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Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy Paperback – May 29, 1997
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"The best baseball book of the decade."--Journal of Sports History
"Rich, intelligent cultural history.... Fascinating."--The New York Times
About the Author
Jules Tygiel, a native of Brooklyn, is Professor of History at San Francisco State University and founder of the Pacific Ghost League. He is the author of The Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks, and Scandal During the Roaring Twenties.
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Jules Tygiel's first chapter displays fireworks. Jackie Robinson's debut in the Dodger organization propels the reader forward like a fast-paced novel. Then the pace slows down and becomes history. In the next chapter Tygiel flashes back to the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, relating how the few blacks who played in organized baseball were gradually squeezed out. Tom Sawyer's fence got whitewashed.
In the third chapter, Tygiel returns to the 1940s and begins his detailed account of Branch Rickey's affair with integration and Jackie Robinson. It relegates 42--the recent movie--to the status of a peepshow. So if that movie is all you know about this affair, you know practically nothing.
For the last section of the book, you made need to apply yourself. At least I did. It is not quite a scholarly account, but it lacks the narrative flow of the Jackie Robinson section. Even so, it is a cornucopia of precious anecdotes. Baseball players that I knew only as faces on baseball cards became real people, afflicted with the adversities of prejudice and segregation. Can you imagine the great Henry Aaron having to pee alongside the team bus because he was not allowed to use the white restroom?
The trade paperback has disadvantages. Its small typescript may be troublesome, and its printed photos are poor. But the hardcover will not have Tygiel's "Afterword," which updates the book to 2007. Both editions have many footnotes, a bibliography, and an index. I generally skip the "Acknowledgments," but for this book it was worth reading. Tygiel tells how he got interested in the subject, and he reveals his authoritative sources of research. (For example, Dodger manager Walter Alston and Jackie Robinson's wife Rachel.)
And this is surely the deepest historical biography of any sports figure ever written. Jules Tygiel is a professor of history at San Francisco State University, and the author of a fine dispassionate biography of Ronald Reagan, as well as the book "Baseball As History", which quite brilliantly examines the culture of America in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries through the lens of baseball.
You can read "Baseball's Great Experiment" simply for pleasure, as a baseball lover, or you can read it for historical insight, which it offers aplenty. It's a great irony that baseball and the army were integrated meaningfully long before corporate business, the mainline Christian churches, the federal bureaucracy, or academia!
Tygiel writes firm straight-forward prose, with a minimum of sermonizing (McCain's big fault as a writer) or academic pomposity. His portrayals of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson are well-rounded and believable, with both their strengths and their weaknesses. Even if you have a total indifference to baseball, you'll find the human drama fascinating.
As for yours truly... Do it again, Red Sox!