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A literary look at black history

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Book >> "Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball"
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So the Super Bowl is history.

Football season is over until at least August. March Madness is weeks away. What are you going to do with yourself until then?

Why not get ready for baseball season? Grab your stadium blanket and settle in at home base with “Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball” by Lawrence D. Hogan.

According to interviews done by the Federal Writer’s Project during the Depression, black baseball, or something similar, was first played on plantations. The interviews, done with former slaves, indicate that black and white children played together; at least, that is, until the players grew up.

The first “officially” recorded game between two black ball teams was played in New York in 1859. In 1862, a reporter looking for a game between two white teams stumbled upon a game between black teams and he reported it in his paper. By 1878, Bud Fowler of the Lynn, Massachusetts team went down in history as the first African American to play in a major league (white) baseball team.

According to Hogan, through the early history of the game, the progress of black baseball paralleled that of white teams in nearly every way. The only difference was that, by 1900, black baseball players were completely segregated.

By the beginning of the 20th century, most major cities east of the Mississippi River – and quite a few west of the Miss – had black baseball teams. Many of them at that time were controlled by white team owners, financed by white corporations, and in many cases, played against white ball teams. Slowly, though, over a period of years, influential African American businessmen began to buy up teams.

Hogan says that the heyday of the Negro Leagues was in 1926. Players were making good money, they had a league of their own, and some of the best ball players ever to swing a bat were entertaining for packed stands. Newspapers around the country carried stories on favorite hometown teams and rivals.

Segregated baseball began to falter in the 1930s, and after World War II, integration seemed imminent. Even so, when Jackie Robinson signed to play for Montreal, it shocked a lot of people, least of which were African American team owners.

My first thought as I was reading this book is how much fun it would’ve been to play Fantasy Baseball with the players from the Negro Leagues. Josh Gibson batting first. Smokey Joe Williams as pitcher. “Judy” Johnson on third.

“Shades of Glory” is a baseball fanatic’s dream, full of stories and stats of little-known and long-gone players who, had they taken the field this spring, would have made today’s fans cheer. Author Lawrence Hogan also offers small anecdotes and fascinating bios that will interest even the non-fan, including the story of the player who screamed himself a home run.

So football season is over. March Madness is weeks away. Pitch a copy of “Shades of Glory” into your shopping cart. For a baseball fan, this book is a grand slam.

* * *

Want more great books to read during Black History Month? Try these….

Got a yen for a little of Mom’s home cooking? Make it yourself with “Neo Soul” by Lindsey Williams. Williams is the grandson of Harlem’s queen of soul food, Sylvia Woods, and he offers some recipes that will make your mom jealous. You just have to try the bread pudding!

You know who you are. You know where you’re going. Why can’t you get there as quickly as you want? Read “What’s Really Holding You Back?” by Valorie Burton. No matter what it is you want to do, you can get the motivation and learn how to get out of your own way, so you can get it done.


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