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Past and Present

Past and Present: The Disappearance of the Negro Leagues

Al_HikesAZ / Flickr

During the spring and summer months, baseball receives a lot of attention in the United States. In 2013, fans have not just discussed the current Major League Baseball season, but because of the recently-released movie 42, have also discussed the 1947 Major League season when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

While the movie 42 convincingly portrays Robinson’s truly heroic actions in this regard, the film ignores the impact of the desegregation of Major League Baseball on the Negro Baseball Leagues.

Discussions of the Negro Leagues usually focus on the legendary exploits of such players as Josh Gibson, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Satchel Paige. These players and their lesser-known counterparts clearly deserve our attention. Nevertheless, to better understand and appreciate what the Negro Leagues represented, and to place them in clearer historical perspective, it is equally important to view this phenomenon through the lens of business.

Lost in the hoopla surrounding Jackie Robinson’s and other black players’ appearances in the Major Leagues was the simultaneous decline and disappearance of the Negro Baseball Leagues.

From a business standpoint, the extinction of these black-owned businesses not only had negative ramifications for the teams themselves, but also for auxiliary black community enterprises. When Negro League teams disappeared, this also hurt black restaurants and drinking establishments whose profits were linked with fans who patronized such community enterprises either before or after games.

In recent years, there has been increasing discussion about how infrequently black consumer dollars actually circulate within African American communities. The disappearance of the Negro Baseball Leagues and auxiliary commercial enterprises helped set the stage for this contemporary economic reality.