Major League Baseball Pays Homage to Rickwood Field and its Legacy 

Rickwood Field in Birmingham, AL holds the honor of being the oldest professional baseball diamond in America. Without it, we may have never seen many of the Black baseball stars to grace the game both in the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball

Everyone knows Jackie Robinson’s story but there are so many other Black players from that time who never received the recognition they deserve. These are some of the pioneers we want to focus on and give the spotlight today. Some of the names you may be familiar with and others not as much.  

There are those who played near this time but never participated in the Negro Leagues but gave their full support, like Jim “Mudcat” Grant. Mudcat co-authored The Black Aces, a book that highlights a prestigious group of black pitchers who were 20-game winners of which Grant is one. 

For Black baseball in America it all started at Rickwood Field, and on June 20, 2024, when the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants meet they will be paying homage to everything this stadium stands for. Today we are honoring those who blazed a trail to make way for many African American ball players to follow in their footsteps. 

1. Josh Gibson – Homestead Grays (Pittsburgh Crawfords & Memphis Red Sox) 

By far one of the most well-known Negro League players, Gibson spent most of his career with the Grays. Last month Negro League stats were integrated into Major League Baseball records and Gibson officially became the holder of multiple records including career batting leader passing Ty Cobb, and career slugging leader formerly held by Babe Ruth.  

Josh Gibson. Image: Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics for Getty Images.

2. Turkey Stearnes – Detroit Stars (multiple teams) 

Nicknamed “Turkey” for running around the bases like one, Norman Stearnes was a player and manager during his Negro League career. Stearnes spent his most productive years playing for and managing (one season) the Detroit Stars and has been called the Ricky Henderson of his time. Stearnes was known as one of the best leadoff hitters in the Negro Leagues. 

3. Buck O’Neil – Kansas City Monarchs (Memphis Red Sox) 

Buck O’Neil played 10 seasons in the Negro Leagues primarily with the Kansas City Monarchs and the franchise won the 1942 Negro World Series. In 1948, O’Neil spent his final year as a player-coach with the Monarchs made it to the Negro American League Championship Series.  

4. Oscar Charleston – Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays  

Charleston played on and managed multiple teams during his time in the Negro Leagues. As a kid, Charleston was a bat boy for his hometown Indianapolis ABC’s whom he would later play for.  

oscar charleston
Image: Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images.

5. Buck Leonard – Homestead Grays 

Walter Leonard, better known as “Buck,” played all 14 of his Negro League campaigns with the Homestead Grays. Leonard hit over .300 in 12 of his 14 seasons as a professional ball player. After being out of the game for a few years, he was offered an MLB contract in 1952 but turned it down as he knew he was in his own words “over the hill.”  

6. Mule Suttles – Newark Eagles & Birmingham Black Barons  

Mule Suttles enjoyed a 21-year pro career (with multiple teams) including two spent as a player-manager for the Newark Eagles. Suttles was a five-time All-Star and triple-crown winner. 

7. Monte Irvin – Newark Eagles 

Monte Irvin played 10 years in the Negro League. He was considered a versatile player and considered by many to be the best player in the league. Had it been up to many in the Negro League, Irvin would have broken the color line, not Jackie Robinson. Regardless, Irvin wound up crossing over to MLB in 1949, two years after Robinson. 

8. Leon Day – Newark Eagles  

While Leon Day made his rounds on a few Negro League rosters, the bulk of his career was spent as a Newark Eagle. In 1946, Day helped the Eagles win a Negro League World Championship

9. Dan Bankhead – Birmingham Black Barons 

Dan Bankhead is remembered for being the first African American pitcher in MLB but before that, he spent the early part of his career playing at Rickwood Field for the Black Barons.  

10. Willie Mays – Birmingham Black Barons 

Every baseball fan knows Willie Mays is one of the greatest players ever to grace a Major League diamond. But what some may not have known is the “Say Hey Kid” played for the Barons in 1948 getting his first taste of professional action as a ball player. 

Willie Mays. Image: Bettmann for Getty Images.

11. Jimmy Newberry – Birmingham Black Barons 

Known as “Schoolboy” Newberry is primarily recognized for his time in the Negro League as one of the Black Barons of Birmingham.  

12. Lorenzo “Piper” Davis – Birmingham Black Barons 

Had it not been for “Piper” Davis, we may have never known of Willie Mays as it is said Lorenzo is the one who discovered him. Davis led the Barons at Rickwood Field as a player-manager before becoming the first Black player for the Boston Red Sox. 

13. Don “Newk” Newcombe – Newark Eagles (Black Aces) 

Newk began his career in the Negro Leagues before transitioning to MLB where in 1951 he became the first member of the Black Aces winning 20 games. Newcombe achieved this honor three times winning 20+ games in ’51, 55 and 56.  

14. Sam Jones – Cleveland Buckeyes (Black Aces) 

Sam Jones’ career spanned more than two decades playing in the Negro League, MLB, and other leagues across the Caribbean. Jones was the second member of the Black Aces club winning 21 games in 1959 and he was the first African American pitcher to record a no-hitter in ’55. 

15. Satchel Paige – Birmingham Black Barons 

This Hall of Famer began his career as part of the Black Barons, spending his first four years in the pros playing for this legendary squad. Among all his accolades, Paige became the first African American pitcher to pitch in the MLB World Series.    

Satchel Paige. Image: Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics for Getty Images.

16.  Rube Foster – Chicago American Giants & Cuban X Giants 

Andrew “Rube” Foster was known as the “Father of Black baseball” as a triple garnering success as a player, manager and executive. Foster is also credited as one of the driving forces behind the start of the Negro National League.  

17. Cool Papa Bell – St. Louis Stars & Homestead Grays 

James Thomas Bell played for multiple teams over his lengthy career and was affectionately known as “Cool Papa.” Bell’s speed was legendary. So much so that Jesse Owens, the fastest man in the world during the1930s allegedly refused to race Bell

18. Mamie Johnson – Indianapolis Clowns 

Mamie Johnson is known as the first female pitcher to play in the Negro League. She was signed by the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, and played with the team from 1953 to 1955, where she boasted a 33–8 win loss record. 

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson. Image: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post for Getty Images.

19. Toni Stone – Indianapolis Clowns & Kansas City Monarchs 

Marcenia Lyle “Toni” Stone was the first female baseball player to play as a regular in a men’s professional league. Stone also happened to be the player to replace Henry Hank Aaron when he left Indy for Milwaukee and his start in MLB. 

20. Connie Morgan – Indianapolis Clowns 

Connie Morgan came along behind Mamie Johnson and Toni Stone to become the third woman to play in the Negro League. Known to be a consistent fielder and batter, she hit around .300 according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Updated: June 17, 2024 — 12:02 pm