Thorn: James Brunson’s monumental new history on black baseball in the 19th century

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on April 15, 2019:

I think it is fitting to post this to Our Game on April 15, the day that Jackie Robinson set foot on Ebbets Field to break Baseball’s long-standing color line. My friend James Brunson worked on this volume for years, creating a brand-new picture of black baseball in the 19th century, which even the presumed experts had thought to have begun with the Cuban Giants of the Argyle Hotel at Babylon, Long Island. The history is earlier, broader, and deeper.

At nearly 1400 pages, this three-volume work is available through Amazon, however briefly, at an amazing half-off list price:

A feature film, titled 42, about Jackie Robinson’s breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947, enjoyed much success in 2013. The screenwriters got the story right, largely. However, a film will take dramatic license that the written word may not. Like the newsman in the great western picture The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the director of 42 must say, “This is baseball, folks. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

To a greater extent than Hollywood, a historian is obliged to follow the trail of fact. It diminishes Rickey and Robinson not one bit to think about all those black players of long ago who built the bridge, as my friend Buck O’Neil said, that Jackie Robinson walked across. James Brunson knows that. The stars of the Negro Leagues are now ensconced in Baseball’s Hall of Fame, but the bridge to Cooperstown was built by men who barbered and bootblacked, waited table and laundered linens, men who played baseball whenever they could.

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Originally published: April 15, 2019. Last Updated: April 15, 2019.