A century before Kirby Puckett led the Minnesota Twins to World Series championships, Minnesota was home to countless talented African American baseball players, yet few of them are known to fans today. During the many decades that Major League Baseball and its affiliates imposed a strict policy of segregation, black ballplayers in Minnesota were relegated to a haphazard array of semipro leagues, barnstorming clubs, and loose organizations of all-black teams—many of which are lost to history.
They Played for the Love of the Game recovers that history by sharing stories of African American ballplayers in Minnesota, from the 1870s to the 1960s, through photos, artifacts, and spoken histories passed through the generations. Author Frank White’s own father was one of the top catchers in the Twin Cities in his day, a fact that White did not learn until late in life. While the stories tell of denial, hardship, and segregation, they are highlighted by athletes who persevered and were united by their love of the sport.
Written by Frank White, 2013
This exhibit that Ramsey County Historical Society displayed was a tribute to everyday people who were also outstanding athletes. These ball players struggled to overcome racial indignities and the lack of recognition for their accomplishments due to the color of their skin. Their participation was denied due to racism, not their ability to play. What they experienced while playing baseball is a reflection of the troubled history of race relations in the United States. The exhibit differed from other books on the subject in that it highlights the 1940’s and 1950’s as well as provides a peak at the early 1900’s through 1930’s.
The exhibit first appeared at the Landmark Center, free and open to the public, from February 25th through October 30th, 2010. In 2010, the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums awarded the exhibit the Minnesota History Award.The exhibit is continuing to grow, and will be on display at future events listed here.
My goal is to continue to share the history, while inviting others to contribute their own stories on the subject; I know that more history is available, but hidden in family scrapbooks, oral histories passed on from generation to generation, and artifacts hidden in attics throughout the state of Minnesota. This untold story is truly a great part of the history and tradition of baseball in our state. We will not let it be lost.