The Story of Negro League Baseball
by Kadir Nelson
First sentence: “Seems like we’ve been playing baseball for a mighty long time.”
I am not a baseball fan. I did not grow up in a baseball house (which is odd, since my dad played ball when he was a teen). Football and basketball were our sports of choice, with tennis and the Olympics following close behind. That said, I think I’m American enough to appreciate baseball, even if I hardly ever watch it. (I did pick up two things about baseball, though: 1) it’s better in person than on TV and 2) the minors are more entertaining to watch than the majors.)
Given that, I really wasn’t interested in reading a book about the Negro Baseball League. I knew about it, sure (I did watch a bit of the Ken Burns’ documentary, after all), but it didn’t really register on my list of things to read about. Then the Battle of the Books came along and, We Are the Ship won its match, taking down a book that I really enjoyed reading. Well, I thought, there must be something to this book.
And there is something to this book. First of all, it’s a lot more detailed than I expected it to be. From it’s size, and the cover, I figured it was a picture book. I was wrong. It’s a detailed history of the Negro League that just happens to have amazing (really, really amazing) photographs. I liked the layout of the book — because it’s so large, the illustrations become not just an accessory, but an integral part of the book — and that the chapters were titled “innings”. And then there’s the narrator. As judge Rachel Cohn said, the narrator has a folksy charm to it, so much that you can imagine the person telling the story.
And what a story. It narrates the story of the Negro Leagues from its inception through to when Jackie Robinson made the crossover into the minor leagues. It touches on the determination of the men to play the game, and play a good game, in spite of the segregation and racism they encountered. Nelson spares no punches: he tells the good along with the bad. And, in the end, I was left with nothing but admiration for the men who wanted to play a game, and found a way to do so.
Abby pointed out that Nelson left out the women who played for the Negro Leagues (something that I didn’t know until she pointed it out), but I’m not sure that detracted from the charm that this book had. At any rate, maybe Nelson will be inspired to write another book on the women who played ball.
I know I’ll definitely read it.