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  • Legitimate Black HeroesThe Negro Leagues, Jackie Robinson, and the National Pastime in African American Literature

In September 1891, a seventy-three-year-old Frederick Douglass watched his son Charles play in a baseball game in Washington, DC between the Mutuals (a local black team) and the all-black Cuban Giants.1 The fact that the most renowned African American crusader for social justice during the nineteenth century enjoyed watching baseball, and that his son played for the all-black teams the Mutuals and the Alert, provides an opportunity to explore what baseball meant to people who were excluded from a sport that in many ways symbolized a nation that claimed to promote freedom, equality, and opportunity but systematically refused to recognize the humanity of African Americans. Although organized baseball in the United States unofficially barred African Americans for sixty years,2 much has been written in recent decades about African Americans in baseball—their exclusion from organized baseball, their participation in all-black teams and leagues, and their presence in the major leagues beginning in 1947. Despite all of this scholarship, however, little has been written about how African American authors wrote about baseball in their works. Such an examination is worthwhile, however, because of baseball's longstanding cultural status as the "national pastime" and the struggles of African Americans to participate fully in American democracy and culture through baseball.

The connections between baseball and black Americans are more complex than they may initially seem, because African American baseball players responded to the segregation of organized baseball by playing on all-black teams and creating their own style of play that appealed to many African Americans. When major league teams began signing black players during the 1940s and 1950s, many African Americans rejoiced because they saw this trend as a sign that racial separation and inequality could be stopped, not only in baseball, but in other areas of American society as well. On the other hand, [End Page 103] as a result of the integration of major league baseball, the Negro Leagues suffered from a loss of talent, which led to a lack of interest among their fans and ultimately the financial failure of the Negro League teams. It makes sense, then, that baseball in general (and Jackie Robinson in particular) occupies an ambiguous ideological space in African American literature. In some works, the segregation of organized baseball represents the injustice of American society, while in other works, the Negro Leagues and their fans symbolize the vitality of African American culture despite the fact that these leagues came into existence as a result of racial discrimination in organized baseball. This essay examines four texts by African Americans that respond differently to the segregation and desegregation of baseball. The publication dates of these works—ranging from 1971 to 1992—coincide with the period of major league baseball history in which African American players were more numerous before or since.3 Despite the success of major-league black players during this period, not all of the authors whose works are analyzed here saw the inclusion of African Americans into the major leagues or Robinson's success as occasions for celebration, and the quarter century separating Robinson's debut with the Dodgers and the earliest of these texts provided a critical distance for each author to assess what was gained by the integration of the major leagues and what was lost by the extinction of the Negro Leagues. Ernest Gaines's The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman shows how Robinson's breaking of the color line leads the narrator to become interested in baseball and inspires her in her struggle against racial segregation in Jim Crow Louisiana. In contrast, Amiri Baraka's Autobiography of Leroi Jones and the opening chapter of Gloria Naylor's Bailey's Café celebrate the Negro Leagues rather than Robinson's inclusion in the major leagues, and both texts lament the demise of the Negro Leagues following the desegregation of major-league baseball. August Wilson's play Fences offers a third perspective on the Negro Leagues, major-league baseball's color line, and Jackie Robinson.4 Wilson examines these issues not from the viewpoint of a fan, but from the perspective of an embittered former player who is psychically wounded by the injustice of baseball's exclusion of superior African American players.

