Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review of Holway's Voices From the Great Black Baseball Leagues

John Holway was smart enough to get oral histories of Negro League stars in the early 1970s before they were gone. What a wonderful collection, just as The Glory of Their Times did for white players. I enjoyed it immensely. Each chapter is one player telling his story.

There is a lot of talk these days about the "right" way to play, and grumbling about how baseball used to be better before analytics. As you might guess, same as with general griping about how terrible youngsters are, this is an eternal lament. These ballplayers repeated similar complaints about how there was no "trickeration" any more, less skill, more coddling. And they were talking almost 50 years ago.

One of the "right" ways to play is bunting. They complained that by the early 1970s no one was bunting anymore. In other words, the old guys who whine now that the bunt has disappeared were themselves criticized for not doing it enough and not doing it well. Incidentally, the way the Negro League players talked, they must have bunted a lot. They all talked about it in some detail.

Just as I read in the Satchel Paige biography, these players were unanimous that Jackie Robinson was far from the best player and that the Negro Leagues should get more credit for showing white players and executives for so long that their players could beat anyone.

The players show a lot of nostalgia but amazingly little bitterness. They had the bad luck of being excellent baseball players at a time when they were not allowed to get the kinds of salaries, fame, and comforts they deserved. They felt proud that their hard work proved that they were just as good or better than white players, who they routinely defeated in all star games. As Othello "Chico" Renfroe said, "I can really say baseball's the great American game, although it did discriminate against us for many years."


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