NLB stands for Negro Leagues Baseball. There were many leagues. Often unsteady ventures that followed the warm weather and the patronage of a smaller segment of the population, they were founded, collapsed, merged, changed names, and transferred cities. Yet their shoestring budgets and changeable rosters managed to create a brand of segregated baseball that was equal and often superior to major league baseball, to White segregated baseball.
These painted abstractions are based on photographs and uniforms of the teams that made up the Negro Leagues. Their variation parallels the often inconsistent record keeping (statisticians cost money that these teams often couldn’t spare) that has produced a historical record of Negro Leagues Baseball that is often constructed substantially of word of mouth, faltering memories, and fable.
As a child I was fascinated with a baseball that my father kept on his dresser. It was autographed by Ernie Banks. For him there were only two baseball players. Mickey Mantle and Ernie Banks. Those two players, one White, the other Black, represented for him all that was perfect and flawed about baseball; loyalty and exclusion, perennial success and consistent failure, the glare of success and the tattoo of futility. Neither player made much of an impression on me as a child. I was too young. But when my parents divorced I knew just what to do. I took my father’s baseball and threw it into Lake Michigan, where I imagined it would begin its floating journey all the way to Japan, where they also played baseball.
For me baseball has always been an abstraction.