Published during the year preceding Robinson's death at age fifty-three, Gaines's 1971 novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman expresses no skepticism about Robinson's inclusion in the major leagues, and celebrates it as a victory over Jim Crow segregation. It is also the only text analyzed in this essay that makes no mention of the Negro Leagues, and the only one that provides a female perspective on baseball. The narrator/protagonist Jane Pittman admires Robinson as a hero of desegregation, an attitude that may in part be explained by the fact that of the four texts examined here, Gaines's is closest [End Page 104] chronologically to both Robinson's major league debut as well as the Southern Civil Rights movement, which focused largely on ending segregation. Pittman, who was born into slavery in Louisiana and who grew up during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, becomes interested in Robinson, first through the sports pages and later through radio broadcasts. Pittman claims that God sent both Robinson and boxer Joe Louis to provide inspiration for oppressed African Americans (215–16). Regarding the Dodgers' acquisition of Robinson, Pittman remembers: "And when they got him he showed them a trick or two. Home runs, steal bases—eh, Lord. It made my day just to hear what Jackie had done. … If the Dodgers had won, if Jackie had done good, my day was made. If they had lost or if Jackie hadn't hit, I suffered till they played again" (216). (In the 1974 made-for-TV film version of the novel, an elderly Pittman—played by Cicely Tyson—umpires a sandlot game while wearing a worn-out Brooklyn Dodgers cap.) Because of where and when Pittman lived most of her life, she does not have the opportunity to attend Negro League games, and because Negro League baseball was rarely covered by the mainstream media, she seems to be unaware of it. Pittman tells her story in 1962, during the Civil Rights movement, and she joins the movement and drinks from a whites-only drinking fountain; thus, her commitment to ending racial segregation makes her adoration of Robinson seem logical. Yet it is Pittman's identity as a nonagenarian black woman and former slave that makes her interest in baseball—inspired by Robinson—ironic, in that major league baseball was played by free-born, young white men and has for most of its existence been labeled the "national pastime" and associated with a nation that has traditionally privileged whiteness and masculinity and denigrated poor African American women such as herself.

Pittman's interest in baseball is based on her admiration of Robinson's courage and success in facing racial hostility and proving the athletic abilities of African Americans; thus, Robinson affirms her hopes for racial justice. However, not all of the black members of her church tolerate her enjoyment of baseball. Although Pittman has strong ties to her church, she admits that sometimes she doesn't attend church "when I want stay home and listen to the ball game" (236). Pittman recalls that "I was the oldest in the church and they called me the church mother. But I liked baseball so much they had to take [that title] from me …" (226). During a dispute in her church, she is criticized by Just Thomas, a church leader, who tells her, "[i]f you ain't arguing bout something you don't know nothing bout, you at that house listening to them sinful baseball games" (238). He asks her when she last knelt in prayer, and when she pleads poor health, Thomas replies, "[t]hat ain't it … You got your mind on baseball. I bet you ain't been feeling too bad to turn that radio [End Page 105] on" (238). Pittman's enjoyment of baseball radio broadcasts, though it is linked in her mind to Robinson and racial justice, is also viewed as a wicked diversion from worship by some of her fellow parishioners who apparently do not share her idolization of Robinson for breaking baseball's color line. Perhaps the fact that Pittman is female and is therefore expected to be morally virtuous makes her habit of listening to baseball broadcasts—and sometimes missing church services—seem all the more unacceptable. Her refusal to stop listening to baseball games is not only due to her tendency to associate the Dodgers with desegregation, but also her resistance to religious conformity and gender norms.

While Gaines's novel ignores the Negro Leagues and praises Robinson through his narrator, Baraka glorifies the Negro Leagues in his 1984 Autobiography of Leroi Jones and laments the demise of black baseball that followed Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Baraka describes his boyhood experiences of attending Newark Eagles games at Ruppert Stadium with his father.5 Baraka rhapsodizes: "The Newark Eagles would have your heart there on the field, from what they was doing. From how they looked. But these were professional ball players. Legitimate black heroes. And we were intimate with them in a way and they were extensions of all of us, there, in a way that the Yankees and Dodgers and what not could never be!" (34). For Baraka and other Eagles fans, black baseball was about the positive self-image that the players made possible for their fans. Baraka adds, "We knew that they were us—raised up to another, higher degree" (34). Baraka celebrates the Negro Leagues from the fan's perspective and emphasizes the communal nature of the sport, in contrast to Pittman's more mediated and isolated enjoyment of Robinson's career in Gaines's text. Of the 1946 season, the year the Eagles won the Negro League championship, Baraka remembers:

That was the year they had [Larry] Doby and [Monte] Irvin and [Lennie] Pearson and Harvey and Pat Patterson, a schoolteacher, on third base, and Leon Day was the star pitcher, and he showed out opening day! But coming into that stadium those Sunday afternoons carried a sweetness with it. The hot dogs and root beers! (They have never tasted that good again.) A little big-eyed boy holding his father's hand.


