Forgotten Black Baseball History Brought Back into Spotlight with “MLB The Show 23”
Jacob Willis, staff writer
Growing up as a young Black baseball player, I felt like a needle in a haystack. Basketball and football were every young Black boy’s way of making it big, but not baseball. I couldn’t blame them. In my neighborhood, we definitely had a basketball court and football field, but where was the baseball field? Well it was there, but it for damn sure wasn’t used for fielding ground balls. Let’s just say the sorry excuse of a baseball field was used for selling and buying some stuff I can’t mention. Baseball in the Black community for a long time has been an afterthought. “Black people don’t play baseball,” and “Baseball is a white people sport,” were common things you would hear from both Black and white people as a young African American ballplayer. So as a young man, I was faced with some uncomfortable questions: is baseball really a white sport? Besides Jackie Robinson, what other Black baseball players are there? As it turns out, I was on the cusp of discovering a massive piece of not just baseball history but American history: I discovered the Negro Leagues.
In the 1920s, Black baseball players were not allowed to play in the major leagues because of segregation. There was no shortage of Black players with major league talent, but they were relegated to either playing ball for an independent team or not at all. A man by the name of Rube Foster saw fit to change this. He decided if Black ballplayers wouldn’t be allowed to play in the major leagues, then they would make their own. He founded what would be called the Negro Leauges, a professional league for Black baseball players. The Negro Leagues would feature some of the best baseball players to ever live, but unfortunately their names have faded away with time. Players like Bob Gibson, Satchel Paige and Buck O’Niel broke all kinds of records in their time in a league that at its peak was just as popular and challenging as the Majors. But you won’t find them in most baseball history books. When the Negro Leagues disbanded in the 1960s after the color barrier had been broken in the majors, the Negro Leagues slowly started to fade away from the minds and memories of many American baseball fans. Until today. Now, the Negro Leagues is once again making a return to the center stage, but this time in the form of a video game.
The 2023 edition of the baseball video game “MLB The Show” features a brand new game mode centered around the Negro Leagues. The mode takes you through the baseball careers of multiple Negro League legends like Hank Tompson, Hilton Smith, John Donaldson and many more. Throughout the mode, you get to play as these characters in simulated games, giving you a front row seat to these legends’ most defining career moments. The importance of this game mode cannot be overstated. Education about the Negro Leagues, and just Black people in baseball, has for a long time been non-existent. You’d be shocked to find out how many of our young Black ballplayers don’t even know who Jackie Robinson is. This game mode will undeniably serve as a powerful education tool for our younger generation. My hope with this game mode is that maybe, just maybe, the rich history of Black people in baseball can finally be brought into the light. I feel that once this country learns more about the Negro Leagues, we can finally learn that baseball isn’t a white man’s game, or even a Black man’s game for that matter. It’s everyone’s game.