- The Life and Career of Jules Tygiel
I Have been asked to open this forum by writing about the career of Jules Tygiel. This will be both an easy and difficult task. Easy, because I met Jules early in both of our careers and had many personal and professional contacts with him over thirty plus years and in that time grew to admire him as a person and as a historian. Difficult, because his achievements are legion and it is difficult to decide what to highlight and what to leave out of the essay.
I first met Jules at meetings of the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH). The first time I was aware of the quality of his work was hearing a paper delivered for him at a regional meeting of the Popular Culture Association. I think there were about six people in the room, none being Jules. The paper was read by the moderator, and still its quality was unmistakable.
What many do not know is just how close the profession came to losing Jules’s great talent and his superb contributions to sport history and to the profession itself. I remember talking with him just before he went off to take a one-year position at San Francisco State in the fall of 1978. He had been through a series of temporary appointments in what then was a brutal job market. He told me that if the position at SFSU did not work into a permanent job, he was prepared to leave the academy. [End Page 195]
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Jules was among the first of those who came out of Ph.D. programs in history departments with a specialization in sport history. Meeting him at that point in his and my careers was important to both of us. Jules was also among the first to have some considerable commercial success with a book on sport history, that being Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, published by Oxford University Press in 1983, and in my view still an excellent model for anyone in the field to follow. The research is meticulous, the human story and its historical significance are fully conveyed, its evocation of time and place is superb, all of which is due to the quality of the prose. Its power can be measured by the fact that it has been continuously in print since it was first published, from the awards it gathered, and from the power it exerts on students especially those who have little interest in history or in baseball.
Baseball’s Great Experiment was a pioneering work in several respects. It was one of the first works of serious history on baseball. It was the first to grapple with the full ramifications of the desegregation of baseball for the players, the Negro Leagues, the major leagues, and for America. The significance of Jules’s stellar work lies in the stories it tells, starting with the Jackie Robinson saga. Certainly this had been done before, by Jackie Robinson himself, and by others. What Jules adds to the story is its historical context and its historical significance. He captures the essence of post-war America and the crucible of race that was about to be addressed, as well as Robinson’s significant role within this watershed moment in American history. It tells the human story of Jackie and Rachel Robinson as they came face to face with the realities of race in America.
Jules also tells the human story of hundreds of other players from the Negro Leagues whose careers were shaped by racism, and the frustrations of those for whom the opening of the gates to Major League Baseball came too late. Jules was able to widen the story of desegregation, demonstrating that the story of baseball mirrored the story of America in the postwar years. The process in baseball was slow and faced resistance in many quarters, making those who challenged...