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Exhibition Baseball Americana

Who’s Playing in the Major Leagues

Lots of Americans played baseball, but not everyone had a league of their own or even one to share. About half a dozen African American men are known to have played briefly in the major leagues during the nineteenth century. But from 1887 through 1946, a firm “gentlemen’s agreement” among major league team owners held that no black players would be offered contracts. This arrangement was in keeping with the increasing number of Jim Crow laws and racially-based customs that prevailed during this period. The players that came to dominate the National League (1876), the American Association (1882), and the American League (1900) were largely of Irish, English, or German descent. Since salaries were seasonal, nearly all players had occupations outside the game, the most common being “saloonist” (bar employee), policeman, fireman, railroad worker, and farmer.