Sam Pollard’s documentary The League chronicles how black professional baseball began, introducing viewers to the teams, stars, and lesser-known figures of the black league. ing. From just before the majors enacted a Gentlemen’s Agreement banning African-Americans from playing with white players, to the demise of the black league as one of America’s largest black-owned businesses.
Archival footage and interviews with former players, quotes by former Negro League umpire Bob Motley (narrated by Pollard), with athletic achievements and civil rights activism by Josh Gibson, Satchell Page, Jackie Robinson and others. Achievements come alive. The space between the white lines made the black experience more complete.
In an audio interview, Pollard talked about how he got into making the film and how he connected the Black League to the civil rights movement. Below is an edited excerpt of the conversation.
Where did you find the Negro League interview archives?
We are very fortunate that this project was started by Byron Motley. He wrote a memoir about his time growing up in the South, becoming a baseball fan, and becoming a baseball fan with his father, Bob Motley, a former umpire in the Black League in the 1940s and his 1950s. I was. He loved the black league and became a referee after World War II. Byron also video interviewed former Negro League players through his father. He also had access to that material. It was a very important factor.
With black league box scores hard to come by, how were you able to formulate the stats you see in the film?
One of our advisors, and one of the people we interviewed, is a Negro league statistics buff. That’s Larry Lester. He’s combed through the stats of players like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. So I was able to compare the batting averages of Josh Gibson and Barry Bonds. So I was able to compare the pitching percentages of Satchel Page and Nolan Ryan. Because Larry Lester really did his homework. So these stories no longer feel bogus. They feel very solid in fact.
How does this film tell the story of black baseball in Latin America?
The fact is that many dark-skinned Latino players couldn’t play in the major leagues and had to play in the black leagues. Vice versa, when the Negro league season ended, many of these players went to the Caribbean or Mexico to play. This is surprising considering that by the 1960s, when the major leagues were consolidated, many Latino players were inspired to play baseball by watching Negro league players play.
That’s a rich story. Some of the footage we got includes, for example, footage of the Quincy Troupe of American poets and writers who wrote the book The Autobiography of Miles with Miles Davis. His father, named Quincy Troupe, was a Negro league catcher. Some of the footage for this film was from his archives, including footage from his travels in Latin American countries. So it was an opportunity to tell a richer and more complex story.
Why associate the black league with the civil rights movement?
America as we know it is a very complicated place, but its history is based on systemic racism. During this historical development, we have experienced many trials and tribulations. Black people needed to build their own community. You’ve seen these communities built up in places like Harlem, New York; Bronzeville, Chicago; and Black Wall Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Living together forced us to rely on each other for entertainment and finances. You can’t tell the story of the Black League without telling the story of the larger perspective of the Black community from the 1920s until integration really took hold.
Why did you decide to end the story before touching on African Americans in modern baseball?
Considering this, the movie is 1 hour and 46 minutes long. If you try to get into what you’re talking about, which is obviously very important and important in understanding the state of American baseball today, that story needs to be told, but even if you try to cram that story cannot be properly evaluated. 4-5 minutes after this movie. that would be unfair. From my point of view, it’s still a bit tough as we’re still trying to get the information at the last minute. If he could raise the money, he would make the following movie: What Happened to the African-American Explosion in Baseball? . Why did it decrease? that’s a good question.