Al Cartmill was born on June 20, 1930 in Fort Madison, Iowa. He started his baseball career at the age of eight. An athletic student, he played football and basketball in high school. In fact, Cartmill set a record in the football throw at the 1948 Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa. As a high school baseball player, he was the starting shortstop and the lead-off batter. After graduating high school in 1948, with the help of Coach Dan Hoover, Al continued his baseball career in the Negro National League by joining the Kansas City Monarchs.
Major League Baseball and the game of baseball itself have a long history in the United States. Today, people of all races and backgrounds play together, but this was not always the case. Dating back to the late 1800’s, many white players and their teams did not want black men playing with them, because they were afraid they would lose their positions on the playing field and that people would not come to watch the games. They were aware how good these players were, yet many white players complained about them joining the major leagues. Back then, if a team integrated, some of the white players quit or switched to teams that were not integrated. Black players were not treated well, all because of the color of their skin. They were spit on, stepped on, hit with balls by pitchers, called out when they were not, and yelled at by the other teams’ coaches.
After many years of this and efforts to create a league of their own, such as the National Colored Baseball League, the Negro National League was created in 1920. Over the next few decades, the teams in the Negro League included the following: Kansas City Monarchs, Raleigh Tigers, Atlanta Black Crackers, Baltimore Black Sox, Baltimore Elite Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Chicago American Giants, Cleveland Buckeyes, Cuban X Giants, Detroit Stars, Hilldale Giants, Homestead Grays, Indianapolis Crowns, Memphis Red Sox, New York Black Yankees, New York Cubans, Newark Eagles, Philadelphia Stars, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and St. Louis Stars. The Negro National League gave black men a chance to get recognized and more importantly to play baseball.
In 1947, baseball executive Branch Rickey played an important role in breaking the color barrier when he signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey wanted young black men with a baseball career ahead of them to play on a Major League Baseball team. He saw not just talent in these young men, but also potential. Although many people disagreed with what Branch Rickey was trying to do, more and more black players were integrated into the Major League Baseball league. Eventually the Negro National League became the Negro American League. However, as more and more players left for the integrated Major League Baseball league, the Negro American League eventually closed in 1952.
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Kansas City Monarchs
A white businessman named J.L. Wilkinson formed the Kansas City Monarchs in 1920. Wilkinson played baseball himself but became a team manager after an injury. Some say the Kansas City Monarchs were the most prominent baseball team to play in the Negro Leagues.
The Monarchs grew in popularity during the 1920s with Wilkinson’s smart management. He bought a portable lighting system and trucked it from game to game. This allowed them to play night games which brought more success. They won various championship games, including the first Negro League World Series in 1924.
Games were played in many cities, including Philadelphia, Baltimore and Kansas City. But the final game took place in Chicago, where the Monarchs won the title of “World’s Colored Champions.”
Many famous players were on the Monarchs roster, including the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball, Mr. Jackie Robinson (who played with them for only one season). They were the longest-running team in the Leagues, disbanding in 1965. The Negro League’s impact on baseball is tremendous.
“I just came here to see the ball game.” – Al Cartmill