Playing America's Game Critical Essays

Michael L. Cooper


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Playing America’s Game is a history of baseball and a sociological look at a time when American sport, and indeed much of America itself, was segregated. The author conveys both the excitement of professional baseball and the difficulties encountered by African American athletes in their sport and in their everyday lives. Whether the outstanding members of the Negro Leagues—players such as Josh Gibson, “Satchel” Paige, and “Cool Papa” Bell—were as good as their counterparts in all-white Major League Baseball is something that can never be known for certain, but in both words and images, the author makes a strong case.

The excitement of the sport is conveyed in the first chapter, a discussion of the annual Dream Game, the East-West All-Star Classic. Begun in 1933, the event lasted until after World War II. Even more than the Negro League World Series, the all-star game was able to highlight the stars of the leagues. Prominent African Americans, including boxer Joe Louis, track-and-field champion Jesse Owens, and entertainer Cab Calloway, would be found at the game, among a crowd of fifty thousand persons.

Written for a youthful audience, Playing America’s Game is not a detailed account of the times; the writing is concise. Numerous photographs are included along with the text. These images not only feature the athletes but also illustrate the racism inherent in much of society during this period. The photograph of a sign welcoming “Colored Only” indicates the difficulty that these men...

(The entire section is 632 words.)