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Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams Paperback – April 30, 1992
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"[A] thorough, well-documented book....A worthy and fascinating addition to anyone's baseball library."--The New York Times Book Review
"Peterson...[is] to be congratulated not only for an original subject but an excellent book for anyone who enjoys reading baseball history."--The Sporting News
"Filled with the fascination that comes from discovering an unknown, complex, forgotten continent."--Newsweek
"Fascinating....One of the truly important sociological contributions to the growing literature of baseball."--The Washington Post Book World
"Highly recommended."--Library Journal
About the Author
Robert W. Peterson is the author of Cages to Jump Shots (Oxford, 1990) and The Boy Scouts: An American Adventure. He has written for Sports Illustrated, The New York Times Magazine, Sport, Boys' Life, and many other magazines.
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Peterson takes the reader through the formation of hundreds of all-black teams in the early 20th century and documents the history of the various Negro Leagues that operated from the 1920s to the 1950s: the Negro National League, the Eastern Colored League and the Negro American League foremost among them. All these leagues suffered from financial difficulties, scheduling irregularities, high club turnover, and rampant player contract jumping. Often, the leagues did not finish out their seasons or failed to have postseason games to determine a championship. The Leagues staged a Negro World Series only 11 times (1924-1927, 1941-1946) and those series usually did not generate much interest among fans. In the book's appendix, Peterson publishes box scores from all the East-West Games, which brought together the greatest stars in Negro baseball and were productions worthy of the major leagues. The box scores are very interesting, as they include the names not just of Negro League legends like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige but also of future Major Leaguers like Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, and Luke Easter.
Peterson devotes chapters to four important figures from the history of the Negro Leagues: Rube Foster, John Henry Lloyd, Paige and Gibson. In another chapter, through the use of player interviews, he paints an interesting picture of what life was like for the barnstorming teams of the era. More than a third of a book is the appendix, which features such things as league standings from 1920 to 1950, World Series line scores, East-West Game box scores, and an all-time register of players and officials from 1884-1950. The book also includes brief profiles of about 60 of the greatest players in Negro League history. The book's epilogue is interesting from an historical perspective. It is a plea from Peterson for the Baseball Hall of Fame to admit some of the great Negro Leaguers as full members. Just a year after the book was published, Satchel Paige was elected to the Hall, and others soon followed such as Smokey Joe Williams. The current numbers exceed even Peterson's most optimistic projections; he suggested that eight should be inducted.
To his credit, Peterson is more interested in facts than in perpetuating legends. For instance, he disputes the claim that an African-American player invented shin guards and he casts doubt on the notion that the legendary Cap Anson was by himself responsible for enacting the color barrier. "Anson's animus toward Negroes was strong and obvious," Peterson writes. "But that he had the power and popularity to force Negroes out of organized baseball almost single-handedly is to credit him with more influence than he had, or for that matter, than he needed. For it seems clear that a majority of professional baseball players in 1887, both Northerners and Southerners, opposed integration in the game" (p. 30).
The biggest weakness of the book is Peterson's writing. The author sometimes indulges in cliches (e.g., "[T]hey were saints and sinners") and the book comes off at times as a dry recitation of facts rather than as a dramatic and fascinating story. This approach is probably somewhat intentional -- after all, Peterson is the first serious researcher of a subject that at the time was not taken seriously -- but it nonetheless can be irritating for the reader. Another problem is that Peterson doesn't spend enough time discussing the kind of baseball these men played. One gets the impression that the Negro Leagues featured dead-ball era style playing with lots of bunting, stolen bases and aggressive base running. But the point is never made quite explicit, and the reader comes away not quite sure.