Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson

By Bill Kirwin | Go to book overview
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JERRY MALLOY


The Strange Career of Sol. White
Black Baseball's First Historian

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.

—Søren Kierkegaard

AFRICAN AMERICAN BASEBALL is the National Pastime's last historical frontier. In the past few decades, baseball history has widened its base of researchers, writers, and students. Having weathered the rigors of wars, depressions, and scandals, and basked in the warm glow of more prosperous times, baseball has a long, rich, diverse history. The game's tradition and lore are so deeply etched in American society and culture that historians recognize its value as an institutional lodestar, a fixed point of reference running through the nation's life relatively unchanged since the Civil War era. As such, historians have followed the muse Clio to the ballpark to help understand our nation's economics, social, and racial past.

The history of African American baseball has benefited greatly from this rising tide of scholarship, as well as from the recent surge in popular interest in the vibrant Negro Leagues of the 1920s–1940s. Since the publication of Robert Peterson's groundbreaking book Only the Ball Was White in 1970, accounts of twentieth-century African American baseball have awakened the echoes of a lost universe: a baseball world with far more roles for African Americans than exist in baseball today. For every Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, or Lou Gehrig, African American baseball had an Oscar Charleston, Bullet Rogan, or Buck Leonard. But the world of black baseball also included African American managers, umpires, sportswriters, throngs of African American fans, executives, owners, and commissioners.

Baseball history's black component was long victimized by willful neglect. As early as 1895 Sporting Life remarked that “nothing is ever said or written about drawing the color line in the [National] League. It appears

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