Understanding baseball’s historic significance

Baseball has been an integral part of Black culture since the game’s inception. This connection has only deepened over the years, rooted in both the struggle for equality and the joy of the game.

Historical Perspective

Baseball’s origins can be traced back to September 1845, when Alexander Joy Cartwright and a group of New York City men founded the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club. Cartwright’s contributions—including codifying a new set of rules—transformed baseball into a faster-paced and more structured game, setting it apart from older bat-and-ball games like cricket.

His innovations, such as the diamond-shaped infield and the three-strike rule, laid the foundation for baseball to become a uniquely American pastime.

Fast forward to Jan. 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation during the height of the Civil War. This landmark decree declared that all enslaved people in the Confederate states were to be freed. But the news of emancipation took more than two years to reach all enslaved people.

For Black men, participating in baseball was more than a pastime—it was a powerful assertion of their Americanness in a society rife with racial discrimination.

It wasn’t until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that the enslaved African Americans in Texas learned of their freedom. This day of jubilation and relief is now commemorated as Juneteenth, marked by celebrations of prayer, feasting, song and dance.

During this period, African Americans were also making their mark on the baseball field. Throughout the 1800s, Black amateur teams emerged, such as the Colored Union Club in Brooklyn, New York and the Pythian Club in Philadelphia. By the 1880s, all-Black professional teams like the St. Louis Black Stockings and the Cuban Giants in New York had formed.

Despite the racial segregation that mirrored broader American society, these teams showcased the talent and determination of Black baseball players.

Moses Fleetwood Walker stands out as a pioneering figure in the integration of Black players into professional baseball. After playing at Oberlin College and the University of Michigan, Walker signed with Toledo in 1883. He faced significant racism, notably from players like Cap Anson, a future Hall of Famer and one of the era’s best players but also a staunch racist. Despite the adversity, Walker’s skill and perseverance paved the way for future Black athletes in the sport.

Baseball as a Symbol of American Identity

Baseball, the first sport invented in America, quickly became a symbol of American identity. For Black men, participating in baseball was more than a pastime—it was a powerful assertion of their Americanness in a society rife with racial discrimination. They played not just for the love of the game but to prove their place in the American narrative.

Reflecting on the equipment and conditions of the 19th century, it’s evident how resourceful and dedicated these early players were. They made do with what they had, embodying a commitment and passion that defined the era.

Personal Reflections

My own journey with baseball began at age 8 in 1984 at the Cascade Youth Organization in Southwest Atlanta. I fondly remember watching Chicago Cubs games with my granddad during the day and Braves baseball at night. I would imagine that the kudzu plants at my grandparents’ neighbor’s house were the ivy on the outfield wall at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Using a stick, I would hit rocks over the kudzu for home runs.

A Challenge for Today’s Hitters

With Juneteenth being celebrated today, June 19th, I want to challenge today’s hitters, who have access to air-conditioned indoor batting facilities and high-tech bats, to find a good sturdy stick and hit 500-1000 rocks for the rest of June. This is old-school commitment and discipline, a tribute to the roots of baseball and the resilience of those who played before us.

Baseball has always been a part of Black culture, from the early days of the game to the present. As we celebrate Juneteenth, let’s honor the legacy of Black baseball players and continue to play with the same passion and dedication that they demonstrated.

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C.J. Stewart has built a reputation as one of the leading professional hitting instructors in the country. He is a former professional baseball player in the Chicago Cubs organization and has also served as an associate scout for the Cincinnati Reds. As founder and CEO of Diamond Directors Player Development, C.J. has more than 22 years of player development experience and has built an impressive list of clients, including some of the top young prospects in baseball today. If your desire is to change your game for the better, C.J. Stewart has a proven system of development and a track record of success that can work for you.