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  • California Dreaming: Jules Tygiel and Scholarship beyond the Diamond
  • Ron Briley and

Jules Tygiel was an astute scholar who used baseball as a lens through which to examine the American democratic experience. Jules is perhaps best known as a baseball historian for Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (1983), focusing upon the integration of the sport as a commentary upon race relations in mid twentieth-century America, and Past Time: Baseball as History (2002), applying baseball as a metaphor through which to understand the evolution of American values and ideas. But Jules was more than a scholar of America’s national pastime. In a memoriam column for Jules in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives, his San Francisco State University colleague Robert W. Cherny asserted, “His large and significant body of scholarly work was characterized by careful research, clear and graceful writing, and the selection of topics that speak not just to our understanding of our past but also of ourselves and our society.”1 As a scholar working beyond the baseball diamond, Jules wrote such well-reviewed volumes as Workingmen in San Francisco, 1880–1901 (1992); The Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks, and Scandal in the Roaring Twenties (1994); and Ronald Reagan and the Rise of American Conservatism (2004). These volumes share with Jules’s work on baseball an appreciation for the struggles of everyday Americans to achieve the democratic promise outlined by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Alas, the scholarship of Jules Tygiel well documents the distance that we still have to travel to fulfill this vision. [End Page 213]

Many Americans and immigrants from around the globe have perceived California as the El Dorado where the American dream would be fulfilled. As the boom and bust history of the gold rush suggests, however, the California dream proved to be a nightmare for many seeking the Promised Land. The Joads of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl migrants discovered discrimination and hard labor for low pay in the agricultural fields of California, but many of these refugees later found employment in the defense industries of the region during the Second World War. The ambiguity of California dreaming is apparent in the non-baseball scholarship of Jules Tygiel focusing upon the travails of San Francisco workingmen, investors and entrepreneurs during the oil boom of the 1920s, and a young sports announcer turned actor named Ronald Reagan to find the promise of American life in California.

The life of Jules Tygiel somewhat parallels his academic work as the scholar from the East found his way to California where he carved out an exemplary teaching and writing career at San Francisco State University. Jules was born March 9, 1949, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents operated a small store that sold and repaired pens, lighters, and electric shavers. Growing up in the East Flatbush section of the borough near Ebbets Field, Jules became a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson, his favorite player. Like many in Brooklyn, he was heartbroken when his beloved Dodgers deserted New York for the greener pastures of Los Angeles. Although Jules would never appreciate being compared with Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, he would also relocate to California where he became an enthusiastic fan of the San Francisco Giants and articulate defender of Barry Bonds. After graduating from Brooklyn College, Jules earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history from the University of California at Los Angeles. After brief teaching stints at the Universities of Virginia and Tennessee, Jules accepted a position in 1978 with the history department at San Francisco State University where he taught until his death in 2008.

His 1977 dissertation, “Workingmen in San Francisco, 1880–1901,” was published by Garland Publishing in 1992 as part of a series of outstanding dissertations.2 The volume represents Jules’s first major investigation of California history. Focusing his attention upon those struggling to earn their daily bread and gain the promise of American life, Jules tells the story of class politics in San Francisco which culminated in the 1901 ascension of the Union Labor Party to control of...


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pp. 213-217
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