There is one constant whenever I am doing my research into the Negro Leagues. It’s not that all the players were black, because in actuality they weren’t. It’s not that the quality of play was always great, because honestly, there were some players, leagues, and teams that were pretty bad. No, the one constant over and over again is the use of the prefix Negro to describe a league. The question of why this is began to irk me more than the question of when this practice began. I’m not sure it entirely matters when this practice began, it’s so ingrained into our baseball lexicon that Negro Leagues is just what it is, has been, and always will be.
The why is troubling to me because the inverse was never true. Why was the all-black National League referred to as the Negro National League but the all-white National League was never referred to as something like the Caucasian National League? In all my research I have never discovered any effort to differentiate all-white leagues from all-black leagues outside of using the Negro prefix. That shouldn’t have been the case then, and honestly, it shouldn’t be the case now.
I like to think I’m not completely clueless and that means that I know the actual answer to the why. The actual answer is of course that history is shaped and written by the winners and those in power. The African-Americans and other minorities who made up the Negro Leagues were never in positions of power. The black newspapers reporting on the Negro Leagues were bereft of power as well. Up and down the list the same reason repeats itself every single time. White males were in positions of power and they decided that it was best for the all-white leagues to continue to be known by their league name only while the all-black leagues needed the Negro prefix attached to make sure no one confused them with their far superior white counterparts.
That we have never corrected this gross oversight is a problem as well. The Negro prefix doesn’t need to go away, because there’s nothing wrong with such a prefix in its own right. However, the all-white leagues that were in operation prior to integration certainly should have a prefix of their own. There’s no reason I can think of beyond laziness and adherence to the status quo to explain why this has never taken place. I shouldn’t be reading about the history of the American League and Negro American League in 1930, rather I should be reading about the history of the Caucasian American League and Negro American League in 1930.
This isn’t something that most will easily accept. Heck, I’m doubtful that anyone will accept this period. I can’t even see a way for myself to remain a part of popular baseball discourse and research if I were to do the right thing and adopt the Caucasian prefix. It’s something we should all have done long ago and a change we should implement in the here and now. We’re not about to do that though, because the American League and Negro American League are simply what we know. That may be true, but it doesn’t make it any kind of right.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Lelands