how blacks used sports as a means of economic survival, the author has done an admirable job of using baseball to capture the essence of black life during the Great Migration.
The development of black baseball entrepreneurship was a direct result of the Great Migration. The mass movement of blacks from the field to the factory produced wage-workers with newfound leisure time. To take advantage of this growing opportunity, black entrepreneurs throughout the East and Midwest formed baseball teams, and black baseball became a staple entertainment for the community. At the turn of the century, the Philadelphia Giants dominated their competition because they had owners willing to spend money to acquire the best talent. But as Lomax reveals, getting the best talent often meant stealing players from other teams. If black baseball was going to be a successful enterprise, then teams had to cooperate, and teams also needed consistent access to stadiums.
As Lomax argues, although black baseball was part of a growing black entrepreneurship created by forced segregation, whites still maintained economic power. Most black teams did not own their own stadiums; thus, they had to lease fields from white owners and rely on white booking agents like Nat Strong for access. This relationship stripped away black owners’ profits and hindered most teams from forming a loyal fan base because teams had to travel for games.
The development and eventual decline of the Negro National League (NNL) and the Eastern Colored League (ECL) in the 1920s are symbolic of the business problems owners faced. Owners created the leagues to take advantage of a continuously growing black urban population and to ensure economic cooperation between owners. At its best, black baseball represented an excellent example of economic success during the Jim Crow era, as black business successfully cooperated and coordinated across state lines. But the two leagues could not reconcile with their ongoing internal problems and frictions with each other. Within each league, too many teams lacked consistent access to their own fields, making it hard to form viable schedules. Moreover, inadequate record keeping irritated their fans and kept many away. Although the leagues tried cooperating with each other—they created the Colored World Series—ultimately the NNL and ECL continued to raid each other’s teams, which disrupted business stability. As Lomax points out, baseball legend Rube Foster took the brunt of the blame for these mishaps.
Lomax’s analysis of Foster is his best work. As a leading pitcher, manager, owner, and founder of the NNL, Foster was the most important individual during this era. To promote his business and articulate his vision of black baseball, Foster regularly wrote articles in [End Page 266] the black press. Lomax relies on Foster’s writings to provide a balanced narrative. While Lomax lauds Foster as a leading innovator, he takes the legend to task for his seemingly selfish ways. The reader learns that Foster was a businessman first and a race man second, who cared more about his pockets than the racial significance of black baseball. In the end, Foster’s quest for control partly led to the NNL’s demise.
Lomax’s persistent use of black newspapers carries this book. Most sports history texts overlook the role of the black press, but Lomax has found a way to write an important book that heavily relies on the viewpoint of black journalists. He reveals that black journalists had a different vision for black baseball than did team owners. While the owners thought about business first, black journalists viewed baseball from the lens of race pride. Writers like the Chicago Defender’s...