From Fences, by August Wilson, Act One, Scene Three
Troy: If they got a white fellow sitting on the bench … you can bet your last dollar he can’t play! The colored guy got to be twice as good before he get on the team. That’s why I don’t want you to get all tied up in them team sports. Man on the team and what is get him? They got colored on the team and don’t use them. Same as not having them. All them teams the same.
Cory: The Braves got Hank Aaron and Wes Covington. Hank Aaron hit two home runs today. That makes forty-three.
Troy: Hank Aaron ain’t nobody. That’s what you supposed to do. That’s how you supposed to play the game. Ain’t nothing to it. It’s just a matter of timing … getting the right follow-through. Hell, I can hit forty-three home runs right now!
Cory: Not off no major-league pitching, you couldn’t.
Troy: We had better pitching in the Negro Leagues. I hit seven home runs off Satchel Paige. You can’t get no better than that.
Troy Maxson, the central character in August Wilson’s Fences, was a former Negro League ballplayer robbed of his chance to play Major League Baseball because of his race. He makes reference to several of the greats who were both his Negro League contemporaries, and some of the major league stars of 1957. Here is a handy guide to baseball references in Fences.
Negro Leagues – In the late 1800s, African-Americans began to play organized baseball through outlets such as the military, college, and company teams. Some eventually found their way onto teams with white players. In the early 1900s however, Jim Crow laws and racism forced African-Americans off of these teams. In response, they formed their own teams around the country. Andrew “Rube” Foster formed an organized league structure in 1920 during a famous meeting at the Kansas City YMCA. Foster was a former player, manager, and owner for the Chicago American Giants, and he sought to unify black team owners under one organization. He and his Midwestern business partners called the organization the Negro National League, and soon other teams began to form in Eastern and Southern states.
It became hugely popular and boosted economic growth in many black communities. In 1923 season, 4000,000 fans turned to see the teams of the new league play. White businessmen observed the success, and big profits that could be made from black baseball, and formed a rival league, the Eastern Colored League. The rival league included the Philadelphia Hilldales, Cuban Stars, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Baltimore Black Sox, and New York Lincoln Giants. The Negro League folded in the 1930s during the Great Depression. In 1945, Jackie Robinson was recruited to the Brooklyn Dodgers from the Kansas City Monarchs becoming the first African-American player on a Major League team. While this was a key event in civil rights history, it also signaled the decline of the Negro Leagues as other players began to be recruited by the Majors. The Leagues folded in the early 1960’s. http://www.nlbm.com/s/history.htmhttp://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/mlb_negro_leagues_story.jsp?story=foster_rube
Josh Gibson was born on December 21, 1911 in Buena Vista, Georgia, and he died on January 20, 1947 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is considered one of the greatest power hitters in history and is commonly referred to as the “Black Babe Ruth.” He played for both the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1930 – 1937) and the Homestead Grays (1937 – 1944) and hit nearly 800 homeruns over the course of his career. Gibson was the Negro League National Batting Champion in 1936, ’38, ’42, and ’45. Tragically, he died just three months before the integration of baseball in the major leagues. He was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. http://baseballhall.org/hof/gibson-josh
George Selkirk took over the right field for the Yankees in 1934 after Babe Ruth was let go. With solid stats, he played on the team until 1940 but was eventually outshined by newer players like Joe Dimaggio and Tommy Henrich. He went on to coach for the minor leagues and work as the General Manager for the Washington Senators. http://www.baseballreference.com/bullpen/George_Selkirk
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia, and he died on October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut. He played one season in the Negro Baseball League for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 and rose to fame while playing in the Major Leagues for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1947-1956). Prior to Robinson, the Major Leagues had not had an African-American player since 1889 when baseball initially became segregated. By breaking the color barrier, Robinson became a symbol of hope to millions of Americans. With Robinson as the catalyst, the Dodgers won six pennants in his 10 seasons. At the end of Robinson’s first season, he became the National League Rookie of the Year with 12 homeruns, 29 steals, and a .297 average. He dominated games with his signature style, stealing home 19 times while riling opposing pitchers with his daring base-running tactic. Robinson was named National League MVP in 1949 and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. http://www.jackierobinson.com/about/bio.html
Played for the Milwaukee Braves (1954-1965), Atlanta Braves (1966-1976), and Milwaukee Brewers (1975-1976). He played right fielder and first baseman. Hank Aaron became the all-time home-run champion via one of the most consistent offensive careers in baseball history, with 3,771 hits. He hit 755 homeruns throughout his 22 year career, surpassing Babe Ruth. Aaron was the 1957 National League and was named to a record 25 All-Star squads throughout his career. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. His biography is entitled I Had a Hammer. http://baseballhall.org/hof/aaron-hank
Wes Covington played for the Milwaukee Braves, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and LA Dodgers over the course of eleven seasons (1956-1966). His Major League debut came in 1956 during his time with Milwaukee. That year, he played in 75 games. His defense contributed to the Braves’ victory in the 1957 World Series against the Yankees. In 1,075 regular season games, he amassed 832 hits with 131 home runs. Following his baseball career, he settled in Canada and ran a sporting goods business, later becoming an advertising manager. He died in 2011. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=72951975http://www.baseballhappenings.net/2011/07/wes-covington-79-1957-world-series-hero.html
Leroy Satchel Paige played in the Negro Leagues for 22 years before being signed to the Cleveland Indians in 1948. When he signed at 42 years old, he was the oldest player to ever enter the Major Leagues but went on to help the Indians win the pennant. “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” http://www.satchelpaige.com
Sandy Koufax pitched for the LA and Brooklyn Dodgers (1955-1966) and was known as “the man with the golden arm.” He set the all-time record of four no-hitters in four years and led the Brooklyn Dodgers to three championships. He won MVP in 1963. In 1965, he set a standard with 382 strikeouts. He received three Cy Young Awards for Best Pitcher. Koufax is also famous for refusing to play games on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Lew Burdette was a right-handed starting pitcher in Major League Baseball who played primarily for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves. Burdette was the team’s top right-hander during its years in Milwaukee, and he was the Most Valuable Player of the 1957 World Series, thus leading the franchise to its first championship in 43 years, and the only title in Milwaukee history. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/burdele01.shtml
Roberto Clemente played right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1955 – 1972). He earned National League MVP Honors in 1966 and was a member of the exclusive “3000 Hits Club.” He posted a .317 average and 240 home runs. His most famous success came in the 1971 World Series, in which he batted.414.
The 1957 Pittsburgh Pirates played 154 games during the regular season, won 62, lost 92, and finished in seventh position in the National League. They played their home games at Forbes Field. http://www.baseball-almanac.com/teamstats/roster.php?y=1957&t=PIT
Warren Spahn was a pitcher for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, the New York Mets, and the San Francisco Giants. He holds the record for most wins (363) in history by a left-handed pitcher. He served in World War II and earned both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. http://baseballhall.org/hof/spahn-warren
— Eliza Orleans, Artistic Resident