|Book Review: Black Baseball Out of Season|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on July 03, 2012
"Black Baseball Out of Season" almost seems like a misnomer for a book that covers the history not just of the offseason leagues that some Negro Leaguers played in, but at least roughly covers the history of Latin American baseball.¬† Certainly laying that historical groundwork is important to telling the history of Negro Leaguers who played in Cuba, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua and Columbia, but those were hardly the only places that Negro Leaguers played in the offseason.
Some of those places included barnstorming teams, the California winter leagues, the Pacific Coast League, Florida hotel league (AKA the Coconut League), the US Military and the various leagues that sprung up throughout Latin America.
And Negro Leaguers, and those Latin players with darker skin who couldn't find jobs in the Major Leagues and organized baseball, didn't have many other options.¬† Winter jobs, weren't just about money, at least not in their social, rather than economic, values.¬† Partially because many of the other ballplayers who competed in these leagues weren't Negro Leaguers, but Major Leaguers and it provided some of the only opportunities that Negro League players got to compete on the same stage and show how good they really were.
It also provided a playing field where players of different races and of different background got to learn a little about each other and get to know each other.¬† That certainly didn't defeat racism overall, but it certainly dealt it a blow, especially when Major Leaguers and their fans came to respect Negro League players on the field and off it.
This book does a good job telling that story, but it unfortunately falls victim to the fact that many of the anecdotal accounts and new stories of the day simply were sketchy, incorrect or are non-existent.¬† That forced author William McNeil to rely a lot on statistics, list-like recitations and numbers sometimes to a mind-numbing degree.
The book a very worthwhile read, but it's not light reading and is mainly geared toward an academic and niche market for Negro League enthusiasts.¬† If you are one of those, a historian or are statistically minded enough not to get weighed down by the information, give the book 2.5 balls. For everyone else, it's a heavy read more than an entertaining one and probably deserves a rating a 1.5 balls rating.
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