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HOUSTON EAGLES. Texas played a leading role in shaping Negro League baseball. Andrew "Rube" Foster founded the first Negro National League in 1920. African-American players from Texas, like "Smokey" Joe Williams and Willie Wells, helped establish Negro League players as equals talent wise with white major league stars. With its long history as a foundation of African-American baseball, it proved fitting that Texas be involved in the end of the Negro Leagues.
When Jackie Robinson broke the major league baseball color barrier in 1947, segregated baseball experienced a dramatic decline in popularity. Black fans flocked by the thousands to integrated games, while Negro League games floundered. The loss in popularity among black fans proved so strong that the NNL closed after the 1948 season. Some of the NNL's surviving teams joined the Negro American League, including the Newark Eagles, champions of the 1946 Negro League World Series. The once mighty Eagles saw their star players, like Don Newcombe and Monte Irvin, sign with white teams. The team owners decided to combat the loss of revenue caused by integration by moving the team to a segregated southern town with a large African-American population and a rich baseball history. As a result, Effa Manley sold the team to W. H. Young, who relocated the team to Houston in 1949.
For two years the Houston Eagles competed in the Negro American League. The move to Houston was not warmly embraced by some of the players accustomed to living in Newark, New Jersey. Pitcher Max Manning failed to report to training camp, holding out for more money. Also, pitcher Leon Day and third baseman Ray Dandridge refused to move and were sold by the team.
The players who joined the team in Houston did possess talent. Outfielder Bob Harvey and pitcher/right fielder Johnny Davis were two of the leading batters in the NAL, and catcher Leon Ruffin had the longest tenure of any current Negro League catcher. Unfortunately, the Houston fans knew none of the players and attendance at Eagle games remained low. Low attendance proved a common theme for all of the NAL teams, but the Eagles were also hurt by the fact that they finished in last place during both of their years in Houston. The interest in the team among black Houstonians proved so low that the Houston Informer (see HOUSTON INFORMER AND TEXAS FREEMAN), the largest black newspaper in the South, only covered the team's games sporadically under editors C. F. Richardson and Carter Wesley. Finally, after the 1950 season, the Eagles moved again, leaving Houston for New Orleans, and then closed for good a few years later.
Robert Fink, African-American Baseball in Texas: 1900–1950 (M.A. Thesis, Texas Tech University, 1999). Mike Vance, Houston Baseball: The Early Years, 1861-1961 (Houston: Bright Sky Press, 2014).
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Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 22, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.