Baraka's warm childhood memories of the Eagles balance his affection toward his father with his admiration for the Eagles, who like his father are positive role models. Baraka then shifts from a personal to a communal joy:

There was a sense of completion in all that. The black men (and the women) sitting there all participated in those games at a much higher level than anything else I knew. In the sense that they were not excluded from either identification with or knowledge [End Page 106] of what the Eagles did and were. It was like we all communicated with each other and possessed ourselves at a more human level than was usually possible out in cold whitey land.


While the success of the Eagles helped make their games more enjoyable to fans, Baraka implies that Eagles baseball was about more than winning. It offered a sense of community and collective self-esteem that Baraka claims could not be found in the major leagues.

Because he depicts Negro League baseball in such glowing terms, it is little surprise that Baraka does not see the desegregation of major league baseball as positive or important. While many African American players, sportswriters, and fans welcomed desegregation in the big leagues, Baraka describes it as "a straight-out trick" that "rip[s] off what you had in the name of what you ain't never gonna get" (36). He then laments

the destruction of the Negro National League. The destruction of the Eagles, Greys [sic], Black Yankees, Elite Giants, Cuban Stars, Clowns, Monarchs, Black Barons, to what must we attribute that? We're going to the big leagues. Is that what the cry was on those Afric' shores when the European capitalists and African feudal lords got together and palmed our future. "WE'RE GOING TO THE BIG LEAGUES!"


Because Baraka sees such little value in integration in baseball, he does not admire Robinson for breaking the color line. He describes Robinson as "a synthetic colored guy" who came "out of the California laboratories of USC" (36). (Robinson actually attended UCLA.) Unlike the characters in Bailey's Café and Fences, who refuse to admire Robinson because he was not an elite player by Negro League standards, Baraka attacks Robinson for symbolizing the false promise of integration, as well as his negative statement about the radical African American activist Paul Robeson during a HUAC hearing. While many African Americans became Dodgers fans after Robinson's debut because they supported integration, Baraka did not: "I remained a Giant 'fan,' cause me fadder was, even when J.R. came on the scene. I resisted that First shit.… So Jeckie [sic] came on down to DC town and they got his ass to put Paul Robeson down!" (37). In his essay on Baraka, Robinson, and Robeson, Gerald Early analyzes the causes of Baraka's antagonism toward Robinson:

For Baraka, Robinson … sinned thrice against black political interests as Baraka understands them: first, he agreed to integrate baseball as an individual (not as part of a group but rather as a symbol of a group); second, his success created the paradigm of black integration into white America—it must always be the black who brings about a change of heart in the white by bearing the burden of his racial stigma instead of the [End Page 107] white's bearing the burden of his irrational racial phobias; third, he sealed the acceptance of these terms when he attacked Paul Robeson publicly in 1949.…


Baraka's critique of major league baseball's tokenistic inclusion of Robinson is valid, though during the 1940s, many African Americans probably saw this as progress compared to complete segregation. Robinson's support for the Republican party also did not appeal to Baraka's politics, at least in hindsight. For Baraka, the racial pride produced by the Negro Leagues far surpassed Robinson's inclusion in major league baseball.

Baraka's nostalgia for Negro League baseball and its association with a happy childhood are shared by the unnamed narrator of the first chapter of Naylor's Bailey's Café (1992), who calls himself Maestro. Maestro shares Baraka's admiration for the athletic prowess of Negro League players, particularly Smokey Joe Williams.7 Like Baraka, Naylor's Maestro was introduced to black baseball through his father, and thus baseball served as a means of father-son bonding and a source of racial pride as well as form of entertainment. Maestro remembers that "in those days they really played ball" (8). He recalls his father's claim that Williams pitched a shutout in both games of a doubleheader, and adds, "the last throw [was] a fastball that went by with so much heat it busted a seam in the catcher's glove" (8). When the narrator expresses skepticism, his father produces an old, somewhat torn catcher's mitt autographed by Williams. Maestro, who grew up in Brooklyn, then recalls attending a game with his father in 1917 when Williams pitched, and though his father lamented that the pitcher was past his prime, the young Maestro "was there with my mouth so wide open I could have swallowed flies. That tall, swaybacked man had them fanning left and right, and not just any them—the New York Giants. He ended up fanning twenty of them before the game was over and losing 1–0 on a tenth-inning error" (9). For Maestro, Williams symbolizes how baseball allows African American players to transcend their subordinate position in American society and earn admiration as heroes. Maestro says Williams' performance was a masterpiece, "it was a little bit more than that. Something happened when those colored players were out on the field, and I guess I went to so many games trying to figure out exactly what it was" (9).

