African American Studies Negro League Baseball
by
Leslie Heaphy
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0082

Introduction

The history of the Negro Leagues has been studied and written about by those in academia but also by many outside the academic world. Journalists, in particular, have contributed greatly to the study of the Negro Leagues. When one studies the Negro Leagues (in existence 1920–1960) it becomes apparent quite quickly that the broader idea of black baseball goes hand in hand with understanding the long and detailed history of African Americans’ participation in America’s national pastime. Much of the scholarship started after 1970 following the publication of the seminal work, Only the Ball Was White (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). Prior to 1970 most of the scholarship surrounding black baseball and the Negro Leagues came primarily from journalists writing about the individual players or teams. One exception to this would be some of the early works written about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, focusing on their efforts to integrate Major League baseball. Another flurry of materials came out coinciding with the death of Robinson and the early election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for Robinson and Satchel Paige, the legendary pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs. The literature that exists today comes from a variety of academic disciplines and is not limited to historians. Articles and books are coming from history, journalism, economics, sports-related fields, sociology, English, and art history. What is lacking are primary source materials and journals devoted exclusively to the Negro Leagues.

General Overviews/Reference Works

Books and articles that provide broad overviews of black baseball and the Negro Leagues are still the largest category of materials being produced. There are a few encyclopedic efforts, but most are more focused on shorter time periods or overviews of broad topics such as the East-West Game or owners as a group. There is only one journal solely devoted to the topic and it comes out annually, published by McFarland and Company. Black Ball is a peer-reviewed publication that covers any topic related to black baseball from the 19th Century to the present day. There are also few collections of primary sources or encyclopedias. Most dissertations or theses written have been published as book length projects. Peterson 1992 is a reprint of his groundbreaking work that jumpstarted Negro League research. His general overview is expanded upon in Heaphy 2003 and Hogan 2006 as both place the story of black baseball in the larger historical context. Ashe 1993 does much the same although his book focuses solely on the game and not what happened off the diamond. Rogosin 2007 continues to examine the broader context of black baseball; his book has come out as a reprint with a nice foreword by Monte Irvin. Lester and Clark 1995 provides the earliest effort at a true statistical work based on what was known at the time. Riley 1994 is an encyclopedia to give a bit of a story to the stats of Lester and Clark. Riley does not include much in the way of statistics. Lester 2002 is the only reference work to date about the East-West classic, providing a narrative of each game plus box scores and statistics as they were reported in the press. The most recent work, Plott 2015, examines the Negro Southern League, which has not received as much attention as the other major Negro Leagues.

  • Ashe, Arthur R., Jr. A Hard Road to Glory, Baseball: The African-American Athlete in Baseball. New York: Warner Books, 1993.

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    Arthur Ashe completed a three-volume examination of all aspects of the African American athlete from 1619 onward. This book focuses solely on the game of baseball and all its players and personnel. Ashe takes the baseball story and places it in a larger historical context for the first time. Hogan 2006 takes a similar approach bringing the story to the present with the most up-to-date scholarship.

  • Heaphy, Leslie. The Negro Leagues, 1860–1960. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing Company, 2003.

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    Dr. Heaphy chronicles the history of black baseball using a large variety of primary sources, including Spanish newspapers. The largest bibliography extant on black baseball is included in the appendices and makes the book invaluable for researchers. There are also updated rosters and season-end statistics.

  • Hogan, Lawrence D. Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African American Baseball. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2006.

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    Dr. Hogan presents a look at the Negro Leagues with on-the-field stories but also places the Leagues in the larger context of American history. The work presented in this book comes from the research study supported by Major League baseball that resulted in seventeen players and owners being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. The book contains many photos not seen before as well as updated statistical information.

  • Lester, Larry. Black Baseball’s National Showcase: The East-West All Star Game, 1933–1953. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

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    Historian Larry Lester has written the only comprehensive account of the Negro Leagues’ annual all-star competition. He provides details on every game as well as actual news accounts. He also includes statistical evidence for all the players in each game. For anyone interested in the best players of the Negro Leagues this is an invaluable resource.

  • Lester, Larry, and Dick Clark, eds. The Negro Leagues Book. Cleveland, OH: Society for American Baseball Research, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    Building on the work done by Robert Peterson, Lester and Clark put together a book of biographical and statistical details unmatched in any other book through the early 21st century. The rosters are a big jump forward from those in Only the Ball Was White. Standings are provided for every league and year as well as including an extensive bibliography. This is another must-have for the bookshelf.

  • Peterson, Robert. Rept. Only the Ball was White. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195076370.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Peterson’s text is the place to start for anyone interested in the history of the Negro Leagues. When this book came out in 1970 (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall) the research and detailed information included in the appendices was new to nearly everyone. Since then much has been added to change and counter some of the research but the book should still be on every researcher’s shelf.

  • Plott, William. The Negro Southern League: A Baseball History, 1920–1951. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company Publishing, 2015.

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    Journalist Bill Plott has written a book that fills a huge gap in Negro League scholarship. There are no other full texts that focus solely on the Negro Southern League (NSL). Not only does Plott give us great stories about players and games but his appendices are worth having alone. He includes rosters for each team, pennant winners, and no-hit games. These cannot currently be found in any other single work.

  • Riley, James A. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1994.

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    James Riley put together a somewhat comprehensive look at 20th-century Negro League players and personnel. There are no sources listed with the individual entries so researchers cannot follow Riley’s research to see how he arrived at birth, death, and other personal information. As with Peterson’s book much has been added and changed but it can be helpful particularly with lesser-known players.

  • Rogosin, Donn. Invisible Men: Life in Baseball’s Negro Leagues. Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 2007.

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    Documentarian Donn Rogosin has written a highly readable overview of the Negro Leagues. He interviewed many surviving players when the book first came out in 1983 (New York: Atheneum) so there are a lot of stories that cannot ever be captured again. This new reprinted volume includes a foreword from Monte Irvin who played with many of the men whose stories are told. Rogosin places the stories in larger historical context. Rosters and stats are not the focus as much as player memories.

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