- Bush League Boys: The Postwar Legends of Baseball in the American Southwest by Toby Smith
In the introduction to his work Bush League Boys: The Postwar Legends of Baseball in the American Southwest, Albuquerque-based author Toby Smith argues that the action and [End Page 452] context of the four leagues he covers, the West Texas–New Mexico, the Southwestern, the Longhorn, and the Sophomore, were “a melting pot of life, which for a writer is pure platinum” (xiv). In nine chapters, Smith provides readers with a discussion of much of the day-to-day minutia concerning these associations. He also adds a brief tenth chapter that details why the leagues eventually failed by the early 1960s.
Some of the chapters are quite interesting and have value to historians, such as Chapter 6, “Invisible Men,” which deals with the circumstances of African American players in these leagues. Other sections of the work, unfortunately, such as Chapter 1, “Joe and Bob” (about home-run hitters extraordinaire Joe Bauman and Bob Crues), and Chapter 4, “Base Brawls,” are less vital and fall mostly into the category of loving tributes and reminiscences. Overall, the book reads unevenly with significant issues discussed in spots and little more than filler elsewhere.
The highlight of the work is, without a doubt, the chapter on the experiences of early African American players in these leagues, with the story of Pittsburgh Pirates’ great Willie Stargell front and center, particularly his terrible experiences in Plainview, Texas, where he was threatened by at least one bigoted individual with a shotgun. Smith goes on to describe other incidents, such as the reaction by many whites to a “blacks-only” tryout by one league team in Lamesa, Texas, in 1951. These incidents demonstrate that, even though the majors had begun the slow path to integration in the late 1940s, much remained to be done to incorporate this segment of the national population into the lower ranks of professional baseball. In addition to the stories of Stargell and other African Americans, Smith provides some passing documentation concerning how Latinos (mostly Cubans—both light and darker skinned) fared in these leagues. In the bibliography to this work, Smith cites Bruce Adelson’s fine 1999 study concerning the desegregation of minor league baseball in the South. If Smith had better utilized the model presented therein, this chapter (and book) would have been better served. A similar argument can be made concerning Burgos’s study on Latino ballplayers (which is not noted in the bibliography). In a later chapter (8, “Diamond Ritual”), Smith also discusses some direct attempts by teams to attract African American fans to the ballparks (157). Other topics covered in the work deal with tragedy on the diamond via the deaths of ballplayers from a beaning, automobile accidents, and the impact of a tornado on a season in San Angelo, Texas.
One issue that did appear throughout the book that is concerning is the utilization of various (at least two, sometimes more) oral histories at the conclusion of each chapter. While in most cases there are references to the main subject matter in these items, for many, the discussions tend sometimes to wander far afield from the principal issue covered. For example, one of the interviews presented after the “Invisible Men” section discusses the topic of African Americans in the Plainview area only tangentially. This pattern is repeated with other interviews in other chapters.
Overall, Toby Smith’s effort in this work is uneven. He covers material that can certainly shed light on historical circumstances concerning the economic, historical, and racial history of the post–World War II Southwest. Unfortunately, he does little to contextualize most of his research. When he uses oral-history interviews to provide support for his assertions, they often go askew. There is no doubt that the materials provided here are of value and shed light on significant aspects of daily life and baseball in the region. The main concern [End Page 453] of...