Maestro also compares black players to white players, and not surprisingly, he disagrees with whites who argue or assume that black players are inferior. He explains that as a boy, "I didn't question why Negroes had separate teams" (9); instead, he believes that racial separation in baseball was due to the superiority of black players over their white counterparts. However, he expresses admiration for Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner while also praising Negro Leagues stars like Williams, John Henry "Pop" Lloyd, and Josh Gibson. Maestro opines [End Page 108] that Wagner would have been able to endure the grueling schedules and travels that were common in the Negro leagues. But in extolling Wagner, Maestro inverts the often grudging praise that whites gave for black players by comparing them to whites, such as praising Gibson as the "black Babe Ruth." Maestro claims that Wagner's offensive and defensive prowess "made him just like Pop Lloyd in that respect. And it leaves me confused, why these newspapermen look back at Pop's career and call him the Black Honus Wagner; all things being equal—or in this case unequal—the highest compliment to pay the Flying Dutchman is to all him the White Pop Lloyd" (10). Of Ty Cobb, Maestro asserts, "he's the white Oscar Charleston if there's ever been one" (10). These are the only white baseball greats that Maestro is willing to compliment with comparisons to Negro League stars, however. Regarding Babe Ruth, Maestro claims: "He couldn't have gone two seasons in Josh Gibson's shoes and held on to his record, and as far as I'm concerned, the title of a White Josh Gibson still goes unclaimed" (10–11). In discussing the comparative merits of black and white ballplayers, Maestro seems less concerned with ending racial segregation in baseball than with reversing the racist claims of black inferiority by arguing that overall, black professional players were better than their white counterparts.

Like Baraka, Naylor's Maestro does not buy into the hype surrounding Robinson, though he is less harsh toward Robinson's ability or public behavior. Instead, he has less respect for players of the post-World War Two era than those he admired as a boy. Maestro avers that "[t]o hear these people talk, you'd think Jackie Robinson grew up like a mushroom in the jungle somewhere and Branch Rickey was on some kind of rare-species hunt and stumbled over him. Well, if Rickey was after the rare, he didn't find it in that player. Robinson is a dime a dozen in a long-established league. The Negro American League … whose teams play against the Negro National League. Organized baseball, just not recognized baseball" (11). Maestro's comment echoes the arguments of many African Americans that Robinson was chosen as the first African American to play major league baseball not because of his ability—he seems far more impressed with "the immortal pitching arm of Satchel Paige" (79)—but because Rickey believed he would be able to handle the pressure and racist abuse that he inevitably faced. In addition, Maestro argues that black America's fascination with Robinson was unfortunate in that it drew attention away from other talented African American players and from the Negro Leagues, which as Maestro argues were organized, despite white assumptions to the contrary. Maestro goes on to argue, "[t]he best I can see for baseball is the same old way. The Rickeys of the world calling the shots because a hundred Jackie Robinsons isn't gonna really integrate baseball and baseball is not [End Page 109] going to help integrate America" (12). He then admits, "I know my position about that Second Coming out at Ebbets Field doesn't sit well with most people, but I call 'em as I see 'em" (12). Perhaps because of his skepticism toward Robinson, he seems less interested in Robinson's Dodgers than in the Cleveland Indians, the first American League team to break the color line by signing outfielder Larry Doby in 1947; during the following year, they signed the aging Satchel Paige and won the World Series. Maestro's ideas about Robinson and his relationship to baseball and American race relations aren't really about Robinson's talent, which he sees as mediocre, but about the continuation of white domination after Robinson crossed the color line, not just in baseball, but throughout American society.

