The author of Blackout: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Spring Training (2004) returns with a comprehensive account of how journalists—black and white—covered the emerging story of the integration of Major League Baseball.
Lamb (Media Studies/Coll. of Charleston) brings all his scholarly tools to the project—most notably, a fierce desire to locate every source, document every significant utterance by a baseball official, player, writer, editor and remain as disinterested as possible in a discussion of a time that reeked with racism and moral cowardice. Emerging as heroes are the black press and the American Communists, whose Daily Worker worked tirelessly to end baseball’s apartheid. As Lamb notes, there had been black players in professional baseball in the late 19th century, but that soon ended. Owners drew a color line in the sand (there was no written proscription), then spent decades denying there was such a line, spewing out disingenuous excuses about the abilities of blacks, the fear of race riots and the problem of having black players train in the Jim Crow South. Consequently, black stars like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and countless others labored in obscurity virtually their entire careers. Lamb begins in 1933 at baseball’s winter meetings—and with the minstrel show that was part of their entertainment. Near the end is an account of another owners’ meeting in 1946—after the signing of Jackie Robinson—and again the entertainment included racist skits. The author’s narrative includes numerous bad guys: owners Clark Griffith, Tom Yawkey and Larry MacPhail, and a laundry list of white journalists, most ignoble of whom was Alfred Henry Spink, who, via his Sporting News, lobbied hard against integration—then picked Robinson as the Rookie of the Year.
Although the paragraphs are sometimes thick with detail, the author has documented a story of immense cultural importance.