- A Calculus of Color: The Integration of Baseball’s American League by Robert Kuhn McGregor
While the narrative integration of major league baseball is often linked to Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, historian Robert McGregor examines the integration of the American League in A Calculus of Color. He chronicles the rise and fall of the Negro baseball leagues, as well as the first American League team to sign black players, the Cleveland Indians (spearheaded by Bill Veeck) to the “final two” (162), the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox. Due to U.S. involvement in World War II, many players from the major and Negro leagues were part of the war effort. As a result, teams had to develop ways to address the player shortage. Thus, the process to integrate major league baseball, or “Organized Baseball” as the author calls professional baseball, began [End Page 129] in 1945, albeit a sham. At the time, the Boston Red Sox worked out three Negro League players for the sake of appeasing the black press and communists who pushed for black players to join the majors.
Different from most texts on the integration of professional baseball, McGregor focuses on Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians, who was at the forefront of how American League teams integrated their respective squads. Branch Rickey has overshadowed Veeck because of his ability to get Jackie Robinson to play first with the Dodgers. As the author explores, their approaches to integration were different. For one, Rickey sent Jackie Robinson to the minor leagues for a year-and-a-half to prepare team and player for his arrival in 1947. Twelve weeks later, Veeck hurriedly signed Larry Doby to the Indians, debuting him with the team a few days later. Second, the book illustrates how differently Rickey and Veeck felt about compensating owners from the Negro leagues for their players. Unlike Rickey, Veeck felt it necessary to negotiate with Negro League teams for the rights to black players and compensate the teams, a process other American League teams would follow. McGregor also discusses how these transactions led to the demise of the Negro leagues.
McGregor argues, “Baseball was a private enterprise where profit margins spelled survival and ticket sales trumped all other considerations” (77). Such sentiment dictated how the majority of major league teams approached the notion of integration. While Rickey and Veeck added players like Robinson, Doby, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, and Satchel Paige, other owners resisted for fear their teams and fans would respond negatively. There were other reasons major league brass resisted bringing blacks into the fold as players. McGregor examines how owners argued that players from the Negro leagues were too old, lacked the proper skill, and even played the game differently than whites. Despite the efforts of various teams to bring black players to their clubs, there was groundwork teams failed to heed to ensure successful transitions—in particular, helping players (black and white), managers, coaches, and front-office personnel gain an understanding of the moment, as integration was no easy task. The majors had long been a sport for white males, and the move for integration greatly impacted that norm.
The experiences of black players who integrated the other teams in the American League like Willard Brown, Hank Thompson, Bob Trice, and Vic Power are also explored. This is one of the book’s greatest contributions. In particular, the discussion around how black players, those native to the United States and those born outside the country, related to each other is pivotal to understanding how black players dealt with integration intraracially. For example, in 1950, Harry Simpson of the Indians maintained that fellow black teammate Minnie Minoso was not technically black because he was from the Caribbean. Internal racial politics also impacted fans. The author considers how Detroit Tigers management signed Ozzie Virgil from the Dominican Republic. He vowed that he was not “Negro” but “Dominican” (167). Black fans voiced their disdain toward this...