Barnstorming With Willie Mays in the 1950s

From SABR member Brian McKenna at Glimpses Into Baseball History on April 26:

Baseball teams have barnstormed since the earliest days of the game. The first extensive, multi-city tour was embarked upon by the Excelsiors of Brooklyn in 1860, a decade before the formation of the game’s first professional league.

Professional athletes took to touring with gusto – before, during and after the regular season. Management saw it as a way to mitigate costs during the spring and on off days throughout the summer. Players found they could make a few extra bucks before they had to fall into their winter routines which typically included an odd job or two.


In 1947, Jackie Robinson very dramatically cracked the majors with Brooklyn. With his new-found popularity, he headlined a barnstorming tour after the season (and had done so in 1946 after his first season in Organized Baseball with the Montreal Royals). It created a tradition of postseason barnstorming tours by African American “major leaguers” – through 1959. The quotes around major leaguers  indicate that the nines had to be filled with minor or Negro leaguers since black players merely trickled into the majors, especially the American League.

Robinson continued to headline the events through 1953. The following year, Roy Campanella’s name filled the marquee. In 1955, Willie Mays and Don Newcombe jointly led the “Negro Stars.”

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Originally published: April 26, 2011. Last Updated: April 26, 2011.