- Black Ball and the Boardwalk: The Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, 1916–1929 by James E. Overmyer
In this impressively researched book, Overmyer delves deeply into the world of high-level black baseball between 1916 and 1929 by reconstructing the history of the Bacharach Giants, a team formed to publicize an Atlantic City politician (Harry Bacharach) who was only loosely connected to the organization. The Bacharachs got their start in 1916 when black resort-town political operatives raided the roster of the Duval Giants of Jacksonville, Florida, and enticed eight skilled ballplayers to join the Great Migration northward. Organized to promote Bacharach’s mayoral campaign among Atlantic City’s large population of black hospitality workers, the Giants emerged as a high-caliber independent team after World War I. Featuring stars such as Dick Lundy, John Henry Lloyd, Oliver Marcell, Napoleon Cummings, Luther Farrell, and Dick Redding, they competed at black baseball’s highest level throughout the 1920s. In 1923, they became a founding member of the Mutual Association of Eastern Colored Baseball Clubs (popularly known as the Eastern Colored League). As the league’s champion in 1926 and 1927, the Giants competed in [End Page 132] the Negro League World Series, losing both years to the Chicago American Giants of the Negro National League. Financial hard times hit black America in 1927, and the league folded in the middle of the 1928 season. At the same time, poor home attendance began to weaken the Bacharachs. The team traded away its best players and struggled through 1929 in the newly formed American Negro League, but, by the end of the season, both the team and the league had closed their doors.
This book’s most important contributions are summarized in three detailed appendices that provide year-by-year game logs, rosters, and detailed hitting and pitching statistics for the Giants. As a member of the Society for American Baseball Research’s Negro League Researchers and Authors Group, Overmyer is part of the effort to reconstruct, as completely as possible, the statistical record of black baseball. This monograph demonstrates how fruitful these efforts have been. Overmyer poured through long runs of dozens of big-city dailies and regional newspapers to assemble an extensive record of each Giant season. The results (from an average of 109 games per year) provide a detailed statistical summary of the team’s competitive history. Overmyer’s efforts in this regard highlight one of the historian’s most important skills—the ability to document and reconstruct the past in ways that were not fully understood (or, in this case, deemed important enough to recognize) at the time, but that have meaning from the perspective of the present. Devotees of the game can now compare the career of a player like Lundy—one of the original migrants from Jacksonville who became a major star in the 1920s—to other great players, white and black, of this and other eras.
Unfortunately, the book’s impressive newspaper research often fails to translate into an engaging story. In seven chapters, each covering two seasons, Overmyer chronicles the frequent changes in ownership and management, shifting playing sites, evolving scheduling and league affiliations, and numerous roster moves that shaped each Bacharach season. The majority of each chapter, however, is dedicated to short summaries recounting the team’s contests, organized not chronologically but by opponent and level of competition. The result is a formulaic recounting of the pitching and hitting performances that won or lost dozens of games each year. Cumulatively, it overwhelms the reader with minutia while struggling to capture the ebb and flow of each season.
Given the book’s title, readers might expect a story linking the Giants to the raucous history of Atlantic City and the black experience in the early twentieth century—the book only partially reaches this goal. Limited grounding in the secondary literature of black baseball and this era of American history leaves its extensive primary-source research underutilized and...