Maestro's lack of enthusiasm for Robinson is shared by the former slugger Troy Maxson, the protagonist of Wilson's play Fences, which he wrote and revised from 1983 to 1987. Maxson's dismissal of Robinson is compounded by a sense of bitterness stemming from his exclusion from the major leagues as well as disappointment with his current job and his financial insecurity.8 While serving a fifteen-year prison sentence for murder and attempted robbery, Maxson developed his baseball skills, which led to a career in the Negro Leagues after his release. In this sense, his incarceration ironically opened the door to a possible path to success through baseball. However, he was in his thirties by the time he began playing professionally and thus was unable to enjoy a full professional career. It was during his prison sentence that the Negro Leagues were reorganized and entered their peak of financial success. Furthermore, because retired Negro League players had less financial security and fewer job opportunities than white retired players, Maxson is compelled to work as a garbage collector. When his wife Rose tells him that the only players who were as good as him were Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson, he replies, "What it ever get me? Ain't got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of" (475). The play takes place in 1957, ten years after Robinson's debut with the Dodgers, and the year that Henry Aaron won the MVP award with the World Series champion Milwaukee Braves. Unfortunately, Maxson was born too soon for a chance to play in the major leagues, since he was born in 1904 and was too old to continue his baseball career by the time Robinson broke major league baseball's color line. He points to George Selkirk, an ordinary white right-fielder for the New York Yankees as an example of major league baseball's unfairness in including such average white players while excluding talented African American players such as himself—Maxson contrasts Selkirk's pedestrian .269 average with his own .432 average and thirty-seven home runs in one season (475). He then points out how Josh Gibson was unable to provide financially [End Page 110] for his family because he was barred from the major leagues, in contrast to the mediocre Selkirk: "I saw Josh Gibson's daughter yesterday. She walking around with raggedy shoes on her feet. Now I bet you Selkirk's daughter ain't walking around with raggedy shoes on her feet!" (475).9 Maxson's reference to Gibson is significant because, as James Robert Saunders argues in his article about Fences, Maxson bears a close resemblance to Gibson in his size, hitting prowess, and alcoholism, as well as his lack of opportunity to play in the major leagues (50).

Although several African American and dark-skinned Latino players had followed Robinson in the major leagues by 1957, Maxson does not believe that they are treated as well as white players.10 He asserts that the Puerto Rican star Roberto Clemente was not given enough playing time by his team (the Pittsburgh Pirates), which Maxson calls "an all-white team."11 When his son Cory points out that some white Pittsburgh players also see limited playing time, Maxson argues: "If they got a white fellow sitting on the bench … you can bet your last dollar he can't play! The colored guy got to be twice as good before he get on the team" (486). In reply to his friend Bono's comment that Maxson "just come along too early," Maxson exclaims, "[t]here ought not never have been no time called too early!" (475). Maxson's statement could have been the epitaph of Gibson and many other talented Negro League players who were too old to play by the time Robinson broke baseball's color line.

Although Maxson resents the exclusion of accomplished African American players from major league baseball, he does not admire all African Americans who enjoyed the opportunity that he was denied to play in the big leagues. He belittles Robinson's talent by telling Rose and Bono, "I done seen a hundred niggers play baseball better than Jackie Robinson. Hell, I know some teams Jackie Robinson couldn't even make!" (475). He also is not impressed by Henry Aaron's accomplishment of hitting forty-three home runs before the end of the season; he tells Cory, "Hell, I can hit forty-three home runs right now!" (486). Maxson's dismissal of Robinson's and Aaron's success may be partly motivated by envy, though his implied argument that these two African American players were not the only ones who were good enough to play in the major leagues is valid. Maxson claims that "[w]e had better pitching in the Negro leagues. I hit seven home runs off of Satchel Paige. You can't get no better than that!" (486), and suggests that Paige was as good as or better than major league white pitching stars Sandy Koufax and Warren Spahn. Like Josh Gibson, who was often described as the "Black Babe Ruth," Maxson was a prodigious hitter whose success in baseball did not provide him with financial security after his career ended. Maxson often uses baseball metaphors in [End Page 111] discussing non-baseball situations, which is fitting in that Maxson's lack of opportunity to play major league baseball symbolizes the marginalization of African Americans in American society as a whole.

