Before breaking the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson starred for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.
The world cannot correct the mistakes of the past.
But the world can acknowledge the past and how bigotry impacted all avenues of life including Major League Baseball.
On Feb.6, David Adler of MLB.com reported, “Negro League legends are coming to MLB The Show. MLB The Show 23 will feature eight of the greatest Negro League players—Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Buck O’Neil, Rube Foster, Hilton Smith, Hank Thompson, John Donaldson and Martin Dihigo—in a new game mode called ‘Storylines.’”
To bring the Negro League to MLB The Show, Sony partnered with the Negro League Baseball Museum (NLBM) and Bob Kendrick, the NLBM president.
The NLBM is in Kansas City, Mo.
MLB The Show 23 will hit stores on March 28.
Infamously, when baseball was quickly becoming America’s most popular sport in the late 19th and early 20th century, Black players were prohibited from reaching “the show” or Major League Baseball.
Instead, some of the most talented athletes had to play in segregated leagues.
According to The African American Encyclopedia, “Negro League baseball had its origins in White-imposed racial segregation. As early as 1867, White professional teams officially had excluded African American players, forcing them to organize their own teams. By the 1860s, African Americans had formed baseball clubs, and by the 1880s, they were holding regional tournaments. As the nineteenth century yielded to the twentieth, Negro teams barnstormed across North and South America, sometimes competing against White teams.”
Many greats of the game like Josh Gibson and James “Cool Papa” Bell never got to compete against White Major League Baseball players before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
However, some say Gibson was the best power hitter in baseball history, even better than the iconic Babe Ruth.
Even when Robinson broke the barrier, many baseball fans and journalists openly admitted that he was not the best Black baseball player in the Negro League.
But because of outright racism and racist stereotypes, the first Black player had to have the right mixture of image, temperament and talent.
Therefore, Dodgers executive Branch Rickey handpicked Robinson for his integration experiment because Robinson was college educated, articulate and had experienced integrated life.
However, Robinson had an infamous temper that he was able to curtail during his career because erupting at the racism he faced would have only made it more difficult for others to follow in his footsteps.
Legend has it that Bell was so fast that when he turned the light switch off, he was in bed before the room got dark.
Baseball historians often view Paige as one of the best pitchers of all time.
But because of segregation, his younger years were spent away from the spotlight of Major League Baseball.
Nevertheless, Paige still had a stellar big-league career.
Unfortunately, Gibson died before Robinson broke the color barrier.
However, the legend of players like Bell and Gibson still brings about delight, humor and sometimes a little doubt.
After the success of Robinson, MLB teams began grabbing top Black talent like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, which led to the disbanding of the Negro Leagues.
However, bringing their images to a popular video game will help ensure that their legacies endure for generations to come.
In an email, Ramone Russell, Sony product development communications and brand strategist, wrote, “The Negro Leagues are an important part of baseball and American history, whose iconic figures are not nearly as well known as other baseball players of the era. We’ve thought about introducing the Negro Leagues into MLB The Show for years, but we needed to figure out how to do it the right way for an interactive medium.”
Adler reported, “The Storylines feature of MLB The Show includes a narrative experience for each Negro League legend, with the short videos about the players mixed with gameplay centered on important moments of their career.
“All eight Negro League stars will also be available in exhibition mode of MLB The Show 23, and usable in other areas of the game.”
Russell added, “The best way I can explain it is, it’s an amalgamation of a short documentary series combined with curated moments of gameplay. Each of the eight players has a storyline, and the coolest part is learning about these players then immediately being able to play as them in the game. That transition from the images and video to the on-field gameplay experience is powerful and immersive. The ambiance is carried through, from the uniforms, to the crowd and everything in between.”
For fans of those legends that did not make the Storylines cut for MLB The Show 23, never fear because MLB The Show 24 is very near.
Every new launch of MLB The Show will introduce a new roster of Negro League heroes starting with next year’s release.
Kendrick received the assignment of narrator for Storylines and helped balance the list of stars so that they could introduce new stars for this multiyear project.
Russell said, “It’s not something we took lightly, because just including these iconic players into the game without any context and proper care for their players and their stories was a nonstarter from jump street. It’s not enough to just include these Negro League Legends into the game, we must do it the right way.”
Additionally, San Diego Studio has pledged to donate $1 for every collector’s edition of the video game to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum until the end of the calendar year.