For inquisitive young fans, two books help provide a history of black baseball


September 23, 1994|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Sun Staff Writer

Despite its drawbacks -- most notably a slow pace that drags to a halt when self-important authors speak of the game in reverent tones -- Ken Burns' "Baseball" series, currently playing on PBS, deserves praise for its coverage of the Negro Leagues.

Here's hoping that kids who may have been lulled to sleep the first few nights of the series were tuned into the segment on pitcher Satchel Paige and catcher Josh Gibson. Not to be missed is Sunday's installment, which focuses on Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier.

The documentary should spark interest in the Negro Leagues and the stars who preceded Robinson. Here are two books to check out on the subject: "The Story of Negro League Baseball" by William Brashler (Ticknor & Fields, $10.95 paperback, 176 pages, ages 8 and up) and "Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues" by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick McKissack Jr. (Scholastic, $13.95, 192 pages, ages 8-14).

They are similar in scope, opening with a recap of baseball's beginnings and the fact that teams were integrated until the 1890s. Both books pull no punches when it comes to Cap Anson's role in banning blacks from the game. A star and later player-manager of the Chicago White Stockings, Mr. Anson made no secret of his racism.

In 1887, he threatened to pull his team off the field if George Stovey, an African-American who happened to be the best pitcher for the Newark (N.J.) Little Giants, was allowed to play against the White Stockings in an exhibition in Newark. Stovey was removed from the lineup "due to illness."

Both books are illustrated with many fine archival photographs of black players from before the turn of the century through the 1950s, when integration in the major leagues put the Negro Leagues out of business.

Mr. Brashler, who also wrote "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" and "Josh Gibson: A Life in the Negro Leagues," does a better job mixing the history of the Negro Leagues with the story of their times. The historical context is easier to follow than in the McKissacks' book, which uses a time line at the end to put things in perspective.

Mr. Brashler's storytelling is also livelier, probably because much of his material comes from interviews he had with James "Cool Papa" Bell and his wife, Clarabelle; Jimmie Crutchfield and his wife, Julia; Satchel Paige; Ted Page; Buck Leonard; Judy Johnson (a third baseman from Snow Hill, Md.), and Sam Streeter, among others.

Mr. Brashler ends with a chapter on the Negro Leaguers who were too old to get a shot at the majors after Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Most were forgotten until 1966, he writes, when Ted Williams used his Hall of Fame induction speech to remind baseball that Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson belonged in the Hall as well.

He also includes a list of "bests," from the all-star team named by the Negro Leagues Research Committee of the Society for Baseball Research to all-time teams selected by players such as Buck Leonard and "Cool Papa" Bell.

Patricia McKissack ("Mirandy and Brother Wind," "The Dark Thirty") has teamed up with her husband, Fredrick McKissack Sr., on two award-winning non-fiction works: "Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman?" and "A Long Hard Journey -- The Story of the Pullman Porter." This is her first collaboration with her son, a former sportswriter.

One aspect they cover that we probably won't see in the PBS series is the fact that the Dodgers' Branch Rickey, who signed Jackie Robinson, refused to negotiate with the Negro League teams that had players under contract. Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles, complained that Rickey never compensated her for signing pitcher Don Newcombe.

When she threatened to sue, the McKissacks write, Rickey leaked the story to the press and Manley was vilified for "standing in the way of her players' progress."

They also report that Bill Veeck of the Cleveland Indians did pay the Newark Eagles $15,000 for Larry Doby's contract.

* Signing sightings: Nancy Patz of Baltimore, who illustrated "The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays" by Malka Drucker, will be signing books and doing a slide presentation of the book from 2-4 p.m. Sunday at the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland, 15 Lloyd St. There will be crafts activities for kids and story readings. The program is free with museum admission, which is $2 for adults. For more information, call (410) 732-6400.

Ms. Patz also will present slides of the book at 2 p.m. Oct. 2, at the Enoch Pratt Central Library.

Another Baltimore author, Jerdine Nolan, will appear at Stepping Stones bookstore in Bel Air at 11 a.m. Oct. 1. Ms. Nolan's first book is "Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm."

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