Rube Foster

Rube Foster

The Negro Leagues, at least the ones we think of, had a specific founder. His nme was Rube Foster.  He was a visionary, an entrepeneur, and one heck of a pitcher.

Born in Texas in 1879, Foster took a path north to baseball glory. A number of other black players from the same era did much the same. Hall of Fame catcher Louis Santop, for instance, went from Texas through Oklahoma to Philadelphia. Foster ended up in Chicago. Between 1902 and 1910 he established himself as the dominent pitcher in black baseball. Through stints with the Union Giants, X-Giants, and Leland Giants, Foster gained a reputation not only as a great pitcher, but a knowledgable baseball man. This led to stints as manager of the Leland Giants and ultimately the Chicago American Giants. Foster took over managerial duties of the American Giants in 1911 and remained field leader until 1926, by which point he was no longer pitching. Between 1911 and 1919 the American Giants ruled black baseball in the midwest, their only rival being the Indianapolis ABCs.

By 1920 it was becoming evident that black baseball needed more structure, more accountability, more set schedules, in short it needed a league. Foster moved to set up the Negro National League with himself as president. As both president of the league and owner of one of the clubs, Foster immediately ran into problems with other teams accusing him of favoring his own team in matters of scheduling and player dispersal. This led to an early split in the league and the founding of a rival Eastern Colored League in 1923. The existence of two leagues occasioned the adoption of a postseason set of games dubbed the Negro Leagues World Series.

Foster, by 1926 was developing signs of mental instability. He was confined to a sanitarium in Kankakee, Illinois and died there in 1930 and was buried in Blue Island, Illinois. Due to economic problems his Negro National League collapsed the following season.

Foster was the most influential figure in early 20th Century black baseball. He was a great pitcher, an excellent judge of talent, and a decent manager. His skills at running a league weren’t altogether good, but the very idea of establishing a league and making it successful until the Great Depression are memorable events in their own right and largely overshadow his skills at running a league. In 1981, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

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