The League (2023)
July 18, 2023 6:55 PM - Subscribe

New doc about the professional Negro Baseball Leagues just dropped. Directed by Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI, the excellent Mr. Soul, Citizen Ashe and more), it traces the players, umpires, visionary businessmen (and one fierce businesswoman), journalists and jubilant spectators who created a vibrant Black sports community in the decades after World War I. Now in theaters and available for streaming.
posted by mediareport (2 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Trailer. Currently $6.99 or thereabouts at Redbox, Prime, YouTube, Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc.

This was so good, y'all.
posted by mediareport at 6:57 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]

So, I had a very basic outline in my head of the history of Negro Baseball - Black players played pro baseball until Jim Crow bigotry ruled that out in the late 1880s, so players eventually formed their own leagues, which thrived until the post-WWII integration when the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson, which started the decline of the all-Black teams and their surrounding businesses and communities. But the details and personalities in this documentary added so much fascinating information and left me wanting to learn more, especially about some of the names I'd never heard of (the best sign of a good doc). It's a fairly straightforward film, mixing some excellent archival footage with a variety of talking heads, and some brief animated scenes as the only kind of experimental bit in terms of structure, but that was fine by me.

It follows Rube Foster's vision and hustle in Chicago in 1920 that helped spark the first league that lasted, and then sparked the creation of other teams and leagues on the east coast and in the South, then discusses the decline caused by the Depression and a neat rebound that was hugely popular. Baseball Commisioner Landis makes multiple unpleasant appearances throughout, mostly resisting integration during his long tenure and canceling barnstorming matches between Negro League and white major league teams (Saitchel Paige vs. Dizzy Dean, for example) when they got too popular. Effa Manley was a surprise; the only woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame, she co-owned the Newark Eagles with her husband and ran day-to-day operations, and had some choice things to say about Dodgers exec Branch Rickey, who gets credit for integrating the majors but refused to pay anything to Negro League teams when he hired Robinson and other Black players away.

A few players get decent screen time: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Robinson, Hank Aaron (who talks about teams buying bread and peanut butter to survive while touring) but I would have liked more time spent on players in general, and more time exploring how the style of play differed (it does mention base-stealing) and how it changed the majors after integration. But the parts about how Black baseball and Black culture interacted to create thriving businesses and communities were great (railroads helping Pittsburgh become a big hub, the Black press going after white owners to get them on the record saying they had no objection to integration, etc.). There was a lot of other informative stuff as well.

Overall, a neat, mainstream documentary on a fun, important topic. Makes me want to watch Pollard's other sports docs (Arthur Ashe, Bill Russell) next.
posted by mediareport at 2:57 PM on July 19

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