The United States Baseball League

The United States Baseball League

The United States Baseball League 1945-1946

Of all the organizations in what we call the Negro Leagues, perhaps the most obscure is the United States League of 1945-1946. The league was an unlikely partnership between Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey and veteran owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords Gus Greenlee. Historians debate whether Rickey’s intentions were to seriously back a new league, or whether he was just using it as a ruse to sign Black players until major league integration become a reality. Given Rickey’s role in signing Jackie Robinson and his later withdrawal from the US League, it would seem there is ample evidence for the latter theory. However, our research has shown that the league did receive wide coverage in the Black press.

The Teams

In its first year the USBL membership consisted of some familiar names, like the Pittsburgh Crawfords (actually a new team), and the Hilldale club from Philadelphia. Rickey’s sponsored the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, who gained credibility when they signed legendary Oscar Charleston as manager. The league was filled out with the Boston Blues, Chicago Brown Bombers, the Motor City Giants (of Detroit), and Toledo Cubs. Interestingly, there were also several “associate” members, who did not play a regular league schedule. These teams included the St. Louis Stars in 1945, and teams in Louisville, Newark, Trenton, and Cincinnati in 1946.


Predictably the league was under-financed and unstable, and the second (and last) season saw the Crawfords move to Montreal (ironically, since Jackie Robinson was placed with the Montreal Royals that same year), and the Milwaukee Tigers entering the league in mid-season to replace the Cleveland Clippers, who folded and were merged with Brooklyn.

The league seems to have petered out midway through the 1946 season and was never heard from again. By 1947 the focus had shifted to Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby’s exploits in Brooklyn and Cleveland, respectively, and the decline of Negro Leagues baseball began in earnest. But the USBL is a fascinating footnote to a dramatic period of baseball history, and has been widely overlooked by baseball historians.

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