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Barnstorming Teams

Rather than play in an organized league, barnstorming teams scheduled their own games as they traveled all over the country. Many of the barnstorming teams would also play games in Canada and Mexico.  Barnstorming teams would play a wide range of opponents that included: Negro “League” teams, professional teams, semipro teams, other barnstorming teams, local town teams and industrial league teams. Barnstorming teams would play all “comers” including both black and white teams.

Some of the most important barnstorming baseball teams included:

·         Brooklyn Royal Giants

·         Indianapolis Clowns

·         Chappie Johnson’s All-Stars

·         Negro National League All-Stars

·         Chicago Union Giants

·         Page Fence Giants

·         Colored House of David

·         Satchel Paige’s All-Stars

·         Cuban X Giants

·         St. Louis Browns

·         Cuban Stars

·         Tennessee Rats

·         Harlem Globetrotters baseball team

·         Zulu Cannibal Giants

 

Cuban Starts (c. 1920's)

Cuban Starts (c. 1920's)

Many of the Negro “League” teams also barnstormed when the “league” season was over. In addition it was a common practice in Negro “League” baseball to form an all-star team featuring a marquee player (s) after the season to play a barnstorming schedule.  For example in 1936, the Negro National League formed an all-star team that traveled across the country and even won the prestigious Denver Post Tournament. The Negro National League All-Stars featured five (5) future Hall of Fame players: Josh Gibson, Cool Pappa Bell, Buck Leonard, Satchel Paige and Ray Brown. However, Satchel Paige’s All-Stars was by far the biggest draw of the barnstorming teams. Paige would often tour with Bob Feller’s All-Stars or Dizzy Dean’s All-Stars.  Games featuring Satchel Paige’s team versus Bob Feller’s Major League all-star team would play to sold out Major League stadiums all over the United States. Satchel Paige had such a presence in barnstorming baseball that he even had his own private airplane to fly his team from game to game.

Negro “League “ teams would also drop out of the “league” to play a barnstorming schedule, which was more financially rewarding. The Kansas City Monarchs dropped out of the Negro National League for five seasons from 1932-1936 to barnstorm.  The Indianapolis Clowns dropped out of the Negro American League after the 1956 season and would continue to barnstorm under various owners until 1988. The Homestead Grays who began their career in 1912 as an independent barnstorming team (1912-1928) and had once been a dominant force in Negro League baseball played most of their last two seasons (1949-1950) as a barnstorming team.

When the Negro American League folded after the 1963 season , three former Negro “League” teams continued to barnstorm for several years. The Kansas City Monarchs under Ted Rasberry would barnstorm in the Great Lakes area and Canada until the late 1960’s. The Philadelphia Stars (no relation to the “original” Philadelphia Stars) would continue to barnstorm in the East and Canada till the late 1960’s. The Indianapolis Clowns under the ownership of Ed Hamman, then George Long and finally Dave Clark would play a full barnstorming season schedule until 1988.

Long grueling road trips were the staple of barnstorming baseball. This was especially difficult in the early years when transportation and traveling conditions were poor. Barnstorming was an important part of the history of black baseball in America.  With most of the Negro “League” teams concentrated in the north and northeast, most parts of the country would never have seen professional Negro League baseball had it not been for the barnstorming teams. Barnstorming baseball teams took high quality baseball featuring some of the biggest stars in black baseball to virtually every part of the country.

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