Thoughts on Jackie:

Implications of baseball integration for black baseball players

What did Negro League players think of Jackie Robinson? It seems that veteran Negro players respected Jackie both as a ball player and as an individual, admiring the courage he showed in difficult racial situations. Robinson did unquestionnably open the doors of major league ball to generations of talented black players. However, a number of factors made Jackie's victory a bittersweet one for black baseball players across the country. For one, Robinson was fairly aloof from Negro League players, having only played in the Negro Leagues for a short time before being drafted up to the majors.
In addition, many players had passed their prime by the time Jackie integrated baseball, and thus missed their own opportunity to receive the recognition they deserved in the Major Leagues. So while young Negro League players such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mayes and Monte Irvin, had their moments of glory in the Major Leagues, many extremely talented black players never had that chance.

Members of the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords championship team, possibly the best baseball team, black or white, ever assembled, are a perfect example. Josh Gibson, for instance, fell apart shortly after integration, seemingly of heartbreak over having not made the major leagues. He died an early and unpublicized death in 1949 at age 35. Even when older players like Satchel Paige did have the opportunity to play, almost all had passed their career peak by 1947. Thus while given the uncommon chance to play, they never received an adequate amount of respect for their careers and talent. Thus many of these men, who had played Negro League ball for the majority of their lives, likely saw themselves as being more deserving candidates than Robinson to play the role of hero in integrating baseball.
Perhaps most difficult to swallow, the Negro League players were forced to watch the demise of their league as they watched young black players begin their careers anew in the Majors. After 1947, black fans began to give all attention to Jackie Robinson and other players entering the minor leagues, and Negro League game attendance plummeted. The Negro League teams hosted the final National Negro League World Series in 1948, which was a showdown between the veteran Homestead Grays and the southern powerhouse Birmingham Black Barons. Then in 1949, the National Negro League folded, shortly after the resignation of the league's founder, Gus Greenlee, whose heart had been broken and business crushed by the blow of integration. The years after integration, however, would be the prime years for those southern teams which were not yet close to having interracial play. Particularly the Birmingham Black Barons, whose talent continued to be supplied by a few remaining few highly talented industrial league teams like ACIPCO and Edgar Thomas Works, would prosper from the decline of Negro League team competition. Still highly segregated, the community behind the Black Barons, as well as other communities in the South, would not witness the demise of their leagues until the end of the 1950's.