Crossing the Line

They came to the big leagues from sharecropping towns in northern Florida and the steel mills of Pennsylvania; from Mobile, Alabama (Hank Aaron); and McClymonds High School in Oakland, California (Frank Robinson, Curt Flood, Vada Pinson, Willie Tasby). They came from Panama, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. The 116 black baseball players profiled in this—for the fan—indispensable book did what no one of their race had done before. They played baseball in the “Big Show” during the twelve years it took before all teams numbered African Americans on their rosters.

They played as few as four games (catcher Sam Hairston), pitched as little as three innings (Jay Heard) and as much as twenty-two years (Willie Mays) and 251 victories (Bob Gibson). Eleven are enshrined at the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown: Mays, Aaron, Gibson, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Monte Irvin, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Willie McCovey, and Billy Williams. Only two of the 116—Frank Robinson and Felipe Alou—eventually rose to manage in the majors. Bill White served as National League president.

Many of their stories are legendary. In 1948, when Cleveland Manager Lou Boudreau brought in a tall, skinny, forty-two-year-old pitcher with an estimated 2,500 games under his belt with virtually every Negro league, Satchel Paige, the Babe Ruth of pitchers, brought legend to life. Ernie Banks, perhaps the greatest power-hitting shortstop in baseball history...

(The entire section is 411 words.)