“When Baseball Went White: Reconstructions, Reconciliation and Dreams of a National Pastime” by Ryan A. Swanson
Baseball, professional, history, race
June 1, 2014
4 of 5 stars (very good)
When Jackie Robinson broke the professional baseball color barrier in 1947, it was acknowledged to be an important event in the progress of civil rights for black citizens. However, it was not the first time that the sport of baseball attempted to be integrated. The early attempts at the games integration are explored in this extensively researched book by Ryan A.Swanson.
The book is more of a study in the politics and racial atmosphere in the Reconstruction era following the American Civil War through the baseball clubs in three cities: Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Richmond. While clubs (what teams were called throughout the book as was the case during this time in the history of the game) consisted of all white or all black players, there were games played between clubs of the different races in the first two cities.This wasn’t the case in Richmond, there was also a movement to achieve integration of the game as well, which ultimately failed.
Written in an academic style, the reading can be slightly tedious but the topic is fascinating as the reader will learn not only about the hierarchy in baseball during the 1860’s and 1870’s, he or she will also understand how the color line was drawn and it was a reflection of race relations at the time. While the northern baseball clubs were more willing to integrate, when the associations of clubs gathered for state or national meetings, there was hesitancy to pass resolutions to integrate the game in order to restore national unity after the war.
The line grew more pronounced as professional baseball grew as an industry in the 1870’s and eventually it became a hard line until Robinson broke it. This led to the only disappointment I had in this book – I was hoping to learn more about other black players who played in this time, such as Moses Fleetwood Walker, who was the first black professional player in the American Association.That league was trying to compete with the National League and was not on the same footing, so Walker’s story is often forgotten when studying the integration of the game.
While this topic may not have been discussed in depth, the inner workings of baseball clubs and organizations is well discussed in the book and is a worthy addition to the library of any baseball fan or historian who wishes to learn more about this era of the game.
I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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