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The Negro Leagues

by Walter Dean Myers

Age Range: 9 - 14

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-439-09503-4
Publisher: Scholastic

Biddy Owens, 17, “equipment manager, scorekeeper, errand boy, and sometimes right fielder” for the Birmingham Black Barons, narrates in diary form the twilight time of the Negro Leagues. This solid entry in the “My Name Is America” series must cover a lot of ground—Jim Crow laws, the beginnings of civil-rights unrest, the integration of the major leagues, adolescent yearnings (soft-pedaled), and baseball, baseball, baseball—but Myers (Bad Boy, above, etc.) handles it all with relative ease. There is rather more exposition of life in the South than would likely have appeared in a contemporary journal, but this is not too intrusive and is quickly overshadowed by Biddy’s agreeable voice as he weighs a baseball career (unlikely, given his admittedly limited ability) against going to college. Biddy’s family comes to life as honestly as the historical figures he works with on a day-to-day basis. Baseball legends Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron all make cameo appearances, but the characters who dominate are those whose careers largely ended with the Negro Leagues: the 1948 Black Barons, led by second baseman and manager Piper Davis, whose fierce determination to win carries the team—and the reader—through a grueling pennant race to what was to become the last Negro League World Series. The tale is suffused with pride and affection for these first-class ballplayers who labored as second-class citizens, and with a real wistfulness at the passing of an era. Rich historical context, fully realized characters, great baseball action, and trademark Myers humor combine to make this one a homerun. (Fiction. 9-14)