Raceball by Rob Ruck is a novel that talks about African- American joining baseball, along with the introduction of baseball to the Caribbean and how it became a part of their culture. The novel also talks about the role that baseball had in politics in the Caribbean along with it helping sway society away from segregation in america. Showing just how much of an impact and influence baseball can have.
It was not until after the Civil War that America started to see african americans playing baseball. Due to segregation and the Jim Crow laws, they were forced to play on all black teams. Professional teams were strictly white men only. But Ruck mentions the great importance of the sandlots, where whites and blacks would play against each other. “ Boys often grew up playing ball together before being forced to sort themselves by race inorder to join organized leagues.” (page 34) It was not until the owner of the Chicago American Giants, Rube Foster, helped create the first official black league, The Negro National Leauge, in 1920.
Andrew “Rube” Foster
The Negro National League thrived, especially during the Great Migration. “By the 1920s, the Great Migration had carried well over a million African-Americans north … Chicago and Philadelphia were the top destinations, black communities also grew substantially in Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh.” (page 29) The popularity of the NNL was something that people did not expect, but it became a sense of community and representation for the black community. The NNL helped grow black owned businesses, help black politicians become recognized, baseball was helping reshape African- Americans as seen in America, and Jackie Robinson was the star.
During World War II, there was an introduction of more and more segregation happening in the United States. Along with the rise in popularity of people – both white and black- watching the NNL. The Pitsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays were the two most popular Negro Leagues during this time period. Competing against other teams in the league.
Pittsburgh Crawfords Homestead Grays
In 1942 the Negro National League had made over a million dollars in business. “The Grays won the 1943 Negro National League pennant, part of a nine-year span in which they ruled the league and drew a record 127,690 fans to griffith Stadium. They averaged 11,608 paid attendance per game, far more than the hapless Senators attracted. ” (page 77) African American communities and businesses were now thriving, all due to the popularity of black people playing a so-called “white man’s sport”.
Then history was made on October 29, 1946, when Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play on a professional baseball team. Naturally there was a massive uproar with him joining the major leagues, but Montreal Royals president had Robinsons side when he went to the press and said “Negroes fought alongside whites and shared the foxhole dangers, and they should get a fair trial in baseball.” (page 89). The Pittsburgh Courier wrote “the hopes, aspirations and ambitions of thirteen million black MAericans heaped on his broad, sturdy shoulders,” (page 89). Jackie joining the major leagues was groundbreaking, but it also was the unknowing downfall of the NNL, 1946 would be “black baseball’s last decent season.” (page 91). “They still play and watch with infectious joy. It’s not the same in black America. Black Americans resurrected baseball’s spirit and remade the very way the game was played, but their turn center-stage is over. Though it’s Latino time now.” (page 235). Though integration was leading to the decline of the NNL, it opened many doors for the Latino community to finally enter the playing field.
Baseball was introduced to Cuba in 1878 and it completely changed the game for Cuba and the Caribbean. At first, baseball was mainly played in clubs, it showed a sense of refinement to be able to participate in such an American sport. Knowing how to play started off as a sense of social status. But soon amateur teams started to form all around Havana and games started to be held out in the streets and on made up sandlots. “Most Cubans, ineligible to participate in the private social club teams, gravitated to semi pro and professional baseball organized by factories, sugar mills, and entrepreneurs. So did the fans, who saw players who were more like themselves in socioeconomic background and appearance.” (page 5). Though baseball was firstly seen as class status, Cuba had more middle/lower class citizens, meaning that the main players and popularity came from their ranks instead of the rich.
During the years baseball in Cuba grew, but it was during World War I that its popularity was at its highest, becoming the world’s hub for baseball. With its popularity, Cuba introduced the sport to the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Yucatan. “Baseball, which had played such a strong role gluing together resistance to Spain, now tied Havana to the provinces and Cuba to a larger world.” (page 17). Baseball had helped put Cuba on the map in ways it was not before. Since baseball was introduced to the Caribbean by Cuba, the idea of race was not a problem, unlike it was when being played in the United States.
When it came to baseball in the Caribbean, politics was something that was always in mind. But there were times when a game was just a game, and countries were forgotten. “Before they left in 1924, U.S forces fought intermittently against Dominican guerrillas, built roads, and played baseball. ‘ In the east… the guerrillas were fighting the Marines, but in the capital, we played ball with them…. The North Americans were not trying to win our hearts and minds,… They just wanted to play baseball.’” (page 51). During this time, baseball was one of the few things that was not touched by politics. But then with its popularity growing in Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean, Cuban leaders began to see this sport as a way to show Cubas accomplishments and powers to the rest of the world. Along with Rafeal Trujillo realizing the importance and power baseball had and trying to use it to play politics.
Anytime one of his teams lost, he saw it as a failure. Not just of the teams, but also as an embarrassment to himself and his country. Even sent one of his men to the United States to recruit Satchel Paige, who played on Gus Greenlee’s team, the Pittsburgh Crawfords. In 1938, Paige became the first African American to play in Mexico (page 67). Paige even tried to take several other teammates from the Crawfords down to play on Trujillos team, and there was close to nothing Greenlee could do. Trujillo was the most powerful dictator during this time, finding most of his inspiration from Hitler, governments could do nothing to stop him.
During World War II, many of the world’s top baseball players went down to the Caribbeans during the winter months to play, especially since the salaries there were the highest. “The 1939 season, when a dozen Negro Leaguers played in Mexico, served as a prelude to a significantly larger infusion of African American and Cubban talent in 1940.” (page 68). When Jackie Robinson joined the major leagues it blew doors open for Latin players. Where once the African Americans thrived and took control of the game, is now being replaced by the Latino community.
Ruck does a really good job at diving into the main topics of each chapter. He made sure not only to give the readers background information on the topics but also explaining the importance of baseball and certain players. How baseball impacted a specific group of people (mainly the black and latino communities) and how it helped change their image to the world.
I personally do not have any critiques for this novel. I thought it was very interesting and well written and think that any lover of sports should read this book. It gives a very good insight and understanding of the intense impact baseball had on the African American and Latino community.
An added bonus:
There is a short part in the novel where Ruck talks about women’s roles in baseball. He mentions that during World War II women began to play baseball, it became so popular that they got their own professional league, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in 1943. “The league benefited from liberalized gender roles as the image of a more physical and capable woman temporarily supplanted the traditional idealized notion of woman atop the pedestal – passive, demure, and averse to sweating.” (page 74). This small part of the novel reminded me of Katie Taylor and Rita Liberti’s articles that we read for class. Of how men and society doubted that women were capable of playing a sport that was originally crafted for men. And that when women were able to play it, and play it well, they were absolutely shocked and in awe.