Friday, September 10, 2010

September 10, 1933: East-West

CHICAGO - For years, the most anticipated and talked about game in the Negro Leagues schedule was not the postseason championship series after the season. Rather, it was the East-West Game, the all-star game for the Negro Leagues, that got everybody's attention.

The primary Negro Leagues were very loosely organized in the 1930s, with teams switchign leagues and leagues folding all the time. Despite the loose organization, it was obvious there was plenty of talent, with many players of Major League-caliber. There had been a championship series between two rival leagues since the 1920s, but because of the tenuous nature of the leagues, the series wasn't always as popular.

The East-West Game started in 1933, when the owners of the Negro National League and the East-West League got together to form an all-star game similar to the Major League one. Black newspapers around the country printed ballots for fans to pick the players to represent the two leagues. The first game was played at Chicago's Comiskey Park on September 10, 1933. Ten players who would eventually be enshrined in the Hall of Fame suited up, including top vote getter Oscar Charleston of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and second-place Willie Foster of the Chicago American Giants. Behind Foster's complete game, the only one in the history of the East-West Game, the West team beat the East 11-7.

The game grew in popularity as players from independent black leagues started getting voted in. While it was no guarantee the championship series would feature the best teams - just the best teams from the two most organized leagues - the East-West Game always had the best players in Negro baseball. The game became a matter of pride, much more so than the Major League All Star Game.

The East-West Game continued until 1962, long after integration had stripped the Negro Leagues of virtually all of its Major League talent. Of the 36 games, 27 were played at Comiskey Park. The West won 20 of the 36 games, but that didn't mean as much over the years as league affiliations changed. When the game finally stopped in 1962, it was considered the death of the Negro Leagues.

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