This week it was a hundred years ago that a group of eight black team owners came together at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri, to talk about a possible national Negro League. The main instigator of these talks was Andrew ‘Rube’ Foster, an accomplished pitcher but an even more talented organiser. That day, the Negro National League was initiated.
It took Foster some time to reach the pro’s, but when he finally did in 1903, he took it by storm. Already in his first season with the Cuban X-Giants, he became their ace. Two years later he would win 51 games, according to some. Another legend has it that he taught the great Christy Mathewson his screwball when New York Giants manager John McGraw asked him to instruct his pitchers. Supposedly he got his nickname Rube when he beat future Hall of Famer Rube Waddell while barnstorming in 1902, at the mere age of 22. The legendary Honus Wagner even called him one of the greatest pitchers of all time.
By the time he turned 30, Foster wanted more. He dreamed of becoming a team owner. He had already been a player-manager for Frank Leland’s Leland Giants the last couple of years, and a successful one at that. In his first year combining his pitching and managerial duties, he helped his Giants win an incredible 110 games. They captured the Chicago City league title that year. His days at the club would be numbered, though. He wanted to take control of the team, but Leland didn’t let him. He decided to start his own team, across town, and it would be called the Chicago American Giants.
He lured away players like John Henry Lloyd and Home Run Johnson from his rivals and assembled, according to himself, the greatest baseball talent ever. They lost just six games that first season while winning an amazing 128 times. His team was arguably the best in black baseball, but without a national competition, he had no way to prove that. It became his ambition to create a national black baseball league.
When the race riots of 1919 were tormenting the city of Chicago, they spurred him on to push through with his plans. He got a group of black midwestern team owners together in Kansas City, the papers in hand, and persuaded them to sign the agreement. That day, the Negro National League was founded. The eight founding members were: the Chicago Giants, the Cuban Stars, the Dayton Marcos, the Detroit Stars, the Indianapolis ABCs, the Kansas City Monarchs, the St. Louis Giants and Foster’s own Chicago American Giants.
Not everybody was happy with his role as both the American Giants owner and the league’s president and treasurer. Although the American Giants did dominate the league for its first three years, he helped out other teams as well. When teams fell into financial trouble, he sometimes even paid their debts out of his own pocket. From 1923 and onwards, however, there would be a new dynasty in town. The Kansas City Monarchs had become the strongest team in the league, with iconic players like Dobie Moore, John Donaldson and pitcher Bullett Rogan.
After being exposed to gas in 1925, Foster suffered brain damage. His behaviour became erratic, and a year after the accident, he ended up in an asylum, a place he would never leave. He died there at the young age of 41, leaving behind an astounding legacy. He can be rightfully called the Father of Black Baseball.
Photos courtesy of www.sportamerika.nl