Only the Ball Was White

A documentary about the Negro Baseball Leagues of the early to mid twentieth century. A slew of Hall of Fame African-American players are interviewed, showcasing the triumphs, trials, and tribulations of black baseball. Narrated by Paul Winfield.

00:00Copy video clip URL Slate, countdown

00:14Copy video clip URL The program begins with some footage of current Major League Baseball players out on the baseball field. The narrator talks about the color line in early Major League Baseball. He briefly highlights some of the greatest black baseball players that came out of the Negro Leagues in the early twentieth century. Various African-American players and people involved with the Negro baseball Leagues talk about some of the teams that played during the time.

01:41Copy video clip URL A few introductory credits roll before the narrator talks about where and when the Negro League baseball teams played throughout the years. Teams would play at both Major League stadiums while white teams were on the road, and on small, unkempt baseball diamonds throughout the country. The black teams also played throughout Central America during the winter months. A few former players comment on their experience playing during that time. The narrator talks about how the Negro Leagues were formed. It started with relatively no organization. Players could jump from team to team without any trouble. Most black players had to survive on $1 a day pay throughout their careers while MLB players were drawing large salaries. Former pitcher Rube Foster was the first man to organize black baseball by putting together what would become the Negro National and American Leagues. He is regarded as the father of Negro League baseball.

03:14Copy video clip URL Cut to an interview with Effa Manley, wife of Abe Manley and owner of the Newark Eagles Negro League team. She talks about the discrimination against blacks in baseball. “There’s no question it was an accepted fact that Negros were just discriminated against particularly in the south, and I think everybody just took it in stride. They just didn’t let it affect them one way or the other.” Don Newcombe, both a Negro League and later an MLB pitcher, speaks of his time spent in the Negro leagues. “Thank God we had the Negro leagues then to give guys like me a chance. It was sort of a training ground. It was in fact, all we had.” The narrator briefly highlights Newcombe’s career in both leagues. Newcombe goes on to say that he never had anyone to look up to in the Major Leagues. This eventually cuts over into an interview with Negro League player David Milager, labeled as one of the greatest infielders of all time. Milager talks about his managerial career in the Negro Leagues.

05:48Copy video clip URL The narrator talks about the East West All Star Game that took place every year in the Negro Leagues. This was the biggest of all Negro League events. The first game of this sort took place at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. The game attracted large crowds every year. Legendary pitcher Satchel Paige talks about the abundance of talent found in the Negro Leagues. Paige eventually made it to the MLB as a 42-year-old, making him the oldest rookie ever to have played. Paige talks about his ability to throw very straight and how he developed that by throwing rocks at birds as a small child growing up in Mobile, Alabama. The narrator talks about the state of black existence at the time within Negro baseball. This cuts over into an interview with outfielder Ted Page. Page is hesitant to go into detail about the poor playing conditions many black players faced at the time. Legendary first baseman Buck Leonard talks about some of the perils that came along with playing in the Negro Leagues. He talks about the bedbugs at less than excellent rooming houses where many of the players stayed. Three players talk about their love for playing baseball despite the poor conditions. Outfielder Jimmie Crutchfield talks about his love for the game and his hitting philosophy. “And then you’ve got to leave home plate with the idea of going to second base, otherwise you can’t run to first base and then if the guy bobbles the ball make up your mind and go to second. You’ve got to leave home plate with the intention of going to second base. That’s what they call coming to the park to play ball.” This cuts over into an interview with legendary Catcher Roy Campanella. He recalls his time spent as a 15-year-old rookie in the Negro Leagues. Various players that previously appeared in the video continue to talk about their many experiences. This lasts for several minutes. The narrator also touches on the camaraderie found within the leagues.

14:16Copy video clip URL The narrator begins to talk about the career of Hall of Famer Josh Gibson, claiming Gibson was a better and stronger hitter than Babe Ruth. All of the players included in the video talk about Gibson’s immense talent. Don Newcombe refers to Gibson as “the best hitter he’s ever seen,” and states that the man could hit a home run with one hand. Third Baseman Sam Harrington recalls the first time he got to see Gibson play. Campanella talks about his admiration of Gibson as a young player in the league. When asked about Gibson, Catcher Quincy Trouppe says, “Oh man, he was awesome.” The men talk about Gibson’s depressing downfall from the world of baseball. Gibson died of a stroke at 35-years-old, just three months before Jackie Robinson debuted in the MLB.

19:42Copy video clip URL The narrator begins to talk about the debut of Jackie Robinson in the MLB. Branch Ricky Jr., a Pittsburgh Pirates executive, ponders his grandfather’s thoughts on bringing Robinson into the MLB. Other players talk about Robinson’s debut and the after-effects of his induction into the Majors, claiming MLB owners eventually sucked all of the talent out of the Negro Leagues. This led to its eventual demise in the 1960s. The program closes with the players talking about some of their fondest and saddest feelings about their time spent in the Negro Leagues. Satchel Paige says that he’d do it all over again if he had the chance. Sam Harrington expresses his pride in having an effect on younger players because of his playing in the Negro Leagues. An almost teary-eyed Jimmie Crutchfield talks about a recent dream he had about baseball. “I had a dream the other night. I singled off of a left-handed pitcher across second base and I just kept running but I never could get to first base. That’s tough, I’m telling you. I just kept running, I kept running, and I knew the guy was gonna throw me out eventually, but I couldn’t get to first base.” Ted Page says that he is a dreamer and says that he doesn’t think he did any worse than any player in the MLB. The narrator then says a few more words to close out the program.

27:35Copy video clip URL The credits begin to roll.

28:44Copy video clip URL Tape end.

 

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