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  • The Negro Leagues Were Major Leagues: Historians Reappraise Black Baseball ed. by Todd Peterson
  • Amy Essington
Peterson, Todd, ed. The Negro Leagues Were Major Leagues: Historians Reappraise Black Baseball. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019. Pp. 323. Bibliography, index, appendices. $49.95, pb.

The book title summarizes the focus of the fifteen chapters authored by historians and researchers of baseball history: did the players of the Negro Leagues perform on a Major League level? Statistics from Negro League games can never fully represent the day-to-day realities of the individuals involved. The experience of playing baseball as a person of color in a racist society was never the same as that of a white player. However, to compare the experiences of the players on the field, one must turn to statistics. In this volume, the authors compare players of the Negro Leagues to those of the Major League through an examination of the available statistics.

The content is divided into two parts: "Equality" and "Equity." In the first section, the authors provide evidence in support of the argument that the Negro Leaguers played at a Major League level. Larry Lester, a member of a group who first searched for and collected the statistics of Negro League games, appropriately authors the first chapter, "Baseball Is the Music of Mathematics." As the data were compiled, anomalies became clear. These [End Page 85] anomalies are at the center of the difficulty of comparing the two leagues because the data from the Negro Leagues are incomplete. The researchers compiled more than 14,000 box scores into a database. They compared the batting average, slugging percentage, and earnedrun average for the Eastern Negro Leagues, the Midwestern Negro Leagues, the National League, and the American League from 1920 to 1948. The data were similar and brings Lester to the conclusion that the players in the Negro Leagues were on par with those in the Major Leagues.

The other chapters in this section focus on other aspects of comparing the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues. The topics include a direct comparison of the leagues in a variety of categories, including hitting and pitching totals by Todd Peterson, an evaluation of data from the 1925 season by Richard J. Puerzer, a comparison of the salaries of black players relative to white players pre- and postintegration by Michael Haupert, a discussion of the importance of the Negro National League in moving toward integration by Jeffrey S. Williams, and a summary of the top ten reasons the Negro Leagues should be considered a Major League by Ted Knorr. Each of the chapters offers a mix of facts and opinions that comes with analyzing baseball's past.

The second section, "Equity," includes the efforts to move toward equality by Negro League players, owners, and teams. The players of the Negro Leagues lived in a segregated world, but they also worked for inclusion and equality in society. In the first chapter in this section, "Hotel Resorts and the Emergence of the Black Baseball Professional," James E. Brunson III connects hotel resorts in riverine and maritime communities from Minnesota to Louisiana in the two decades after the Civil War with early black baseball teams. The peripatetic world of black hotel workers allowed them to develop networks and gain experience playing baseball. The nineteenth century also saw the successes of the Cuban Giants, as discussed by Tony Kissel. Robert Cottrell outlines the importance of Rube Foster, a Negro League player, manager, and league official who challenged the status quo in the early twentieth century. In a shorter chapter, Pete Gordan presents another individual, John Wesley Donaldson, a pitcher with more than 400 wins in a thirty-year career. Thomas Aiello investigates baseball in Atlanta from the 1930s to the 1970s, comparing the path of Atlanta Black Crackers as a presage for the Atlanta Braves. The topics move into and beyond integration. In "Changing the Way They Do Business," Michael Lomax describes the pre-Dodger career of Jackie Robinson and the period of change for organized ball. The last two chapters include the challenges in recognizing the legacy of Negro League teams. Philip J. Lory explores how the segregation on the baseball diamond...


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