The differences among these four texts regarding the protagonists' and narrators' attitudes toward the Negro Leagues and the integration of major league baseball suggest a lack of consensus about what the history of baseball and race means to African Americans. While there are reasons to celebrate the desegregation of baseball during the mid-twentieth century, much was lost in the disintegration of the Negro Leagues despite the fact that these leagues were formed as a reaction to racial exclusion. The predicament of African Americans who wished to play the "national pastime" exemplifies W. E. B. Du Bois's definition of African American double consciousness:

One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls; two thoughts; two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. … He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.12

Although many talented African American baseball players were unfairly banned from the major leagues, and were thereby in a sense denied recognition as Americans, those who were able to live the "American Dream" by playing for major league teams had to abandon the Negro Leagues, a vital arena of African American culture. The history of African Americans in baseball, as well as the depictions of that history in African American literary texts, is inseparable from the dilemma of double consciousness facing African Americans who struggle to negotiate the conflicts between racial and national identities.

Robert C. Nowatzki

robert c. nowatzki is the author of Representing African Americans in Transatlantic Abolitionism and Blackface Minstrelsy and the co-author of Research Guide of American Literature: Romanticism and Transcendentalism, 1820–1860. He has also written several journal articles on African American literature and nineteenth-century American literature as well as a chapter about African Americans in baseball for African Americans and Popular Culture.


1. In July 1867, The New York Clipper reported that Frederick Douglass watched Charles play a game for the Washington Alert. John Muller has reproduced a box score for a game played in 1870 in which Charles played right field for the Washington Mutuals against a Rochester team. See entries for "Frederick Douglass interested [End Page 112] spectator as Cuban Giants defeat All-Washington Club in an 1891 baseball game" and "Charles Douglass in 1870 Washington Mutuals Base Ball Club box score" in John Muller, Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia, During their stay in Rochester, Charles and the rest of the Mutuals were hosted by Frederick and his wife Anna (Lawrence D. Hogan, Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball [Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2006], 11).

2. According to Paul Dickson, the term "organized baseball" denotes professional baseball in the major leagues and minor leagues. It does not include independent leagues and did not include the Negro Leagues. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, 3rd ed. (New York: Norton, 2009), 608; The last African American to play baseball at the major-league level before Robinson was Moses Fleetwood Walker, who in 1883 and 1884 played for the Toledo Bluestockings (which in 1884 was admitted to the American Association, then a major league). Walker's presence on the diamond often drew hostility from opposing players and fans as well as one of his teammates, pitcher Tony Mullane. See David W. Zang, Fleet Walker's Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball's First Black Major Leaguer (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 42, 43. One of the chief proponents for banning Walker and other African Americans from baseball was Adrian "Cap" Anson, player/manager for the Chicago White Stockings. In 1887, the International League, a high-level minor league that included seven African American players, prohibited its club owners from signing black players See Hogan 63; Edward Achorn, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game [New York: Public Affairs, 2013], 165). Another minor league, the Ohio State League (which included three African American players, including Walker's brother Weldy), also forbade their teams from tendering contracts to black players in 1888. See Harold Seymour, Baseball: The People's Game (New York: Oxford UP, 1990), 554. Because major league teams signed players from minor league teams, the color line in minor league baseball effectively excluded African American players from the major leagues as well.

3. According to Paul Hagen, the highest proportion of African American players in major league baseball was about nineteen percent. That percentage has dropped significantly since the 1990s and stood at 8.5 percent in April 2013. See Paul Hagen, "Study: Decline in African-American Players Overstated,"

4. See Ernest J. Gaines, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (New York: Bantam, 1972); Amiri Baraka, The Autobiography of Leroi Jones (New York: Freundlich, 1984); Gloria Naylor, Bailey's Café (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1993); and, August Wilson, Fences, in Cornerstones: An Anthology of African American Literature, ed. Melvin Donaldson (New York: St. Martin's, 1996). 470–517. Subsequent references will appear parenthetically.

