During the formative years of black baseball, most Negro teams toured the US playing white or mixed-race teams of an amateur or semi-pro standing. There was little to no collaboration between black teams, and few if any scheduled meetings. Therefore, during this era, it was usually up to an individual team (or newspaper writer) to declare themselves the black champion and see if anyone challenged them.
* — 1888 Four teams were selected by the Cuban Giants' owner to participate in a tournament to select a "Colored Champion"; the New York Gorhams finished third and the Norfolk Red Stockings finished fourth.
There were no championships claimed during this period.
Beginning around 1890, political and economic turmoil—eventually leading to the Panic of 1893—took a toll on the bottom line of each Negro team. Every significant Negro team, except for two, ceased operations entirely. Only one team, the Chicago Unions, managed to survive the crisis intact; while the Cuban Giants suspended play at the end of 1891 but reformed for the 1893 season.:30
Segregated baseball leagues, both black and white, started to appear around this time. Starting in 1887, the International League began prohibiting the signing of black players. By 1890, the last of the "white" leagues (the American Association and the National League) had unofficially banned blacks, and the color line was drawn. Early on, due to social and lingering fiscal reasons, there was minimal interest and press coverage regarding black teams, so champions were not easily determined. After the economic crisis had subsided around 1897, black teams began actively competing against other black teams for local or regional championships.