ANDERSON — Satchel Paige. Buck O’Neil. Josh Gibson. Cool Papa Bell.
If you’re never heard of these names, it’s a statement about the social conditions of the mid-1900s in America.
Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, shared the legends of Paige, O’Neil, Bell, Gibson and other Negro League greats Thursday with a crowd of about 150 at the annual Anderson Black Expo corporate luncheon.
Kendrick said that Negro League players were among the greatest ever, despite that fact that Major League Baseball would not accept them until 1947. Jackie Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers that year, breaking the color barrier in the modern era of the game.
“These athletes loved baseball so much, they were willing to endure whatever social hardships they encountered,” Kendrick said. “They said, ‘You won’t let me play with you. I’ll just create a league of my own.’”
The first Negro League formed in 1920, and the leagues later became the third-largest black-owned business in the United States. The Negro Leagues continued to field teams until 1960. Twelve years passed after Robinson’s rookie season until every Major League team had at least one black player on the roster.
To illustrate how good the Negro Leagues were, Kendrick noted that Robinson was not the best player on his Negro League team, the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson’s transition from the Monarchs and his trials and tribulations as a Major League rookie were recently chronicled in the highly acclaimed film “42: The True Story of an American Legend.” The movie had special debuts in Anderson, where proceeds went to the Special Olympics, and in Kansas City, where the debut benefited the Negro League museum.
Anderson sports legend Johnny Wilson received a commendation Thursday from the Anderson Black Expo for his outstanding achievement as a player in the Negro Leagues. After winning state titles in track and field and basketball at Anderson High School and starring in basketball, track and football at Anderson College, Wilson played a season for the Chicago American Giants and also played for the Harlem Globetrotters. But, as a black man, he never had the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues or in the National Basketball Association.