- Bobo Newsome: Baseball’s Traveling Man by Jim McConnell
The history of baseball is filled with colorful personalities, from Dizzy Dean and Yogi Berra to “Spaceman” Bill Lee and Bryce Harper, but few rival pitcher Bobo Newsome’s circus-like, almost three-decade career in organized baseball. From the time he signed his first professional contract in 1928 to the time he hung up his cleats in 1953, Newsome battled the establishment to play baseball on his terms and by his rules. He was “the ultimate outsider” (57), writes Jim McConnell in his enjoyable and engrossing biography of the pitcher who was determined to make baseball fun.
A three-time twenty-game winner and four-time All-Star, Newsome owned a heater and a wicked slider that helped him stick around for twenty years in the majors, log in [End Page 118] excess of 3,700 innings, and win 211 games. He also changed teams in midseason a record nine times; was traded, sold, or released a record seventeen times; and lost 222 times for nine different teams in an era when there were only sixteen clubs. Newsome “was talented enough,” suggests McConnell, “but a sufficient pain in the ass to be quickly unwanted” (3). At a time when players were expected to toe the company line and keep quiet, Newsome spoke his mind about his managers, owners, and teammates, often to his own detriment. For Newsome, there was an “I” in team; baseball was the pitcher’s trade to make money.
Born in rural South Carolina, Louis Norman Newsome might have cultivated a down-home, country-boy persona, but he was anything but a fool, as his moniker might have suggested. According to McConnell, no one is sure about the origins of the nickname. As a young player, Newsome preferred “Buck.” He supposedly had difficulty remembering names and often referred to people around him as Bobo and eventually assumed the appellation himself. Like the “Babe” and “Dizzy,” Bobo needed no surname to be recognized by baseball fans.
McConnell’s narrative masterfully captures the zeitgeist of an era that stands in stark contrast to the brand-oriented, politically correct, and corporate world of baseball today. Newsome emerges as a figure whose personality and shenanigans would now make him a public relations’ nightmare, yet stories about him will leave readers shaking their heads or laughing. A famous practical joker, he once placed an alligator in what he thought was a teammate’s bed; however, it turned out to be his manager’s room. The burly pitcher was traded several months after that incident. Newsome also loved fancy cars (he once owned a personalized Cadillac with a built-in bar) and whiskey and almost died coupling those two. In 1932, before he had notched his first big-league victory, he was involved in a serious wreck on a moonshine run in South Carolina. Unable to participate in spring training, he concocted an ever-evolving story about being kicked by a mule. Story telling became one of Newsome’s biggest assets. He was a manipulator of the media in a never-ending publicity stunt that grated on his skippers but endeared him to fans and teammates everywhere he played. When Leo Durocher suspended him from the Dodgers in 1943, the team rose in mutiny and threatened not to play. Order was restored only when general manager Branch Rickey intervened and Newsome was reinstated. Through everything, Newsome never lost his sense of humor and endless supply of quotable phrases, despite playing primarily for some of the worst teams in baseball. “I had more terms in Washington than FDR” (67), once bragged Newsome about his five separate stints with the Senators in the nation’s capital. Upon retiring, Newsome struck a more somber tone, perhaps recognizing that the game, and society, had indeed changed. “[T]here ain’t gonna be any more Bobos,” he said. “I’m the last of the breed” (218).
A welcomed contribution to the scholarship on baseball history, Bobo Newsome: Baseball’s...