By this time, the top African American players were being signed out of high school and college by MLB teams. Most of their first professional baseball experience was in minor league baseball. The Negro National League folded after the 1948 season when the Homestead Grays withdrew. The Negro American League reportedly played its last game in 1958, though there is some dispute over whether games continued to play through 1960. With all the top African American players going into the Major Leagues, it is understood why there was a direct parallel between the success of MLB and the demise of the NNL and NAL.
Some of the greats of the history of the game debuted in the Negro Leagues, including Willie Mays and Henry Aaron. Both, as well as many others, played in the Negro Leagues after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. However, there were also others who signed a MLB or minor league contract without ever playing in the Negro Leagues.
In 1950, there was an infielder, a third baseman, by the name of Joe Henry. He was given the nickname of "Prince," which would follow him throughout the rest of his life. He would make his debut for the Memphis Red Sox, where he would play from 1950-1952. He would then play professional baseball in the minor leagues for the Canton Citizens and Vincennes Velvets of the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League in 1952. He then played for the Mount Vernon Kings in 1953 and 1954 before going back to the Negro Leagues playing for the Indianapolis Clowns (1955-1957), Detroit Clowns (1957-1958, 1959) and the Detroit Stars (1958-1959).
Henry played in the Negro Leagues through 1959, proof that Negro Leagues Baseball existed past 1958. After Henry was finished playing, he returned to the spotlight in the 1990s. Major League Baseball had agreed to give pensions to retired Negro Leagues players in a similar way to the way MLB players had gotten them. Just like with other things, MLB had yet to come through with their promise to many of these players. Prince Joe Henry fought a major part of the battle to get these players, all of whom getting up there in age, the pensions that they deserved. My open question is this: Are most living Negro Leagues players receiving pensions from MLB? Through my research, the answer is seeming like a yes. But I am sure that is not the case with all players who played in the Negro Leagues. MLB players need to play a certain amount of time in the big leagues to receive a pension so I am sure there would be some sort of condition for Negro Leagues players to receive one as well.
Henry had played softball as a kid until he was convinced to try baseball by Negro Leagues C Josh Johnson. He played professional baseball for the majority of the decade of the 1950s. It was five years ago today, on January 2, 2009, that Prince Joe Henry left us. RIP