Ruck, Rob. Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game. Illustrated edition. Beacon Press, 2012.
With his book, Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game, Rob Ruck pulls the curtain back on the history of baseball by explaining the overall impact that integration into Major League Baseball had on black and Latino athletes and their respective communities. Early on, Ruck presents the bizarre fact that the amount of African American players in the MLB have been on the decline. That is why his main argument throughout the book was how the rise of the MLB and the integration that soon followed proved to be devastating for the black community, from the time integration began to the present day.
Ruck focused on integration throughout this book. Not only did he observe the events that transpired beyond the start of the integration, but also what preceded it, such as the Negro leagues. The Negro leagues came to center stage during World War II, as it provided an avenue for African Americans to play baseball in a time that they were disregarded by the major leagues. The leagues would prove to be a huge success among African Americans; however, the leagues would eventually falter once the color barrier was broken in the major leagues. While integration opened the door for black players to be showcased on the biggest stage, it brought consequences for the leagues they were leaving, as the Negro leagues would quickly disappear following the beginning on integration.
Along with the discussion of the Negro leagues, Ruck also dives into baseball in Latin America–especially in Cuba and the Dominican Republic–and how the Caribbean served as the hotspot for baseball. Like African Americans did with the Negro leagues, Latinos challenged the MLB as it sought to bring more Latino players into the United States to play baseball there instead. This is where Ruck brings politics into the mix, as he went on to explain how the U.S. strategically used the game of baseball across the Caribbean to poach these players from the islands and fulfill their own needs back home by supplementing the MLB with that talent.
I must say that I thought Ruck’s engagement of the topic throughout the book was very efficient from a reader’s perspective. His presentation of his main argument and the evidence that followed was able to keep me engaged with the book from the first page to the last page. What really hooked me early on was the book’s introduction. I feel what worked from that introduction was how he used the 2009 World Series–an example of a sport event that was likely experienced by young readers–to lead into his thesis and tie into his main argument for his book.
As I mentioned in my initial reaction to Raceball, all that I knew about integration came from understanding Jackie Robinson. Even then, I only had a brief understanding of his impact towards breaking the color barrier. Fortunately, Ruck gives an extensive overview of Jackie Robinson’s playing career and uses Robinson as an example of how black and Latino players were treated as they arrived in the MLB. I thought this book did a great job at expanding on Robinson and explaining how he was the spark that opened the gateway for black and Latino players to make their way into the major league.
As a reader, I feel more comfortable when the book is laid out in chronological order, as I find it to be easier to read that way; this, however, was not accomplished by Ruck and I believe this is where book falls flat in. Though it is expected for this book–which is looking back at key points in the history of baseball–to jump around in time, I still feel like Ruck could have done better at laying out the order of the chapters, so that it is not jumping ahead and then back in time, as it did midway through the book.
Whether it be someone who has been a fan of the sport their entire time or one who is just starting to follow and learn about it, Raceball is an absolute must-read for all baseball fans. As one who is more of a fan in the midst of understanding the game itself, I have not really took it upon myself to observe its history. But this book provided a great opportunity as a way to educate myself of baseball’s roots and how the game came to be as it is in modern times. Though, I do think this book could reach out to a broader audience than just the baseball community. I believe this is a good book for readers looking to extend their knowledge of early sports history on the basis of race, especially due to the book’s closer look at Jackie Robinson’s impact and the extensive overview of the Negro leagues and why they played a pivotal role for African Americans during segregation. Overall, I thought this was a fantastic read from beginning to end. I believe I am wrapping up on this reading with my mind greatly expanded on how exactly the game of baseball has been built up to today and understanding what the MLB integration meant for blacks and Latinos, for better and for worse.