As player, manager, team owner, and league president, Andrew "Rube" Foster organized and improved black baseball in America during the 1910s and 1920s. Foster was born in 1879 in the cotton town of Calvert, Texas though his career would quickly take him to the urban centers of the North. At seventeen his abilities first led him to the Waco Yellow Jackets, a semi-professional black team. Talk of Foster's skills quickly spread and carried him to Hot Springs, Arkansas where he earned the nickname "Rube" after defeating Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics, a white major league team. Between 1902 and 1907 Foster moved in and out of professional black baseball shuffling between teams before finally landing with the Leland Giants in Chicago. During this time his reputation and prowess on the mound grew to mythic levels fueled by his near perfect winning percentage.
Foster's contributions to baseball far exceeded a winning record. His article in "Sol White's Official Base Ball Guide" shared his strategy for pitch selection and his forward-looking ideas about conditioning and stretching, advice that impacted both black and white pitchers. Foster became manager of the Leland Giants and began altering the business model of Negro League baseball, negotiating higher profits for his team and scheduling games to maximize revenue. Foster eventually left Frank Leland in 1909 with legal rights to the name, the Leland Giants, and most of the team's star players to create his own franchise. From his position as owner of the American Giants, Foster doggedly pushed for control of all Negro League baseball to ensure organization and wide-spread financial success. Other owners, some of whom were white, resisted Foster's efforts to organize the different teams for fear of additional costs and restrictions on play that might impact profits.
In February 1920 Foster would achieve his goal of a unified black baseball league. Meeting in Kansas City, owners of professional black baseball teams met to create the Negro National Baseball League and named Foster as the league's president. As president, Foster set the schedule of the league and even moved players around to promote competitiveness, understanding that teams with miserable records hurt attendance and everyone's revenue. Foster significantly impacted black baseball in Texas by encouraging his league teams to conduct spring training and exhibition games in the state, which stimulated local excitement for the game. The matches also placed local talent on display for Negro League organizations, a significant economic opportunity for small town African Americans.
Between 1920 and 1926 Foster led the Negro National League, creating a tradition that would last through the 1960s. Foster's leadership ended in 1926 with his involuntary commitment to the Kankakee Asylum after a mental breakdown. He would die in the institution four years later.
Rube Foster's vision of Negro League baseball never centered on segregation, but on integration. "We have to be ready when the day comes," he reportedly told a friend. Foster's purpose in playing and leading the Negro League was to ensure that black players were competitive on the day that major league finally reopened its doors to African Americans. Foster would not live to see the integration of baseball, but his creation and cultivation of organized professional black baseball would ensure a home for greats like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and a training ground for future major league greats like Ernie Banks and Willie Mays.