Baseball Rebels

 

by Andrew Elias

SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO this past April 15 marked the date when baseball, and America, changed forever—the day Jackie Robinson played his first major league game for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking what was known as the ‘color barrier’. Many books have been written about Jackie Robinson and his important place in baseball, and American history, but there are others, who played before, with and after Robinson, worthy of attention and acclaim. Several new books have been recently released that shine a much-needed spotlight on these players and their remarkable stories.

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Before Brooklyn

The Unsung Heroes Who Helped 

Break Baseball's Color Barrier

by Ted Reinstein

(Lyons Press)

     

     This book tells the stories of the little-known heroes who fought segregation in baseball, some decades before Jackie Robinson played his first major league game (Moses Fleetwood played professional baseball in 1884!) and some only years before that historic event (a city councilman in Boston persuaded the Red Sox to try out three black players in exchange for a vote to allow games to be played on Sundays, only to have the deal collapse at the last moment).

     Well researched and crisply written, Reinsten unearths several little known facts and stories I had not known. As an example, I did not know that by 1867, the Philadelphia Pythians were a well-established all-black professional baseball team that regularly played all-white ballclubs from Washington and Chicago. When the team applied to join the Pennsylvania Base Ball Association, they were met with the first organized barring of ‘any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons’. The National Association of Base ball Players soon followed with their own ban of black players. Barred from the white leagues, the Pythians’ membership swelled, expanding to four separate teams, all based in Philadelphia.

     If you, like I, am a fan of baseball history, you will be pleasantly surprised by what you will learn.

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Our Team

The Epic Story of Four Men and the 

World Series That Changed Baseball

by Luke Explain

(Flatiron Books)

     

     In great detail, Epplin traces the amazing story of the integration of the Cleveland Indians through four historic baseball figures: Bill Veeck, the eccentric and visionary owner of the team; Larry Doby, who entered the American league just three months after Jackie Robinson debuted with the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers; Bob Feller, a pitching prodigy from America’s heartland; and Satchel Paige, the Negro League’s preeminent star player.

     Veeck was quite a character and even more exciting showman, having introduced pregame shows, between inning giveaways and postgame firework displays, but perhaps, most importantly, he integrated the Cleveland Indians and the American League, and helped drive the national pastime into the modern age. 

     Feller was a new kind of player, with an understanding of the business of professional baseball. He was the first player to incorporate himself, and he organized barnstorming tours off season where he battled teammate Paige. 

     Paige was 42 years old and a legend throughout the country, drawing huge crowds of both whites and blacks to the ballpark (Cleveland’s attendance surpassed 2.6 million in 1948!). Doby, after floundering in his first season, exploded in 1948, becoming a bona fide star. While Paige was flamboyant and at ease in public, a humorous raconteur, Doby was reserved and often had trouble dealing with the burdens of publicity.

     Packed with details this page-turner of a book is ultimately the unlikely story of four very different individuals coming together as a team to win the ultimate baseball trophy, the World Series.

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After Jackie

15 Pioneers Who Helped

Change the Face of Baseball

by Jeffrey S. Copeland

(Paragon House)

     

     Telling the stories of a truly all-star team, this book shines a light on the black players who followed Jackie Robinson into a league, and nation, uneasy with the idea of integrating professional baseball. The Dodgers were only one of 16 teams in the major leagues at the time. These 15 players each were the first black players on their teams and each has a unique journey to the Major Leagues. 

     Some are Hall of Famers: Ernie Banks (Chicago Cubs), Larry Doby (Cleveland Indians), Minnie Minoso (Chicago White Sox), Monte Irvin (New York Giants); and some became stars: Pumpsie Green (Boston Red Sox—12 years after Robinson entered the league!), and Elston Howard (New York Yankees); while you may not have heard of others: Hank Thompson (St. Louis Brown), Sam Jethroe (Boston Braves), Curt Roberts (Pittsburgh Pirates). Each became a hero in his own circumstances, eventually enjoying the careers they could, at one time, never imagined possible.

    Copeland tells each man’s unique story, both on the field and off, in a style that makes for an informative yet fun read. 

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Baseball Rebels

The Players, People, and Social

Movements That Shook Up the Game

and Changed America

by Peter drier & Robert Elias

(University of Nebraska Press)

     

     Since it emerged in the 1880s as the national pastime, baseball has not been immune from America’s battles with racism and sexism. And while some of the people who helped push important changes to the game, on the field and in the executive suites, are widely recognized, there are many others deserving of acclaim and honor.

     This book tells the stories of people like Sam Nahem, who organized an integrated military baseball team that won a championship in 1945, two years before Jackie Robinson broke professional baseball’s ‘color-barrier’. There is the story of Toni Stone, the first of three women to play with the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Leagues, and the story of Dave Pallone, major league baseball’s first openly gay umpire.

     Although you may know about legendary baseball figures that fought for social justice, such as Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, Curt Flood, Satchel Paige and Billy Bean, there are several others that even the most rabid baseball fans are unaware of. Thankfully, they get their due in this important book.

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Whispers of the Gods

Tales From Baseball's Golden Age,

Told By the Men Who Played It

by Peter Golenbock

(Rowan & Littlefield)

     An interesting book, culled from hundreds of hours of taped interviews, features the stories and memories of Hall of Famers and All-Stars such as Phil Rizzuto, Jim Bouton, Stan Musial, and Roger Maris. Ted Williams explains why he believes Shoeless Joe Jackson should be in the Hall of Fame, Roy Campanella talks about his life in the Negro Leagues, and Tom Sturdivant recalls his times on the New York Yankees with Casey Stengel and Mickey Mantle.

     An oral history, the players recall their journey to the ‘big show’, share their triumphs and defeats, and describe what it was like to play with some of the games’ greatest.  •

                          

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March/April 2022