Book Riot challenged me to read a book about sports this year, among other things, and for some reason I interpreted that as a non-fiction book about sports. That’s not actually what they said, but nevertheless, I decided to go to my brother for help because he knows way too much about baseball. When he was bugging me about ideas for Christmas presents I told him I needed a book about sports, preferably written by a person of color.
Turns out Donn Rogosin is white, but my brother totally gets an A for effort. Also I learned a ton about black history from reading this book, so mission accomplished.
As you might have guessed, I am not a baseball aficionado. Despite having spent my whole life going to Cubs games, I only just learned the names of some of the most prominent players when they got into the World Series playoffs last year. Before getting this book, I had never even known there was a Negro baseball league. Although, when they talked about the Negro league basically inventing stealing bases, all I could think of was that World Series game in which Fowler stole second and then third before the Cubs finally struck out. He totally would have stolen home if given half a chance.
For those of you who don’t know the story of the Negro baseball leagues, shortly after the turn of the 19th century, there was an unwritten rule about not letting blacks play in the major leagues. But somehow that didn’t apply to light-skinned Cubans, so Jackie Robinson was probably not the first black man to play in the American major leagues after all. See? Learning!
My one complaint about this book is that the writing could have been more engaging. As it is, it reads more like a really long essay than a book.
Rogosin clearly spent countless hours interviewing various members of the Negro baseball league, including Monte Irvin, who provided the introduction for this book. The work is littered with quotes from these people and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, Rogosin allowed them to tell their own story, rather than trying to tell it from his perspective, and that’s awesome. On the other hand, I think it broke up the narrative and made it feel more disjointed. I think it would have flowed better if Rogosin had managed to incorporate the things they said into his prose, rather than putting quotes around every other sentence
Basically, the Negro leagues were created as a way to try to integrate the major leagues. Black people (bless their souls) thought that if they could just prove how good they were, then the stupid, prejudiced white people would finally see the light and let them play with them. They really underestimated our narrow-mindedness.
In the end though, it worked. And Rogosin seems to have thought it worked, despite the fact that Robinson wasn’t really active in or respectful of the Negro league. He played with the St. Louis Monarchs for a while, but he was not one of their best players. Meanwhile Satchel Paige (one of the best pitchers ever), Monte Irvin, Willard Brown (a batter at least as good as, if not better than Babe Ruth) mostly died in obscurity, despite all the hard work they put in to raising up their race and people like Robinson.
I don’t know about you guys, but prior to reading this book, I had never before heard of any baseball player Ruth’s equal, much less his better. I hadn’t even realized that the stories I had heard about him were limited to white men. Thanks to this book, I now know better and I am truly grateful for it.
What did you guys read this week? Anything else eye-opening?