Less than a week into the MLB regular season, trailblazing infielder Jackie Robinson and other legends from baseball’s past are in the spotlight in a unique way—as playable video game characters.
Eight of the greatest players from the Negro Leagues are the focus of a new game mode in MLB: The Show 23, the latest edition of the popular console franchise released on March 28. In “Storylines: The Negro Leagues,” players can take the field during pivotal moments in the careers of standouts like Robinson and Satchel Paige and learn about them through short video clips.
In 1920, midwestern team owners gathered in Kansas City, Missouri, and formed the Negro National League, which in turn inspired other leagues for non-white players over the next two decades. These provided the primary playing opportunities for baseball players of color until Robinson broke the major league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
“The way the Negro League players played, it fits perfectly for a video game,” Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick told the Associated Press. Kendrick narrates “Storylines,” which marks the first time a video game has featured Negro League players since 2005.
Here’s a rundown of the eight Negro Leagues players featured in MLB: The Show 23.
Robinson played only one season in the Negro American League with the Kansas City Monarchs, appearing in only about half of the team’s games in 1945, according to Baseball Almanac. He hit .487 and managed to steal 13 bases in only 47 games.
But the 28-year-old from Cairo, Georgia, changed baseball for the better when he took the field on April 15, 1947, as the first Black player in the major leagues. Robinson and his family faced harassment from opponents and fans, but the speedy infielder helped the Dodgers win the pennant and took Rookie of the Year honors.
Robinson died at age 53 in 1972 from heart disease and diabetes complications. MLB retired his number—No. 42—in 1997 and celebrates his legacy each year on the anniversary of his first Dodgers game with Jackie Robinson Day.
Learn More about Jackie Robinson
Paige—born July 7, 1906, in Mobile, Alabama—played in the Negro Leagues from 1926 through 1947. Between team commitments and other barnstorming opportunities, the hurler pitched in hundreds of games per year, overpowering hitters with a buggy-whipped fastball according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Paige made his major league debut in 1948 at age 42 with the Cleveland Indians (now the Guardians) and became the first Black pitcher in World Series history that same year. The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, enshrined Paige in 1971. He died on June 8, 1982, at age 75.
Learn More about Satchel Paige
Andrew “Rube” Foster is considered the “father of Black baseball” for his success as a manager and executive. But he once won 44 games in a row as a pitcher and led the Cuban X Giants to the 1903 “colored world championship.”
Foster, born on September 17, 1879, in Calvert, Texas, spearheaded the 1920 formation of the Negro National League and was named its president and treasurer, according to his National Baseball Hall of Fame profile.
In 1926, while managing the American Giants team of the NNL, Foster suffered a nervous breakdown. He passed away four years later on December 9, 1930, at age 51. The Baseball Hall of Fame enshrined him in 1981.
Born November 13, 1911, in Carabelle, Florida, Buck O’Neil was known for his smooth defense at first base. He barnstormed before joining the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League in 1937, according to MLB.com.
O’Neil served two years in the U.S. Navy during World War II and, upon his return, won the 1946 league batting title. He was a three-time Negro American League all-star.
O’Neil also made history as the first Black member of a major league coaching staff with the Chicago Cubs in 1962. He died in 2006 at age 94 and was posthumously welcomed into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022.
Born February 27, 1907, in Giddings, Texas, Hilton Smith had a devastating fastball and what many regard as the best sweeping curveball in the Negro Leagues, according to his National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.
He won 20 or more games in each of 12 seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs and often pitched in relief of teammate Satchel Paige, who was asked to throw almost every day to help draw crowds.
Smith died on November 18, 1983, at age 76.
Hank Thompson, born in Oklahoma City on December 8, 1925, played parts of four seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1940s and served two years in the U.S. Army during World War II, according to his Negro Leagues Baseball Museum profile. He primarily took the field at third base but could also play the outfield.
Similar to Robinson, Thompson broke the color barrier for two major league teams: the. St. Louis Browns in 1947 and the New York Giants in 1949. He helped the Giants win the 1954 World Series with teammate Willie Mays, who made his famous over-the-shoulder catch in Game 1.
After retiring, Thompson drove a taxi in New York and died of complications from a seizure in 1969 at age 43.
Martín Dihigo, born May 25, 1905, in Cidra, Cuba, became known as “El Maestro” and is the only person inducted into the American, Mexican, and Cuban baseball halls of fame.
Playing in the Negro Leagues from 1923 through 1947, Dihigo could man the infield, outfield, or pitch. According to his National Baseball Hall of Fame entry, he reveled in throwing runners out at home plate with his strong arm.
Dihigo also spoke fluent English and was extremely popular with his teammates, often sharing stories and baseball knowledge. He died on May 20, 1971, just shy of his 66th birthday.
John Donaldson was born February 20, 1891, in Glasgow, Missouri. A founder of the Kansas City Monarchs, he played only about two part-time seasons in the Negro National League, according to MLB.com. However, he likely played in at least 683 cities across North America as a barnstormer.
Donaldson played on the All Nations Team from 1912 through 1917 and again in 1923 and ’24. The team consisted of men and one woman of all races from the American Midwest, Hawaii, Cuba, Japan, and Latin America. The pitcher once struck out 500 or more batters three straight years.
Donaldson played in his last baseball game at age 58 in 1949, pitching three hitless innings. He died in 1970 at age 79.
Tyler Piccotti joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had worked almost eight years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. He is a graduate of Syracuse University, an avid sports fan, a frequent moviegoer, and trivia buff.