Brooklyn’s African-American baseball tradition didn’t start with Jackie Robinson

From SABR member Ryan Whirty at the Brooklyn Eagle on April 15, 2014, with mention of SABR member Richard Hershberger:

The African-American baseball tradition in Brooklyn didn’t begin on this day in 1947 when Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field. Nor did it commence in the early 20th century with successful, professional teams like the Brooklyn Royal Giants.

To trace the nascence of baseball in Brooklyn’s African-American community, we must travel back to the mid-18th century, even before and during the Civil War, when the national pastime itself was in its infancy.

Then only about two decades old, base ball — in the mid-to-late 1800s, the sport was spelled with two words — was quickly flourishing, especially in the Northeast and upper Mid-Atlantic, says local sports historian Richard Hershberger. During the early 1860s, base ball was still an amateur pursuit, Hershberger says, a way for middle-class youths to “take their exercise together.” It was no different for the black population.

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Originally published: April 15, 2014. Last Updated: April 15, 2014.