By Tim Lacy
Before I was interrupted in our last edition, I was taking you into the world of the Negro Leagues. I was about to introduce you to Andrew “Rube” Foster.
Rube is most famous for his role as one of the people behind the scenes that helped establish the Negro Leagues in 1920. He served tenures as President and Treasurer of the Negro Leagues, but he was also a great baseball player and team manager.
Rube was a trick pitcher who bounced around from team to team and finally wound up with his own team, the Chicago American Giants. He played for and managed the Giants, and as manager he was able to install some innovations born in his mind. Rube was the master of “small ball.” He wasn’t interested in a roster of power hitters swinging for the fences and striking out more often than not. For him, speed was the most important ingredient in his lineup. He would drill his players until they could bunt a ball into a hat and with this speed they often squeezed an extra base out of a single.
With a racehorse on first, a bunt down the third base line drew the third baseman in to field the ball. With the third baseman out of position the runner would speed past second and slide safely into third.
Pitchers didn’t get their signals from the catcher, because Rube called signals from the dugout. He would signal with puffs from his pipe. He was known to be a task master, but it was his way or the highway.
In those days, most Negro teams weren’t very well organized. Some didn’t have enough equipment or even matching uniforms. They would go from game to game in different cars or bum a ride in passing trucks. But if you played for Rube Foster, you were well equipped with clean uniforms, bats and balls. He would rent Pullman cars and hitched them to the back of trains. And, when his team dismounted it was a sight to see these ballplayers disembarking in suits and hats. They resembled big leaguers and they played like big leaguers.
After his success with the American Giants, Rube decided to organize an entire Negro baseball league. It was Rube’s vision to prepare colored players for the big leagues.
In 1920 Rube called all of the owners of teams in the Midwest. They settled on a set of rules and called the league the Negro National League.
Rube died just 10 years later in a mental asylum after suffering from mental illness. No official reasoning was reported as to what may have caused his mental illness, but some historians have suggested that Rube may have drove himself crazy with the tireless amounts of effort and energy he donated into getting the Negro Leagues up and running. However, other reports say Foster’s mental health was never the same after he was exposed to a gas leak in the mid 1920s that had left him unconscious.
Though he died at just the age of 51, Rube legacy still lives on as the man who gave colored baseball structure and dignity. He was so successful that white owners of colored teams put together a league of their own. At the end of the season, the pennant winners from each league met in a Colored World Series.
The success of Rube’s vision was the launching pad for players of color to break down barriers in Major League Baseball.