BUCK LEONARD: THE BLACK LOU GEHRIG by Buck Leonard

BUCK LEONARD: THE BLACK LOU GEHRIG

The Hall of Famer's Story in His Own Words
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An intimate memoir of the Negro Leagues by one of its greatest players. Though Riley (The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, not reviewed) gets credit for helping Leonard write his autobiography, this book reads as if it were a verbatim transcription of Leonard's taped reminiscences. That is the book's weakness and its strength. It rambles and lacks consistent narrative structure, but it is also an important memoir of an era in American sports--and in American history--that has only begun to get the attention it deserves. The slick-fielding first baseman was one of the best hitters in the Negro Leagues from 1934 to 1950, and most observers believe that if it weren't for segregation he would have been a superstar in the major leagues. Leonard's memory is encyclopedic: He recalls plays and players from when he was a 13- year-old playing semi-pro ball in 1921 to his last game, at 47, in a Mexican league in 1955. He tells stories of grueling three-games- a-day schedules; of endless travel from one seedy segregated hotel to another; of lousy pay and breached contracts; and of winters spent in menial labor to make ends meet. Lou Gehrig, the white player to whom Leonard is most often compared, had a far more comfortable life, but Leonard expresses no rancor and only mild regret. Nor, at 87, does he romanticize the past. The Negro Leagues were not as good as the major leagues, he writes, and it is virtually impossible to measure black players of the era against their white counterparts. Leonard writes that Gehrig probably was a better player than he was. But he also wishes he'd had the chance to find out. An invaluable historical document and the record of a remarkable life.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-7867-0119-6
Page count: 274pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1994