Cubs, Bucs to honor Negro Leagues on Friday

Chicago will wear Leland Giants uniforms in opener at PNC Park

Cubs, Bucs to honor Negro Leagues on Friday

When the Cubs and Pirates meet on Friday at PNC Park, they will celebrate the Pirates' annual "Negro Leagues Heritage Game." To mark the occasion, the Pirates will wear throwback uniforms honoring the Homestead Grays while the Cubs' uniforms will honor the Leland Giants.

The Cubs' uniform selection commemorates a three-game series between the Cubs and Leland Giants played in October 1909, which was the first time the Cubs played an African-American team.

Baseball historian Ed Hartig says former player Frank Leland organized, managed and owned several African-American teams in Chicago, beginning in the late 1880s. In 1901, Leland merged two teams, the Chicago Unions and Columbia Giants, to form the Chicago Union Giants, one of the top Negro teams in the Midwest.

In 1905, Leland renamed the team the Leland Giants, and two years later, he hired Andrew "Rube" Foster to replace him as manager. In addition to playing exhibition and barnstorming games, the Leland Giants played in the Chicago Baseball League in 1909 and won the city's integrated semi-pro league championship by seven games with a 31-9 record.

After the 1909 season ended, the Cubs and Leland Giants played a three-game exhibition series in October. The Cubs swept the series, winning 4-1 on Oct. 18, 6-5 on Oct. 21, and 1-0 on Oct. 22. The games were played on the north side of Chicago at Gunther Park, a 5,000-seat park at 4701 North Ashland Avenue, where Chase Park is located now at Ashland and Leland Avenues.

Mordecai Brown picked up complete-game wins in the first and third games for the Cubs, driving in the only run in the final game, which was a pitchers' duel with Charles "Pat" Dougherty.

Chicago Cubs with Negro Leagues connections:

Outfielder George Altman: Kansas City Monarchs 1955; Cubs 1959-62, 1965-67

Shortstop Gene Baker: Kansas City Monarchs 1948-50; Cubs 1953-57

Shortstop/First baseman Ernie Banks: Kansas City Monarchs 1950 and '53; Cubs 1953-71

Catcher/First baseman Mike Gonzalez: Cuban Stars 1911-14; Cubs 1925-29

Outfielder Monte Irvin: Newark Eagles 1937-42, 1945-48; Cubs 1956

Outfielder Lou Johnson: Kansas City Monarchs 1955; Cubs 1960 and '68

Pitcher Sam Jones: Homestead Grays, Cleveland Buckeyes 1946-48; Cubs 1955-56

Shortstop Luis Marquez: New York Black Yankees, Baltimore Elite Giants, Homestead Grays 1945-48; Cubs 1954

Banks was the first African-American to play for the Cubs, making his debut on Sept. 17, 1953. Baker, who had been in the Cubs system since '50, likely would have been first, but he was sidelined with an injury and did not play his first Major League game until three days after Banks on Sept. 20, 1953.

Buck O'Neil, who played for the Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs from 1937-55, was the first African-American coach in Major League history, joining the Cubs' staff from 1962-65. He also was a longtime scout for the Cubs and was instrumental in several players signing with the team, including future Hall of Famer Billy Williams.

According to Hartig, there were at least 26 games involving Negro Leagues teams played at Wrigley Field between 1942-45. About a dozen Negro Leagues teams played at least one game at Wrigley Field, led by the Memphis Red Sox (11 games), Kansas City Monarchs (10) and Birmingham Black Barons (six). Others to play at Wrigley include the Cincinnati Ethiopian Clowns, New York Cubans, St. Louis Stars, Newark Eagles and Washington Homestead Grays.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.