An exploration of the changing nature of race in baseball, and the political, social and cultural events driving that change.
During the past few decades, Major League Baseball has seen a marked decline in the number of black players while simultaneously witnessing an explosion of Latin American players. Ruck (History/Univ. of Pittsburgh; The Tropic of Baseball: Baseball in the Dominican Republic, 1991, etc.) delves deeply into baseball history to explore the inextricable link between the two phenomena, starting with the struggles of black and Latin players in the segregated pre–Jackie Robinson era, continuing through the painful but inspirational period of integration and into the apex of African-American participation in the 1970s (when more than a quarter of players were black), before exploring the current state of a game dominated by Latin Americans. Backgrounding the sea change of dynamic on-field progress are cultural developments, including the civil-rights movement in the United States and the struggle for social and economic rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. The author excels in his discussions of the incredible struggle of black and Latin players to find equal footing with their white counterparts, both as ballplayers and as citizens, and when he highlights the ways in which baseball was more than a diversion, but rather an institution that supported black and Latin communities financially and socially. In waxing nostalgic about the deleterious effect of baseball’s decline on the black community or its endangered status as a key piece of community infrastructure in the Latin world, however, Ruck stops short of fully exploring how other activities have helped fill the void. For example, he seems to attribute baseball’s fall-off in the black community almost solely to baseball’s own faults rather than thoroughly investigating the ways in which other sports, like basketball, have superseded it in ways more appealing to modern youth.
Compellingly weaves together disparate threads of racial and sporting history, but fails to tie up all the loose ends.