In the days of segregation, the Negro Baseball League (NBL) recognized some of the greatest black players of their time when the white Major Leagues never would. While the Negro League ultimately disbanded in 1948 as more black players were recruited to Major League teams, NBL goes down in history for bringing us some truly legendary moments.
1) James Thomas’s, aka “Cool Papa Bell’s” record speed
To put Bell’s speed into perspective, he was so fast that even Jesse Owens—the fastest man in the world during the time—refused to race him. During a game in Chicago, there were multiple accounts from people who witnessed Bell’s home run being clocked at 13.1 seconds. The conditions were less than ideal that day; it was muddy and the field was soft. However, Bell merely proclaimed that, “on a dry field, I once done it in 12 [seconds] flat.”
2) Cristóbal Torriente outshines Babe Ruth
In a game that went down in Cuban history, Torriente had the opportunity to play against the legendary Babe Ruth—and completely upstaged him. Not only did Torriente hit 3 home runs out of the field that day, but when Ruth pitched to him, Torriente hit the ball so hard that witnesses remember the ball getting burrowed into the ground.
3) Jackie Robinson is recruited to the Brooklyn Dodgers
While this event pulled Robinson out of the Negro League, its significance to the black community cannot go unnoticed. Until this point, sports had been segregated much like everything else. When Jackie joined the Dodgers, he became the first black player to join the Major Leagues. This moment was a significant turning point for racial segregation in baseball, and would lead to other black players to be recruited to Major League teams.
4) The birth of night games
During the 1920s, the Major Leagues owned most stadiums and NBL teams were typically relegated to Sundays when the stadiums were not in use by MLB teams. While post-church Sunday games were huge deal in the black community, the NBL was quickly outgrowing Sunday afternoons. J. L Wilkinson, owner of NBL team the Kansas City Monarchs, hired Omaha’s Giant Manufacturing Company to build a portable lighting system. The ability to host night games opened up a world of opportunity and ticket sales that Wilkinson could never touch on Sunday afternoons.
5) Satchel Paige strikes out Josh Gibson
In the Negro World Series of 1942, two legends had the opportunity to face off. Satchel Paige, pitching for the Kansas City Monarchs, famously asked Josh Gibson (Homestead Grays) to batter up. Despite being named “one of the best sluggers of all time,” Gibson’s presence wouldn’t rattle Paige. Paige struck him out without flinching, making for one of the most widely recounted story in NBL history.
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