A PRIMER ON THE best sports-book reads for those summer days on the beach or the back porch:
COLOR BLIND: THE FORGOTTEN TEAM THAT BROKE BASEBALLS COLOR LINE.
By Tom Dunkel
Atlantic Monthly Press
345 pages, $25
We all know of Jackie Robinson breaking the Major League Baseball color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. What baseball fans do not know is how that color line was broken in semi-pro baseball 12 years earlier in, of all places, Bismarck, N.D.
Dunkels recounting of the late 1930s barnstorming team based out of Bismarck is a compelling tale of the black and white ballplayers who were first accepted as teammates and friends.
Before the minor leagues were established as farm teams for the major leagues, independent teams operated around the country. It was called semi-pro baseball because local teams fielded players from the surrounding area and bid for the services of players from elsewhere.
Bismarck team owner Neil Churchill sought the best players from the Negro Leagues, offering higher salaries and better living conditions. One player he brought to Bismarck annually was legendary pitcher Satchel Paige.
Much of the book traces the travails of Paige and his many quirks on and off the pitching mound. The books climax is Paige and Bismarcks charge to the first national semi-pro championship in Wichita, Kan.
The book is as much a tale about race relations in the 1930s as it is a baseball odyssey in the high plains of the Midwest.
TAPE, I-C-E AND SOUND ADVICE: LIFE LESSONS FROM A HALL OF FAME ATHLETIC TRAINER
By Rod Walters
Morgan James Publishing
274 pages, $19.95
The former, longtime South Carolina head athletic trainer takes you behind the scenes, primarily through his dealings with football and mens basketball athletes and coaches.
The book is heavy on Walters extensive and distinguished career as an athletics trainer at Lenoir-Rhyne, Appalachian State and USC. He traces the development of the field of athletics training, from understaffed operations when he started to much larger staffs of highly skilled professionals today.
Walters provides insight into the unique relationships that often develop between an athlete and a trainer as well as intriguing looks at the personalities of coaches such as Bobby Cremins and Lou Holtz.
The book also includes tips from Walters for treating injuries.
SOUTHERN LEAGUE: A TRUE STORY OF BASEBALL, CIVIL RIGHTS, AND THE DEEP SOUTHS MOST COMPELLING PENNANT RACE
By Larry Colton
Grand Central Publishing
336 pages, $27.99
Another excellent recounting of race relations in baseball, this book is based in Birmingham, Ala., and the subject is the 1964 Birmingham Barons season in the Double-A Southern League.
Birmingham was considered among the most segregated and racially charged cities in the South throughout the 1960s. It is no surprise that the first steps toward integration were taken in baseball, and the 64 Barons were the first Birmingham team to allow blacks and whites to play as teammates.
The Barons were a farm team for the Kansas City Athletics, whose owner was the gregarious and bold Charlie Finley. He had no qualms about sending his best players black and white to Birmingham. Thus, highly touted shortstop Bert Campaneris and hot-shot pitcher Johnny Blue Moon Odom landed in Birmingham as rising stars.
The book centers on the tale of two blacks Odom and Tommie Reynolds and two whites Hoss Bowlin and Paul Lindblad as well as manager Haywood Sullivan.
The book moves well through the strange times for baseball players on an integrated team in a largely segregated region. It bogs down sometimes in the season itself and the baseball played on the field, both of which serve as backdrops to the real story of race relations in Birmingham.
BASEBALL AS A ROAD TO GOD: SEEING BEYOND THE GAME
By John Sexton
242 pages, $27.50
We often hear in athletics about how God was smiling on one team or another in competition. Sexton does not make that case in this book, but he does believe there is a correlation between having faith in God and having a belief in ones self and a team in its ability to overcome adversity.
Sexton is president of New York University and long has taught a course that uses baseball to illustrate the elements of a spiritual life.
The book features many teams throughout baseball history that overcame long odds to win championships. He writes of the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and how the fear and doubt of that team are similar characteristics of religion.
Sexton contends throughout that we can learn through baseball to experience life more deeply.