BASEBALL'S GREAT EXPERIMENT: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy by Jules Tygiel

BASEBALL'S GREAT EXPERIMENT: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers fan who grew up to be a historian (San Francisco State U.) has written the Jackie Robinson story as the history of baseball integration--and considering the tediousness of many such endeavors, the result is not bad. For all Tygiel's talk of ""the dynamics of desegregation,"" most of what he has to show and tell is old-hat: WW II attitudes, plus the economics, were pushing organized baseball away from its 50-year exclusion of blacks when, in 1945-46, Dodgers general-manager Branch Rickey signed (and primed) Robinson to break the barrier; ""Robinson's aggressive play, his innate sense of dignity, and his outward composure under extreme duress captivated the Ameican people""; the Dodgers snatched Roy Campanella, and other major league teams signed other qualified blacks. More freshly, however, Tygiel persuasively claims that neither Rickey nor Robinson was indispensable to the breakthrough: Cleveland's Bill Veeck, for one, was ready to move; Campanella, among others, could have taken the gulf. In fact, says Tygiel, ""Rickey's. . . presentation of the Robinson case as an 'experiment' actually relieved the pressure on other owners,"" while his ""elaborate and unnecessary"" preparations led to ""enormous pressure upon Robinson, his standard bearer."" On this issue, then, the book firmly scores--and it has two other assets: information on black baseballers, before and after Robinson--from the rise to the demise of the Negro Leagues, from their ouster from white baseball (ca. 1890) to their general acceptance (by the mid-1950s); and Tygiel's reliance, throughout, on black sportswriters--and the Sporting News--instead of the usual dependence on mainstream sources. Somewhat less than persuasive, however, is his assignment of a major role in bringing about baseball integration not only to those sportswriters but also to the Communist Party (whose agitation he deems ""sincere"")--though he quotes one of the foremost black sportswriters as calling CP efforts inimical. Close up, indeed, the book falters for lack of fine shadings--in the writing, the characterizations, the analysis. And as an account of the central episode, it is bested by a number of books--most recently, Harvey Frommer's Rickey and Robinson (1982). But for blacks' national baseball through Jim Crow to Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, this is the place to dig in.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1983
ISBN: 0195339282
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press