These stars got their start in the Negro Leagues
By Thomas Harrigan | @HarriganMLB
The National Baseball Hall of Fame includes 35 members who were inducted based on their Negro League careers, but the Negro Leagues’ impact on the history of the game extends far beyond these legends.
An additional number of stars got their start in the Negro Leagues before going on to achieve greatness in the Majors. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, here are the 10 most notable names on the list.
Before his historic MLB career, a teenaged Aaron had a stint with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League as a shortstop, but it lasted only a few months before the Braves purchased his contract. After two years in the Minors, Aaron made his big league debut at age 20 in 1954 and went on to shatter Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Aaron finished with 755 homers, which stood as the all-time record until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.
Long before he was Mr. Cub, Banks was discovered by future Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell while playing for a barnstorming team, and he signed with the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the Negro Leagues preeminent franchises, in 1950. His tenure with the Monarchs didn’t last long, however, as he was drafted into the United States Army and served during the Korean War. The Cubs purchased Banks’ contract late in the 1953 season and immediately added him to their roster, making him the first Black player in franchise history. He spent 19 years with the club, hitting 512 home runs and winning two National League MVP Awards.
Campanella spent only 10 seasons in the Majors before a car accident cut short his career in 1958, but he managed to make quite an impact in that time. In addition to his eight All-Star selections and three NL MVP Awards, Campanella helped the Brooklyn Dodgers win the first World Series title in franchise history in 1955. Prior to joining the Dodgers, Campanella was a star in the Negro Leagues, debuting with the Washington (later Baltimore) Elite Giants as a 15-year-old in 1937.
Less than three months after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line when he debuted for the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, Doby became the American League’s first Black player as a member of the Indians. Doby’s MLB debut came after a 1942-47 stint with the Negro National League’s Newark Eagles, which was interrupted when he served for the U.S. Navy in World War II. Doby would spend 13 years in the Majors, hitting .283/.386/.490 with 253 home runs.
Howard played three seasons for the Monarchs and was a teammate of Banks before the Yankees purchased his contract in 1950. Military service delayed his MLB debut until 1955, but Howard soon became a key cog for New York, making 12 All-Star teams, winning four World Series titles and taking home the 1963 AL MVP Award.
Known as “Toothpick,” as he was often chewing on one, Jones started his career in the Negro Leagues, playing for the Oakland Larks and the Cleveland Buckeyes before joining the Indians. Jones, a hard-throwing, 6-foot-4 righty with a sweeping curveball, was effectively wild, leading the league in strikeouts three times and walks four times. With the Cubs in 1955, he became the first Black pitcher to throw a no-hitter, and five years later, he finished second in the NL Cy Young Award vote with the Giants.
Mays joined the Birmingham Black Barons in his home state of Alabama as a 17-year-old in 1948 and helped them reach the Negro League World Series, where they lost to the Homestead Grays. Three years later, he was patrolling center field for the New York Giants, and after putting his career on hold briefly to serve in the Korean War, Mays returned in 1954 to win the NL MVP Award. This began a streak of 20 straight All-Star seasons, during which the Say Hey Kid cemented himself as one of the greatest players in MLB history and an American sports icon.
A native of the Matanzas Province in Cuba, Minoso played for the New York Cubans from 1946-48 before joining the Indians and becoming MLB’s first Black Cuban player. Following a short stint in Cleveland, Minoso was traded to the White Sox, where he became one of the most popular players in franchise history. From 1951-61, Minoso dazzled with his multidimensional skill set, hitting .305 with 179 homers and 205 steals and winning three Gold Glove Awards for good measure. Minoso continued his career in Mexico into his 40s, then re-emerged to play for the White Sox at age 50 in 1976 and 54 in ’80.
After two years in the Negro Leagues with the Newark Eagles, Newcombe landed with the Dodgers and pitched in their Minor League system until 1949, when he made his MLB debut. While he missed two full seasons due to his military service, Newcombe made four All-Star teams from 1949-56, going 112-48 with a 3.41 ERA. In 1956, he won the inaugural Cy Young Award as well as the NL MVP Award.
Although Robinson’s momentous debut came when he was already 28 years old, he didn’t have a lengthy career in the Negro Leagues before that. In fact, Robinson only played one year in the Negro Leagues, for the Monarchs in 1945, after serving in the U.S. Army from 1942-44. Following a season in the Minors, Robinson joined the Dodgers and became a perennial All-Star, earning NL MVP honors in 1949 and helping Brooklyn win six pennants and a World Series crown.