Jules Tygiel, Baseball's Great Experiment:
Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (1983)
Themes in U.S. History, 1914-1945
- Jules Tygiel's Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (1983) examines the life and times of the man who broke the color barrier in American major league professional baseball. In telling this story, Tygiel reconstructs the history of the American Negro Leagues in the first half of the twentieth century. This is a story about segregation in America, both as a limiting experience, and as something which gave rise to varied strategies of resistance and community action. It traces the development of the African-American civil rights movement to its pre-1950s roots, and illuminates some of the reasons why people took part in and resisted it in the later period.
Beyond that, Tygiel's book is also a story about America's love affair with baseball, as something which bound communities together even while it allowed communities to know who was "us," and who was "them." It shows the importance of things many of us might dismiss as "trivial"--such as sporting events--in shaping and demonstrating American cultural history.
- Questions to Think About:
1) How does Tygiel write about the Negro Baseball Leagues? Were you surprised by the story that Tygiel reconstructed about the Negro Leagues when you read it? What does this tell us about how communities cope with exclusion?
2) What sort of a person was Jackie Robinson? How did this influence both his being chosen to break the color barrier, and his behavior once he broke it?
3) What sort of a person was Branch Rickie? Does he seem a rather surprising sort of person to be at the forefront of a social revolution?
4) What does segregation in baseball tell us about segregation in American life, according to Tygiel? What does a society lose when it discriminates? What do individuals within that society lose?
5) I have chosen this book to conclude a course which has had as its theme, to borrow the phrase from Harvey Green, the "uncertainty of everyday American life" from WWI to the end of WWII. How does this book--and the story it tells--shed light on that theme? Is the story of Jackie Robinson a story of uncertainty? In what ways?
Further resources for studying Jackie Robinson and baseball in the 1940s:
- The National Archive's featured document, a letter from Jackie Robinson to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the site, Beyond the Playing Field, which examines Robinson's role in the context of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.
- Avonie Brown's well-illustrated and linked AFRO-Americ@: Jackie Robinson page.
- The Jackie Robinson section of the Negro League Homepage has a slide show about Robinson.
- Although it's earlier than the 1940s, you might want to look at the Library of Congress' Baseball Cards to 1914 site.
- The @BAT site is the Official Site for Major League Baseball, but most of the really cool stuff is at the Negro League Homepage, where you can learn about a lot of great players, including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, James "Cool Papa" Bell, and, of course, Jackie Robinson--and even the women players of the Negro Leagues, like Tony Stone!
- Check out James A. Riley's Black Baseball's Negro Baseball Leagues site; Riley is the Director of Research at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for History 339 (Themes in U.S. History, 1914-1945), The Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Fall Semester 1997. Last modified: Tuesday 2 December 1997