In a world of segregated baseball, there were few attractive options for African Americans that wanted to play at a high level. One option is our focus on Day 4 of Black History Month - Historically Black College and Universities or HBCU's as they are known.
HBCU Baseball goes back to 1887 where the New Orleans University (now Dillard University) and Southern University faced off to play in the first HBCU intercollegiate baseball game. Where Major League Baseball had the minor leagues, the Negro Leagues came to rely on the HBCU's to act a type of minor league or "feeder" system to the league. HBCU"s also served as spring training facilities for Negro League teams.
When thinking about HBCU's, many think of Andre Dawson of Florida A&M University or Lou Brock of Southern University. The list also includes Danny Goodwin of Southern University, Ralph Garr of Grambling State University, Al Holland of North Carolina A&T University, and Tommie Agee of Grambling State University. Some also think of Joe Black of Morgan State, Monte Irvin of Lincoln (PA.) University or Larry Doby of Virginia Union, but while they attended those HBCU's, they didn't actually play baseball while in college.
Others think of former Negro League standouts who would earn their way to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Bill Foster of Alcorn State, Willie Wells of Samuel Huston College, Hilton Smith of Prairie View A&M, and Buck O’Neil of Edward Waters College.
Bill Foster - Alcorn State
Bill Foster was a 2x Negro League World Series Champ and 2x All-Star, winning 23 games in a row in 1926. When he retired from the Negro Leagues, he would return to his alma mater and serve as Baseball coach at Alcorn State. The baseball field was named Foster Baseball Field at McGowan Stadium in his honor.
Bill Foster was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.
Willie Wells - Samuel Huston College
Willie Wells was a 10x All-Star, 2x Negro National League Pennant winner, 2x Cuban League MVP, Negro National League Batting Champ, Triple Crown winner in 1930, and holder of the single season Home Run record (27) for the Negro National League.
Willie Wells was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Hilton Smith - Prairie View A&M
Hilton Smith was a 6x All-Star and Negro League champion in 1942 for the Kansas City Monarchs. Smith was often overshadowed by his more flamboyant teammate Satchel Paige, but the two would often combine in games to become one of the foremost duos in baseball history.
Hilton Smith was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.
Buck O’Neil - Edward Waters College
Buck O'Neil was a 2x All-Star and Negro League champion in 1942 for the Kansas City Monarchs. He was a scout credited with signing Lou Brock among others. He would go on to become the first African American Coaches for the Chicago Cubs. O'Neil led the efforts to establish the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM). In 2006, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
Buck O'Neil will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022.
In 2006, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted 16 men and 1 woman who were instrumental in the success of negro league baseball. Buck O'Neil gave the opening remarks at the Induction Ceremony to honor these baseball pioneers.
Professional baseball owes a debt of gratitude to the HBCU's for helping to launch the careers of men who would find their way all the way to the Hall of Fame.