THE LEAGUE (2023)
Release Date: 07/14/23 [VOD] [Tribeca 2023]
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
"Based on the journey of the Negro Baseball League."
OUR DOCUMENTARY REVIEW:
Baseball is hailed as America’s favorite pastime, although recently that could be called into question (despite the MLB rule changes to help draw crowds back to the slow moving sport). But just like the rest of America, baseball has a long history riddled with racism.
In The League, director Sam Pollard presents a long overlooked part of baseball’s history known as the Negro Leagues. He starts at the beginning, discussing what led up to the creation of the League. Obviously the main issue was that black baseball players were not allowed to play in the major leagues. Racism was rampant and segregation was implemented in every facet of American society, including sports. But a man named Andrew Rube Foster saw the opportunity to bring baseball to black communities and got the Negro National League up and running in February of 1920.
The NNL disintegrated with the advent of the Great Depression combined with Rube Foster’s early death. But it would form again in 1933 along with the Negro American League. The success and popularity of the league would last through much of the 1940’s, until 1947. A player you’ve undoubtedly heard of named Jackie Robinson began the integration of the major leagues in his debut playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
There is, of course, a lot of baseball in The League. Pollard presents some of the great players in the Negro Leagues like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Oscar Charleston. Countless historians and journalists chime in on the success of the league and teams that were dominant. But what makes The League such a worthy watch is Pollard’s ability to weave in the historical significance of the Negro Leagues and chart its course alongside the history of race in our country. He gives an overview of what was going on not only in the country but around the world during the years of the Negro Leagues–World War I, the Great Depression, World War II etc. These major world events impacted and affected black communities differently than white America. And it makes the creation and success of the Negro Leagues even more impressive and significant.
Pollard’s comprehensive historical foundation coupled with baseball legends who never got their moment in the spotlight (apart from some rather late Hall of Fame inductees) make The League a fascinating watch for everyone, not just baseball fans. While legends like Babe Ruth, Cy Young, and Dizzy Dean are household names it’s easy to feel desolate that Negro League stars haven’t gotten the same recognition. It’s hard not to imagine what talented players like Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, and Mule Suttles would have achieved in the major leagues had they been given the chance. But their exclusion from the Majors doesn’t make their talent and achievements any less notable or any less worthy of being celebrated. And for one hour and forty-three minutes these players get their curtain call.