As we continue our celebration of Black History month with a focus on Negro Leagues and black baseball in general, we wanted to put together a select list of books for reading on a variety of topics related to the Negro Leagues and black baseball. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so please feel free to add any others in the comments.
To help support local businesses and in this case, former FanGraph’s writer turned bookseller, I encourage you to check out and order anything of interest from Paul Swyden’s Silver Unicorn Bookstore.
And away we go!
Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams, by Robert W. Peterson. Published in 1970, this is an early look at what baseball was like for black players in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. At the time of publication, few fans knew of the rich history of Rube Foster’s Negro Leagues, after all, Satchel Paige wasn’t even in the Hall of Fame in 1970.
The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America, by Joe Posnanski. Pos puts together a story of baseball, adversity, and friendship in this chronicle of one of the most influential black ballplayers of the 20th century. O’Neil became an ambassador for the game itself throughout a year long road trip that brought him to various part of America celebrating the game he loves.
We are the Ship, by Kadir Nelson - It’s hard to not notice that most of the authors on this topic are white. Kadir Nelson however is bringing a rich history of African American painting and art to a beautifully illustrated book targeted to kids, but enjoyable by people of any age. Nelson writes in a first-person anonymous black ballplayer’s voice, with the simple language belying the complexity and challenges of early black baseball.
The Kansas City Monarchs: Champions of Black Baseball, by Janet Bruce. Most baseball fans are familiar with the Monarchs’ name and have seen their logo popularized in some Americana films as The Sandlot, though they may not know much about the team’s place in black baseball history. Janet Bruce discusses the dominance of Kansas City club, and it’s importance to black baseball through the mid-20th century.
What Were the Negro Leagues?, by Varian Johnson, Stephen Marchesi. Another book to give baseball-inclined kids an introduction to black baseball and the impact of racism. Johnson (an author of color) writes an easy to read book on the history of the Negro Leagues. Informative for kids and adults alike.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano