Last week, the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank, in collaboration with the Baseball Heritage Museum, launched Triple Play, an exhibit honoring the legacy of the Negro Leagues. Triple Play tells the stories of Negro League teams and players from the Cleveland Buckeyes as well as other parts of the bank’s Fourth District, which encompasses all of Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia.
The creation of the Negro Leagues provided a playing field for more than 2,600 African American and Hispanic baseball players to showcase their world-class baseball abilities. Their fast, aggressive style of play attracted black and white fans who sat together to watch those games at a time when it was virtually unheard of to interact socially in such a way.
The Negro Leagues introduced game-changing innovations such as shin guards and the batting helmet. In 1930, they were the first to pioneer “Night Baseball.” The Negro Leagues also helped make baseball a global sport by introducing professional baseball to Japan in 1927. Players from the Negro Leagues were the first people from the United States to play in many Spanish-speaking countries.
The exhibit also recognizes Larry Doby, the first Black player in the American League who broke the color barrier into Major League Baseball with the Cleveland Indians in 1947. Satchel Paige, the legendary Negro League pitcher who signed with the Indians in 1948 and became the first Black player to pitch in a World Series is also recognized as well.
"Having a clear understanding of the role the Negro Leagues played not only in American sports but the fabric of society during that time period in our country’s history is vital," said Khaz Finley, Education and Outreach Manager for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland to Right Down Euclid. "The Negro League shares a historical tale of a collection of athletes willfully pushing through segregation to create their own business driven by their passion to play baseball.
"Stories like this also overlap so many other pivotal historical times in our nation such as the Great Migration, The formation of the Federal Reserve System and The Great Depression. This provides a snapshot of a group of Americans not covered in their history books and the actions they were taking at that time were influenced by societal norms and in their own way truly allowed them to flourish despite the obstacles presented."
The three commemorative coins produced by the U.S. Mint are on display in downtown Cleveland. Photo credit: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
Other highlights include a look at Pittsburgh’s Greenlee Field, which was one of few black-built and black-owned major league baseball fields in the United States, as well as commemorative coins struck by the U.S. Mint honoring Jackie Robinson and Rube Foster, a Negro League executive known as the “father of Black baseball.”
The Mint will strike $5 gold coins, $1 silver coins, and half-dollar-clad coins with different designs as part of the program. The $5 gold coins feature Rube Foster. The $1 silver coins depict a pitcher in mid-throw with the baseball in the foreground and baseball stitching as a border. Finally, the half-dollar-clad coins depict a Negro Leagues tour bus that served as their home on the road when players were refused entry to hotels and restaurants. The batter exemplifies the determination to play the game he loves, regardless of challenging circumstances.
Cleveland Guardians owner Paul Dolan, who was unable to comment due to the team's playoff run, was involved with the project as well. Dolan saw the importance of the exhibit due to its historical significance. But, when you factor in how involved his team was in breaking the color barrier, it made even more sense for him to be interested.
"The importance of the Cleveland Guardians' interest is immense not only because they are our home team, but they had one of the trailblazers who broke the baseball color barrier in Larry Doby be a part of their organization," said Finley. "Doby’s career started as did Jackie Robinson’s in the Negro Leagues, and having that connection to him is priceless. Unlike Robinson, who played the 1946 season with the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers’ farm team, Doby went directly from the Negro leagues to the Majors. The following season, Indians’ owner Bill Veeck would sign Negro leagues legend Satchel Paige at the age of 42, the league’s oldest rookie. Doby and Paige would be instrumental in Cleveland winning its last World Series Championship in 1948.
"Doby would become the first Black to hit a home run in a World Series, and Paige the first Black to pitch in a World Series. In 1975, the Indians would hire Frank Robinson as the first Black manager in Major League Baseball.
"It also goes without saying that the Cleveland baseball clubs of the past also played and owned League Park, the same stadium where the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League won the 1945 Negro League World series. The historical connection and significance are priceless and I’m glad the Guardians organization still acknowledges its importance."
Admission to the museum and learning center is free, with public hours from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday. Masks are required for all entering the area. Group sizes are limited to six or fewer people due to the ongoing public health crisis.
The museum and the exhibit are at 1455 E. 6th St., Cleveland, OH, 44114.
Photo credit: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at email@example.com. He can also be found three to five times a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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