New documentary explores history and legacy of baseball's Negro leagues
Paterson, New Jersey — For Black baseball players from the 1920s through the 1940s, the Negro leagues were home.
Notable owners, managers and players who never made it into the history books of Major League Baseball are a major part of a new documentary called "The League," which recounts the dramatic ups and downs of the Negro leagues.
"It's just amazing, the trials and tribulations they had to go through, just to play the game that they loved, baseball," director Sam Pollard told CBS News.
Pollard relied on archival material and accounts from players like the late Hank Aaron. Before being known as the man who broke Babe Ruth's MLB career record for home runs, Aaron played for Negro league teams.
"We got one dollar a day meal money, and we would buy one loaf of bread and we would buy a big jar of peanut butter," Aaron says in the documentary. "That's what we lived off of for three or four days."
The film chronicles the boom times of Black baseball, when legends like Josh Gibson were drawing huge crowds.
"It's probably the best documentary that I've seen so far," Sean Gibson, Josh Gibson's great-grandson, told CBS News.
"He was a single father raising twins, trying to play the game of baseball during a segregation time, and also trying to make a living for his family," Sean Gibson added.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first Black man to integrate the MLB, a move which marked the beginning of the end. The loss of the Negro leagues' biggest stars led to their demise in 1960.
Stadiums like Hinchliffe in Paterson, New Jersey, would eventually fall into disrepair. In May, however, Hinchliffe reopened, serving as a sports comeback story and a symbol of urban renewal.
It was saved by local activists from demolition, undergoing a $100 million renovation. It is one of the last surviving Negro league ballparks, and once again a place of civic pride.
"To know that players like Cool Papa Bell or Satchel Paige or Larry Doby or Monte Irvin played on this field is just such a pleasure," Pollard said.
A field of dreamers who made history, with a legacy bigger than baseball.
"It's important history for Americans to understand," Pollard said.
"The League" is now available on digital streaming platforms.
Jericka Duncan is a national correspondent based in New York City and the anchor for Sunday's edition of the "CBS Weekend News."