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Black baseball players struggled long after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier

St. Louis Cardinals players Curt Flood, Bill White and Bob Gibson, pictured in 1966, 1962 and 1967, respectively. They are the focus of a new History Channel documentary about the Black baseball players who followed Jackie Robinson into the major league.
AP
St. Louis Cardinals players Curt Flood, Bill White and Bob Gibson, pictured in 1966, 1962 and 1967, respectively. They are the focus of a new History Channel documentary about the Black baseball players who followed Jackie Robinson into the major league.

It's often said that Jackie Robinson opened the door for Black baseball players to enter the majors. But that was just the FIRST door. Turns out, a lot of doors stood between Black players and equality.

After Jackie, a new documentary on the History Channel, focuses on three more legends that followed, all with the World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals of the 1960's: Bill White, Bob Gibson and Curt Flood.

"What we see in Jackie Robinson is a player first, and then he becomes an activist in his retirement," director Andre Gaines told NPR's Morning Edition. "With Bill, Bob and Curt, it's the sort of first wave in our nation's history of the player-activist, something that we kind of take for granted today."

Andre Gaines, director
Matt Sayles / A&E Networks
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A&E Networks
Andre Gaines, director

Bill White, first baseman, later became the first Black play-by-play announcer to regularly call games for a major league team. And he was elected to become the president of the National League in 1989, another first for a Black player.

Bob Gibson was one of the most dominant pitchers in the major leagues during his prime. Gibson's game was so dominant that Major League Baseball lowered the pitching mound from 15 inches down to 10 inches to give hitters more of a chance.

Curt Flood, one of the top center fielders of the 1960s, is also known for taking Major League Baseball to court. He challenged the league's contracts that prevented players from choosing their own teams — referring to himself as a "well-paid slave." While he lost his case, his fight led the league to establish free agency for the first time.

"We have these guys who are actually playing at the highest level possible but still standing up and fighting for their rights," Gaines says. "It's these types of stories — these unsung heroes, especially ones that came after Jackie Robinson — that we're excited to be able to tell."

After Jackie airs on the History Channel starting June 18.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.