5. The Newark Eagles played in the Negro National League from 1936 through 1948, and won the Negro World Series in 1946. Two of its star players, Larry Doby and [End Page 113] Monte Irvin, were signed by the Cleveland Indians and New York Giants, respectively. See pages for "Larry Doby" and "Monte Irvin," Negro Leagues Baseball eMuseum: Electronic Resources for Teachers, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Kansas State University College of Education, 2006, accessed January 6, 2015,

6. Early also reminisces about going to see baseball games (with his grandfather), though unlike Baraka, who was a Newark Eagles fan, Early and his grandfather attended Phillies games in Philadelphia. Early adds, however, that as a boy, he and "virtually every black person I knew" (except his grandfather) hated the Phillies because of "how they treated Jackie Robinson when he first broke into the National League." See Gerald Early, The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture (Hopewell, NJ: Ecco, 1994), 134). Phillies manager Ben Chapman, a former Dodgers pitcher, was particularly abusive toward Robinson in his first game against Philadelphia on April 22, 1947. See Dave Zirin, A People's History of Sports in the United States (New York: New Press, 2008), 102. Exactly ten years later, the Phillies were the last National League team to include an African American player when John Kennedy made his debut on April 22, 1957. See Alejandro M. de Quesada, Spring Training in Clearwater: Fencebusters and Fastballs from the Philadelphia Phillies and the Clearwater Threshers (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007), 39.

7. In her article "Bailey's Café as Sports Bar; Or, Why Baseball Needs a Way Station," Margaret Whitt explains Maestro's references to Negro League players and teams for readers who are not familiar with this branch of baseball history. See Callallo, 23, no. 4 (Fall 2000): 1464–74.

8. Unlike the other primary texts examined in this essay, the significance of baseball in Fences has been analyzed by several scholars, though not in conjunction with other African American literary texts that mention baseball. For example, Christine Birdwell discusses Troy's perception of baseball's color line as symbolic of the failed promise of the American Dream and analyzes his use of baseball metaphors, while Keith Clark focuses on the often destructive effects of ideologies of masculinity on Troy and other male characters. Other scholars who have traced the impact of baseball on Fences include Susan Koprince, who places Troy's baseball career within the historical context of the Negro Leagues; James Robert Saunders, who compares Jackie Robinson's talent to that of other Negro League stars who were not given the chance to break major league baseball's color line; Renae Nadine Shackleford, who examines Maxson's encounters with racial discrimination in baseball and in life in general; and Deeanne Westbrook, who analyzes Fences in connection to the Odyssey and the Edenic myth as well as Troy's Oedipal relationship with his father and his son Cory. See Christine Birdwell, "Death as a Fastball on the Outside Corner: Fences' Troy Maxson and the American Dream," Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature, 8, no. 1 (Fall 1990): 87–96; Keith Clark, "Healing the Scars of Masculinity: Reflections on Baseball, Gunshots, and War Wounds in August Wilson's Fences," in Contemporary Black Men's [End Page 114] Fiction and Drama, ed. Keith Clark (Urbana, IL: U of Illinois P, 2001), 200–21; Susan Koprince, "Baseball as History and Myth in August Wilson's Fences," African American Review, 40, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 349–58; James Robert Saunders, "'I Done Seen a Hundred Niggers Play Baseball Better Than Jackie Robinson': Troy Maxson's Plea in August Wilson's Fences," in Baseball/Literature/Culture: Essays, 2004–2005, ed. Peter Carino (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006), 46–52; Renae Nadine Schackelford, "'I Just Might Be Able to Steal Second': Fences' Baseball Metaphor as August Wilson's Commentary on African American Life," in Baseball/Literature/Culture: Essays, 2004–2005, ed. Peter Carino (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006), 53–60; and Deeanne Westbrook, Ground Rules: Baseball and Myth (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996).

9. For a compelling account of Gibson's career and life, see Mark Ribowsky's The Power and the Darkness: The Life of Josh Gibson in the Shadows of the Game (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

10. Dark-skinned Latino players faced much of the same prejudice that was directed toward African American players, but also experienced an additional level of exclusion because of the language barrier. For a thorough analysis of the exclusion and inclusion of Latino players in North American baseball, see Adrian Burgos's Playing America's Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

11. For an excellent biography of Clemente, see David Maraniss's Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006).

12. W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, ed. David W. Blight (Boston: Bedford, 1997), 38–39. [End Page 115]

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