The author of The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1973) and a biography of Josh Gibson chronicles not just the rise and demise of the Negro Leagues, but the history of African-Americans in baseball from the post-Civil War era to the 1950s. He picks a handful of stars to profile and paints an engaging picture of the wild and wonderful style and variety of black pro and semipro ball -- played by barnstormers and clowns, as well as the all-star teams that regularly faced (and frequently beat) white major leaguers. After pointing an accusatory finger at Cap Anson, the player/owner who was most influential in creating the ""Gentlemen's Agreement"" that excluded blacks from the Major Leagues, and at Commissioner Landis, who perpetuated it, Brashler perceptively analyzes the interlocking web of factors and circumstances that finally dismantled that barrier and pays fine tribute to the talent and character of Jackie Robinson. On the other hand, though he bases some of his narrative on interviews with Cool Papa Bell and other Negro Leaguers, their insights are not much in evidence aside from scattered, colorful sound bites, and his coverage of baseball in Latin America is sketchy. Several recent books, most notably Gardner and Shortelle's The Forgotten Players: The Story of Black Baseball in America (1993) and the McKissacks' Black Diamond.' The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues (1994) cover the same territory in equivalent detail. Sturdy but supplementary. Index; bibliography; occasional small b&w photos.