1920 - 100 years ago, a group of 8 black baseball owners came together to forge a future for their community. From this meeting came the birth of the National Negro League - the first successful, organized professional Black Baseball League. Their passion for the game was boundless and they were not going to wait for change to come.
They were the oppressed. They were the disenfranchised. They were the proud people that carved out that change for themselves. Thanks to their efforts and vision of a future that belonged to all, we are here now celebrating the pioneering players behind the National Negro League in it’s Centenary - they played for us so we could play as equals.
We worked closely with World Series champion, Cy Young Award winner and one of the famed ‘Black Aces’, CC Sabathia to bring you this powerful collaboration. CC coordinated the program and acted as Creative Director. We partnered with the Major League Baseball Players Association, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and our partners at Jackie Robinson's family to make this collection come to life. We thoughtfully designed and curated the collection to preserve the rich history and highlight the pioneers who wrote it. This first capsule of the collection will pay tribute to the NLBM’s Centennial, as well as the life and legacy of baseball’s beloved Jackie Robinson, who famously broke the color barrier in 1947.
They brought a community together in times of radical division, They created a hub of support and economic prosperity. This was bigger than a baseball league. This was bigger than sports. The National Negro League games became an umissable social gathering - a place to express yourself free from discrimination and hate. The pioneering few behind it’s inception built an environment for a culture to flourish. They played for us so we could play for all.
Playing on the National Negro League field was different. There was a freedom to play your own way. To express yourself free from the oppression of existing baseball structures. Players felt at ease to let their culture flow through their style of play, and this showed on the field. The swagger oozing from this style was elevated by their quality of play. This was no secondary league. In their eyes this was the league and they were the show - "I use my single windup, my double windup, my triple windup, my hesitation windup, my no windup. I also use my step-n-pitch-it, my submariner, my sidearmer and my bat dodger. Man's got to do what he's got to do." - Satchel Paige.
This may not have been the Major Leagues, but they did have major players. Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and of course Jackie Robinson all showcased their talent in the National Negro League before joining the Majors. Jackie recognised they were on the crest of a wave. He saw the opportunity to showcase his game on a national level and took it. While stationed at Fort Riley military base, Jackie was making people take notice, he was undeniable with the Kansas City Monarchs. “Robinson is a natural athlete. One of those rare fellows who does everything well instinctively. He tips the scale at 190 pounds and is as fast as greased lightning.” According to Joe Bostic of New York City’s Amsterdam News, “he did everything but help the ushers seat the crowd.” Jackie Robinson was a superstar in waiting.
Proceeds from all sales will benefit the NLBM’s efforts to preserve and celebrate the rich history of African American baseball and its significance in the social advancement of America at large. When iconic players, like Jackie Robinson are featured, proceeds from their products will also go directly to them or their estates/families. The program and apparel will include the phrase “They Played for Us” to capture the lasting influence Negro League Players have had on today’s game, athletes and all through popular culture. This will be an invitation for current players to finish the sentence with “So I Can…”