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Black Baseball Players Struggled Long After Jackie Robinson Broke The Color Barrier

Jackie Robinson catches a grounds ball at first base in this black and white photo from the 1950s.
Jackie Robinson (1919 - 1972) grounds a ball at first place while warming up for an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1950s.
(Hulton Archive
/
Getty Images)
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It's often said that Jackie Robinson opened the door for Black baseball players to enter the majors. But that was just the FIRST door. Turns out, a lot of doors stood between Black players and equality.

After Jackie, a new documentary on the History Channel, focuses on three more legends that followed, all with the World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals of the 1960's: Bill White, Bob Gibson and Curt Flood.

"What we see in Jackie Robinson is a player first, and then he becomes an activist in his retirement," director Andre Gaines told NPR's Morning Edition. "With Bill, Bob and Curt, it's the sort of first wave in our nation's history of the player-activist, something that we kind of take for granted today."

Andre Gaines, director
Andre Gaines, director
(Matt Sayles
/
A&E Networks)
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Bill White, first baseman, later became the first Black play-by-play announcer to regularly call games for a major league team. And he was elected to become the president of the National League in 1989, another first for a Black player.

Bob Gibson was one of the most dominant pitchers in the major leagues during his prime. Gibson's game was so dominant that Major League Baseball lowered the pitching mound from 15 inches down to 10 inches to give hitters more of a chance.

Curt Flood, one of the top center fielders of the 1960s, is also known for taking Major League Baseball to court. He challenged the league's contracts that prevented players from choosing their own teams — referring to himself as a "well-paid slave." While he lost his case, his fight led the league to establish free agency for the first time.

"We have these guys who are actually playing at the highest level possible but still standing up and fighting for their rights," Gaines says. "It's these types of stories — these unsung heroes, especially ones that came after Jackie Robinson — that we're excited to be able to tell."

After Jackie airs on the History Channel starting June 18.

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