The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960/take Me out to the Cubs Game: 35 Former Ballplayers Speak of Losing at Wrigley

Article excerpt

The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960. By Leslie A. Heaphy (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003. Pp. viii, 375. $45.00).

Take Me Out to the Cubs Game: 35 Former Ballplayers Speak of Losing at Wrigley. By John C. Skipper (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2000. Pp. viii, 248. $29.95).

Leslie Heaphy's The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960 is an excellent addition to the growing literature on the baseball played by African Americans before (and for some years after) Jackie Robinson first put on a Dodgers uniform. An historian at Kent State University (Stark campus), Heaphy skillfully places the developments in black baseball in proper historical context, noting, for example, how post-Civil War feelings of racial mistrust and fears that blacks would overwhelm the north created an informal (but frequently breached) color line that was made permanent in 1887, when an unwritten "Gentlemen's Agreement" among white club owners began a more systematic exclusion of blacks from "organized" ball.

Kept out of white major and minor league baseball, African Americans organized their own teams, and beginning in 1920, their own leagues. Heaphy's focus is broader than the baseball that was played on the field: she is equally interested in the African-American community and its relations to baseball. Black leaders such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, Heaphy writes, encouraged black pride; the Negro Leagues would be a source of that pride. "By playing the National Pastime," writes Heaphy, baseball men such as Rube Foster, a ballplayer and businessman who organized the Negro National League (NNL), "believed opportunities would then open up for blacks in other areas."

The death in 1944 of baseball's first commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, a strict enforcer of baseball's color line, opened the door to African Americans. But it was not simple altruism that gave the courageous Jackie Robinson his opportunity; the main force was baseball's pursuit of profits. Although the great baseball innovator Bill Veeck had earlier concocted a scheme to build a black team that would serve as a talent feeder to his own team (an idea nixed by Landis), it was Branch Rickey who was the first to draw from this hitherto untapped talent pool for his Brooklyn Dodgers. With the most gifted young African-American ballplayers being signed by major league clubs, what, then, would happen to the Negro Leagues? This is one of the strongest parts of Heaphy's book, as she discusses the mixed feelings that owners of Negro League teams had about these new opportunities. …