History of Barnstorming
The dictionary describes “barnstorming” as touring across the countryside staging plays, lectures, and various exhibitions such as flying, parachute jumping and, of course, baseball games. Beginning in the late 1800’s, numerous baseball players, both black and white, supplemented their meager paychecks and their love of the game, by playing with teams that traveled around the country before, during and after the regular season.
When baseball club owners joined together in the early 1900’s to enact an unwritten law known as “The Gentlemen’s Agreement,” all black baseball players were excluded from every professional baseball league for the next six decades. After the white professional leagues shut the door to black ballplayers, however, the Negro American and National leagues were established. Similar to their white counterparts in name only, the black teams often had uncertain schedules, incompetent umpires and, subsequently, unreliable statistics. Further, players jumped from team to team as well as from league to league.
The salary of the Negro League players was not enough to support themselves and their families, so barnstorming tours were scheduled between league games to provide the money necessary to survive. Teams played not only against other clubs in their Leagues, but also challenged professional teams, semipro teams, other barnstorming teams, local town teams, industrial leagues, or any other clubs that might draw paying spectators. The games against white players turned the largest profit, often drawing thousands of fans to these small towns to watch the great Negro League players. While players would often add flamboyance to the game as they loved to entertain the fans, they also possessed great ability and they always came to compete and won most of their games. As such, barnstorming rapidly became the stage to show America, and the rest of the world, that black players could compete with, and win against, players from the Major Leagues.
The conditions within which the barnstorming teams existed were very challenging. Unwelcomed in most hotels, these men lived out of suitcases and slept on buses, in stadiums and barns, or even on the side of the road. Long grueling road trips were the staple of barnstorming. This was especially taxing in the early years when transportation and traveling conditions were poor. It is important to note that while their talents on the field were appreciated, it was still a very segregated society. Black players had to always remain mindful of the color line. For Negro League ballplayers, it was just another hardship to overcome, just one more frustration that chasing the game brought these talented men. But, they never let racism rob them of their love of the game. Dink Mothel, the late pitcher/utilityman for the Kansas City Monarchs, stated that what he remembered most about his barnstorming days was, “the hunger.”
Barnstorming is an important part of the history of baseball in America. Barnstorming baseball teams took high quality baseball featuring some of the biggest stars in black baseball to virtually every part of the country. The 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s were the prime decades of the barnstormers, including the regulars such as the House of David and the Kansas City Monarchs. The master of the barnstormers, Satchel Paige, continued to visit the prairies into the mid 1960’s. Satchel Paige’s All-Stars was by far the biggest draw of the barnstorming teams. Games featuring Satchel Paige’s team versus Bob Feller’s Major League All-Star team played to sold-out Major League stadiums all over the United States. Satchel Paige had such a presence in barnstorming baseball that he even had his own private airplane to fly his team from game to game.
We believe this barnstorming heritage reflects a true love of the game. And it’s those timeless values of team camaraderie, integrity, love of competition, sportsmanship, and respect for the game that we celebrate and want to share with the next generation of ball players. We want players to be able to find within themselves what it takes to be great. It’s why we created Barnstormers Baseball.
The photo at right was taken in 1963 during a tour by Satchel Paige's All-Stars to Regina.
"Traveling show Barnstorming was common place in the Negro Leagues" by Justice B. Hill/MLB.com
The Center for Negro League Baseball Research (CNLBR) a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit foundation that is dedicated to the research and preservation of the history of black baseball in America.