Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings


The Negro Leagues in their various complicated incarnations were one more shameful Jim Crow remnant of slavery, made necessary by many factors, including the implacable opposition to integrated teams by the scumbag first Commissioner of Baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain “Cocksucker” Landis. (I made up the nickname, but he deserves it. He also banished Shoeless Joe Jackson to the bleachers for life.) Thus was the white baseball-fan public largely deprived of the privilege of seeing one of the greatest players ever to walk onto the diamond, Satchel Paige, do his thing. In fact, judging from the complexion of all current Major League teams—not to mention football and basketball—the Hall of Fame would probably have a very different, much darker look today if the stars of the Negro Leagues had been allowed in the Majors from the beginning.
But they made the best of it. Negro League games were just as skillful but not as deadly serious as the Majors. Clowning around seems to have been more accepted. One thing both leagues had in common, though, was the owners were pigs with no principles at all, black or white. No surprise. Pigs is pigs, no matter their color.
It’s 1939, and Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams) is a pitcher who is frustrated at being screwed over by the avaricious pig who owns his team. He gathers together some of the stars who feel like he does and they go on the road all over the Midwest, barnstorming. They have lots of fun, and give the crowds a good show. (You’ll notice the title has nine words; their uniforms each has one of those words on it, so when they pose for a picture they spell it out.) They find they can do better if they become clowns for at least part of their appearances. They come cakewalking into town, play a game with the locals, and depart in their open-topped convertibles. They have a midget player, and a one-armed first baseman. There’s not a lot of money in it, but at least they’re their own bosses. Naturally, the group of owners who have lost their star players can’t allow this to happen. Our guys win in the end, only to find that a white team is interested in their 19-year-old phenom, which presages the end of segregation, though Jackie Robinson wouldn’t be signed until after the War. (Ironically, the years of World War II were the best ever for the Negro Leagues. They lost some of their stars to the Army, just like the whites did, but now black people had more money to spend because they got good jobs in war industries. They packed the stadiums, while white baseball languished.) James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor are part of a big and very good cast.