As a child in the mid-sixties and after as a teenager through 1970’s it was baffling to me how one league could dominate another league in the All-Star game. At one point the National league beat the American league like 19 out of 20 games. Statistically, it literally seemed impossible, especially since a pennant winning team who won 100 games, lost 62 games.
Throughout most of the 20th century it was said that baseball was a reflection of the country at the time, and in many ways it was, as were many corporations.
In 1947 the great Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and the Dodgers went on to sign a number of outstanding black ballplayers and after awhile the rest of the National league caught on and started signing the likes Willie Mays, Hank Arron, Bob Gibson, Lou Block. Wille McCovery, Curt Floyd, and the list goes on and on.
Now, there was no secret how great the potential these ballplayers possessed and the Yankees could have signed Wille Mays but past on him simply because he was black and the Yankee front office was racist, as were most of the many American league teams.
Despite cries from the legendary Babe Ruth and Ted Williams that it was a disgrace that more black ballplayers weren’t in the majors it seemed to fall on deaf ears in the American league front officers.
The Kansas City Monarch’s of the Negro league, at certain times, had so many future major league superstars on their team that they could have easily competed against nearly any team in both the American and National league.
As I learned more and more about baseball, a sport I truly love, I came to realize that it wasn’t such a surprise that the National League won so many All-Star games. They possessed the cream of the crop, the very best in either league, and they were mostly black ballplayers who the American league passed on.
David Halberstam, one of my favorite historians, dissects the aging and ailing Yankee team in 1964 and the great black stars the St. Louis Cardinals had on their team…top among them Hall of Framer Bob Gibson and Lou Block.
But, he goes much further than just that series and gives us a disturbing look at the history of baseball. A history fulled with a profusion of racism, and corrupt ownership that tried to steal any penny they could from the players.
He also gives us a portrait of ballplayers like Bob Gibson, Lou Block, Mickey Mantle, and Whitey Ford that shows their competitiveness, humanity, and a willingness to play severely hurt that would sideline 95 percent of the players of today. Baseball fan or not, I strongly recommend this book.