This book made me do something I haven’t done in a long time
Willie’s Boys, The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, the Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend by John Klima; 2009; $25.95; John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, N.J.; 978-0-470-40013-5; Interlibrary Loan from Tigard Public Library; 5/19-5/25
Why did I pick this up? I am old enough to remember Willie playing. The first card I remember pulling out of a pack of baseball cards was a 1968 Topps card of Willie Mays. Also a member of the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons was Artie Wilson, whom I was privileged to spend some time with over the past few years.
What did I learn? The men of the 1948 Black Barons took the very young Willie Mays under their wing. In ’48 Willie was a sophmore in High School and Piper Davis, Artie Wilson, Ed Steele, Johnny Zapp and others showed him how to play and become a man. Willies’ father Cat insisted that Willie finish High School and get his diploma before playing professionally. There were all kinds of back room shenanigans going on in the race to sign Willie. There was all of kinds of racist bullshit also going on and that prevented some exciting teamings. Racism kept Mays from ever playing with either Ted Williams or Joe Dimaggio.
Did I like it? Yes, this is much more than a sports story. This is the story of a team that knows most of them don’t have a future in white man’s ball and they pull together to elevate one of their own so that his future in insured. They even sacrifice at times to make the dream come true for one of their own. The author is able to express the feelings and the dreams of these men. This team is much more than a team, they are family in many ways.
What is with the title of the review? There is a passage on pages 282-283 that so moved me that I came home and read it to my wife, something I haven’t done in a long time.