He’s known as the father of Black baseball!
Andrew “Rube” Foster was born September 17, 1879 in Calvert, Texas, MLB.com reports. When he was young, many of his siblings passed due to tuberculosis, something Foster later said he feels like he avoided because he was always playing baseball. He would grow to become one of the most transformational figures in Black baseball and a pioneer in every sense of the word. In celebration of the anniversary of his historic accomplishment more than a century ago, here’s how Rube Foster changed the baseball league forever:
He began his career in 1897, playing with the Fort Worth Yellow Jackets then the Chicago Union Giants, an integrated semi-pro team in Michigan. Foster made a name for himself as a world-class pitcher, gaining the attention of a number of other teams including the Philadelphia Cuban X Giants. Starting in 1902, Foster won 44 games in a row as a pitcher, taking the X Giants to the Black baseball championship and leading the team to four of the organization's five wins in the title series.
As Foster’s fame as a player rose, he looked for other ways to contribute to the game, becoming player-manager of the Chicago Leland Giants in 1907, leading the team to a 110-game winning season and the city league title. Just three years later, Foster would create his own club called the Chicago American Giants, attracting stars like Pete Hill, Home Run Johnson and Pop Lloyd, the team winning 128 of their 134 games in 1910. The next year, Foster brokered a deal with John Schorling to let the American Giants play at Chicago’s South Side Park, cementing the team’s notoriety and financial success as a Black baseball club.
The Chicago Giants consistently drew more crowds than their all-white counterparts, such as the Cubs and the White Sox. By 1917, Foster pitched his last game, fully transitioning to managing the team full-time. While the team continued to do well and outperform their peers, Foster sought to create a unified Black baseball championship league that would allow Black team owners to control their schedules and earnings. Weary of trying to convince other owners, on February 13, 1920, Foster surprised his peers by showing up to a meeting with an official charter for the “Negro National League.”
The other owners finally conceded and came together with Foster to form the league, featuring teams in Chicago, Cincinnati, Dayton, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and St. Louis. Their chosen slogan was “We Are the Ship, All Else the Sea,” and together, the Negro National League (NNL) cemented their place in history. During the next season, Foster’s Chicago Giants drew more than 200,000 spectators with Foster as president and treasurer of the NNL, and the league continued to prosper.
The success of Foster’s Giants and other clubs like the Kansas City Monarchs inspired other leagues across the South and on the East Coast, and the salaries and bonuses of players continued to rise. However, the overwhelming duties placed on Foster to sustain the league proved too much and in 1926, he suffered a nervous breakdown, committed to an Illinois asylum until his death on December 9, 1930; thousands attended his funeral. While the NNL struggled after his passing and during the Great Depression, the 1930s saw a resurgence of the league in partnership with the Negro American League, leading to a national platform for Black baseball players like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and more.
Foster’s commitment to a Black independent league paved the way for many Black athletes, and his legacy will not be forgotten. In 1981, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In honor of Foster forming that historic league 103 years ago today, we remember his contributions.
Because of Rube Foster, we can.
How Rube Foster changed the baseball league forever/Photo Courtesy of UTSA Libraries Special Collections