cover image

Invisible Men

Life in Baseball's Negro Leagues

Donn Rogosin

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 10/2020
Pages: 336
Subject: Sports and Recreation
eBook ISBN: 9781496224248


On Feb. 13, 1920, a group of independent black baseball team owners held a meeting at a YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri. While they couldn't have known at the time that they were about to change the course of American history, it was out of that meeting that the Negro National League was born.   The league flourished throughout the 1920s and beyond, becoming the first successful, organized professional black baseball league in the country. By providing a playing field for African American and Hispanic baseball players to showcase their world-class baseball abilities, it became a force that provided cohesion and a source of pride in black communities. Among them were the legendary pitchers Smokey Joe Williams, whose fastball seemed to "come off a mountain top," Satchel Paige, the ageless wonder who pitched for five decades, and such hitters as Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, and Oscar Charleston, whose talents as players may have even been surpassed by their total commitment to their profession and hardiness.  Leading the leagues were memorable characters like Gus Greenlee of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Effa Manley of the Newark Eagles.   Although their games were ignored by white-owned newspapers and radio stations, black ballplayers and their teams became folk heroes in cities such as Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington DC, where the teams drew large crowds and became major contributors to the local community life, with influence extending far beyond the baseball fields. This memorable narrative, filled with the memories of many surviving Negro League players, pulls the veil off these "invisible men" who were forced into the segregated leagues. What emerges is a glorious chapter in African American history and an often overlooked aspect of our American past.


Donn Rogosin has produced and written documentaries for public television including the definitive film about the Negro Leagues, There Was Always Sun Shining Someplace, and East Wind, West Wind: Pearl Buck, the Woman Who Embraced the World. He has been a commentator for NPR's Morning Edition and is a past chairman of the New York State Humanities Council. He holds a PhD in American studies from the University of Texas. Monte Irvin played eight years in the Negro Leagues and eight years in the Major Leagues. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973.  


"This fascinating book is a milestone in baseball scholarship."—Ken Burns

"There are certain tales of the arena so inspiring and enraging that they need periodic retelling. And when they can be retold with fresh scholarship and from a contemporary perspective, there is cause for cheering in both the bleachers and the library stacks."—Robert Lipsyte, New York Times Book Review

"[Invisible Men] is both highly readable and thoughtfully provocative a quarter-century after its initial publication. . . . The two main strengths Rogosin brings to his book are the comprehensive sampling of first-hand accounts, and a passion for setting the Negro leagues in the context of American culture (and vice versa). . . . Through numerous stories and vintage photographs Invisible Men renders visible the still-unsung heroes of the Negro Leagues and conveys the full range of life of the Negro Leagues admirably, providing insiders' views of the rise and fall of a key African-American sports and social institution."—Material Culture