old Comiskey Park, Chicago on a postage stamp

Neighborhood News: Meet the Chicago American Giants, Chicago’s very own Negro League Team

old Comiskey Park, Chicago on a postage stamp

Once upon a time in the United States, ‘separate but equal ‘ meant that many of the best baseball players in the world were limited to playing in the Negro Leagues. 

Even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Negro Leagues continued through the 1950’s, but their records were as ‘separate but equal’ as their rosters. 

All of that finally changed this week. Major League Baseball (MLB), as reported by CNN, announced that they are incorporating the statistics of former Negro Leagues players into its historical records on its website, meaning legendary leaders in some categories, like Babe Ruth andTy Cobb have now been replaced in the record books by players who were not allowed to play on the same fields as them during segregation.

The Homestead Gray’s catcher Josh Gibson is now listed as MLB’s new all-time career leader in batting average at .372, moving ahead of Ty Cobb (.367).

Chicago’s Negro League Team 

On the city’s South Side, we had the Chicago American Giants. From 1910 until the mid-1930s, the American Giants were the most dominant team in black baseball. According to Wikipedia sources, the American Giants were owned and managed from 1911 to 1926 by player-manager Andrew “Rube” Foster, and were charter members of Foster’s Negro National League. The American Giants won five pennants in that league, along with another pennant in the 1932 Negro Southern League and a second-half championship in Gus Greenlee’s Negro National League in 1934. They played at  Schorling’s Park, (also called South Side Park) eventually moving to Comiskey Park after Schorling Park was destroyed in a fire. They played at Comiskey Park when the Chicago White Sox were out of town.


In 1910, Foster, captain of the Chicago Leland Giants, wrestled legal control of the name “Leland Giants” away from the team’s owner, Frank Leland, according to Wikipedia sources. That season, featuring Hall of Fame shortstop John Henry Lloyd, outfielder Pete Hill, second baseman Grant Johnson, catcher Bruce Petway, and pitcher Frank Wickware, the Leland Giants reportedly won 123 games while losing only 6. In 1911, Foster renamed the club the ‘American Giants.’ 

 As a charter member of the Negro National League in 1920, the American Giants had one of the longest franchise histories in the Negro Leagues, according to MLB.com, operating for more than 40 seasons, including their time in the independent leagues. During this time, they would win two of the Negro Leagues World Series Championships back-to-back in 1926 and 1927. Among the stars of the era for the American Giants were future MLB  Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston. American Giants players were known for their fielding, pitching, speed, and “inside baseball” style of play.

Despite their successes, WTTW’s documentary on the Negro Leaguesnotes that the ballplayers still had to endure the racism of the country, as every African American did, being barred from various hotels, restaurants, transportation, and public accommodations while traveling for games. “They knew which boardinghouses they could stay in, what restaurants would accommodate them,” says Lester. “They would plan out their stops on the road, which gasoline stations they could stop at.”

However, the documentary notes, Foster didn’t get to see much of the Negro Leagues. He had a nervous breakdown in 1926 and was institutionalized in an asylum in Kankakee, where he remained until his death in 1930. His white business partner, John Schorling, the son-in-law of Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, took ownership. But without Foster’s leadership—he sometimes even contributed the payroll for struggling teams out of his own pocket—the Negro National League collapsed, though the Chicago American Giants continued for another 26 years.

Later Years 

According to the blog Blackpast, in 1936, the American Giants dropped out of the Negro National League to play as an independent team. In 1937, Dr. J.B. Martin took ownership of the American Giants and the team became a charter member of the Negro American League. Even though the franchise was confronted with many obstacles during the 1940s, the team remained in the league even after it had come to an end of major-league stature. The team finally called it a day in 1956. 

Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago