Black Barons of Birmingham: The South's Greatest Negro League Team and Its Players

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Larry Powell. Black Barons of Birmingham: The South's Greatest Negro League Team and Its Players. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. 226 pp. Paper, $29.95.

Larry Powell's Black Barons of Birmingham is a curious work that offers some new ground for the continued study of the Negro leagues, but falls into the unfortunate trap of having no discernible audience in mind. Though the information is solid and the construction and planning of the text is interesting on its face--the oral history component of the work alone is quite compelling--the book itself fails to carve out its own niche within the broader discussion of Negro-league baseball.

The biggest challenge Powell faces is how relatively obscure and seemingly unremarkable many of the names are against the bigger picture. This is not to disparage once and former Barons. Anyone who played ball in the Jim Crow South under such conditions is certainly due his day in the sun. The problem is that while Powell seems determined to bring to light Barons from every era, the book is ultimately bogged down under the weight of the endless lists of players, many of whom had what would be described in Major League Baseball as a quick cup of coffee before they were released or otherwise faded into the background. Thus, while Powell, professor of communication studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, can take great liberties by adding Satchel Paige to the list of one-time Black Barons, offering a thorough and engaging portrait of this inimitable drawing card--beyond Willie Mays and perhaps a few other less popular names (i.e., Piper Davis, Jesse Mitchell, and Dan Bankhead)--there are not many prominent players to interest the general public. On the other hand, there is simply too little new information for researchers of African American baseball history.

That said, Powell's book contains some quite interesting elements. The introductory sections that contextualize each segment--Part I is organized by decade; Part II is organized thematically--are particularly engaging. …