Charles Hill Moffat Lecture Discusses Black Baseball History


Sarah Davis, Staff Reporter

The Negro Leagues are an integral part of American sports history, according to a professor and baseball scholar.

The Charles Hill Moffat Lecture is an annual event hosted by Marshall’s history department, in honor of the late Dr. Moffat, a professor of history. This year’s Moffat Lecture, entitled “A Journey Through the Negro Leagues,” discussed the history behind America’s Black baseball league.

Dr. Leslie Heaphy, a professor of history at Kent University at Stark, spoke at the lecture. Heaphy is a baseball scholar as well as an author and editor of many books and articles, including Black Ball, the only Black baseball history journal.

Heaphy focused on a timeline during her lecture, beginning with the foundations of baseball.

“Baseball started as an amateur game. Baseball started as something for fun, which meant everybody played, regardless of who you were- age, gender, color-  it didn’t matter,” she said. 

Heaphy explained that as the game progressed, certain people were pushed away from playing, which, according to her, is a recurring theme in history. 

The first person Heaphy highlighted was Octavius Catto, a man often only known for his activism in civil rights. However, he was also involved with the Philadelphia Pythians, the first Black baseball team to apply for membership in the National Baseball Organization. The team applied for membership in 1867.

Charles Douglass, the son of Frederick Douglass, helped Catto establish the Philadelphia Pythians. 

The team was soon denied membership due to their African American players.

The National Colored Baseball League, the first attempt at a Black baseball league, launched in 1887. The league was comprised of eight teams: the Baltimore Lord Baltimores, Boston Resolutes, Louisville Falls Citys, New York Gorhams, Philadelphia Pythians, Pittsburgh Keystones, Washington Capital Citys and Cincinnati Browns. 

The league only lasted a month, allowing each team to play around eight games. The failure was primarily due to weather. Many storms made it difficult to play the scheduled games.

Heaphy suggested that Andrew Rube Foster, often called the father of Black baseball, helped establish the Negro Leagues. Foster was active in the league as a player, manager and eventually president.

The Negro Leagues kicked-off in 1920 in Kansas City, Missouri at a local YMCA club. They lasted until the 1960s. 

Heaphy explained that the teams faced many challenges, such as transportation, racism, funding and The Great Depression. However, she suggested that two factors helped these teams survive: the establishment of the World Series and the East-West Classic.

“They had an East-West classic game from 1933 to 1954, and on many of those years, the East-West classic outdrew the major league All-Star game, by a lot,” she said.

This reality, according to Heaphy, debunked the theory that people were disinterested in watching the Negro leagues. 

Heaphy went on to highlight a few key Negro league players: Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Smokey Joe Williams, Martín Dihigo and Oscar Charleston. 

“These were major league caliber ball players, and there is no doubt that that is true,” she said. 

The Negro leagues also included women baseball players, including Olivia Taylor, a West Virginia native. There was some speculation that the league only signed on these women to gain publicity, but Heaphy concluded that is not the case.

The Negro leagues died off in 1960, with only two remaining teams playing. Even though most teams had successfully integrated by then, the end of the league still signified a loss. The baseball business was a large asset for the Black community.

“There is always more to think about in these stories, and that’s an important part of the story,” Heaphy said.

Those in attendance were invited to ask Heaphy questions and engage in a reception following the lecture.