The Brooklyn Dodgers are one of baseball’s most storied teams, and there are three new books out chronicling what made them so special: Jackie Robinson: An Integrated Life by J. Christopher Schutz; Handsome Random Jackson: Accidental Big Leaguer by Ransom Jackson, Jr., with Gaylon H. White; and Hugh Casey: The Triumphs and Tragedies of a Brooklyn Dodger by Lyle Spatz.
Jackie Robinson: An Integrated Life
By J. Christopher Schutz
Rowman & Littlefield; hardcover, $40.00; paperback, $19.95
Jackie Robinson is one of the most consequential, heroic Americans in history, as he broke baseball’s color line in 1947.
Robinson’s story is not only a compelling drama of heroism, but also as a template of the African American freedom struggle. A towering athletic talent, Robinson’s greater impact was on preparing the way for the civil rights reform wave following World War II and his story has always been far more complex than the public perception has allowed.
Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey famously told the young Robinson that he was “looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”
J. Christopher Schutz writes that the real Robinson was more defiant and combative than simply the “turn the other cheek” compliant “credit to his race.” The triumph of Robinson’s inclusion in the white Major Leagues, which presaged blacks’ later inclusion in the broader society, also included the slow demise of black-owned commercial enterprise in the Negro Leagues, which likewise presaged the unrecoverable loss of other important black institutions after civil rights gains.
“His success has been trumpeted as ‘our success,’ a show of just how open America can be to African Americans,” writes Schultz. “And Robinson, the story goes, did it the ‘right way’: his Christlike willingness to bear modestly the sins of white America without striking back won it over and taught us all a lesson in humility and bravery.
“The story, entombed in its comforting simplicity, reassures in just the same way as oversimplified portrayals told of Dr. King (which omit King’s challenges to the Vietnam War and unfettered capitalism). This defanged, sunnier depiction of the baseball great serves as white America’s antidote to its equally simplistic memory of angry blacks dominating the streets and headlines of the late 1960s.
“The truth is that such a quiet, yielding Robinson might never have made it to the Major Leagues. From his earliest years, he was a determined, feisty, unrepentant young black man unwilling to scrape and bow to reach the top. His path to the Major Leagues might have been cut short in a youth characterized by dalliances with a street gang and tangles with police. The privileges accorded him as a local sports phenomenon saved him on more than one occasion from jail time. Even his athletic teammates could find him prickly and difficult and overly competitive.
“His unwillingness to accept whites’ limitations was the very ingredient that allowed him to succeed in the decidedly harsh world he entered alone. He did manage to endure the full brunt of white supremacy without returning it, but this image of the popular black baseball star gave way to his later years in the game as a combative player who rankled – so much so that one notable article’s title queried ‘Why They Boo Jackie Robinson.'”
Robinson was one of the key figures at the crossroads of baseball and civil rights histories, and Schutz provides a cohesive exploration of the man and the times that made him great.
Handsome Random Jackson: Accidental Big Leaguer
By Ransom Jackson, Jr., with Gaylon H. White
Rowman & Littlefield; hardcover, $35.00; eBook $33.00
Millions of American kids like Ransom Jackson dream of playing major league baseball or in a college bowl game on New Year’s Day.
Jackson grew up in Arkansas during the Great Depression, and he would go on to play in back-to-back Cotton Bowls for two different colleges—the first and only player to do so—and he would go on to play professional baseball, known as “Handsome Ransom,” all-star third baseman for the Chicago Cubs.
He also got to be a part of history, as he saw Ernie Banks became the first African American to play for the Cubs in 1953, and was in Brooklyn the year Jackie Robinson retired, 1956.
Jackson owns a special place in Dodgers history, as he was the last Brooklyn player to hit a home run in 1957 before the team moved to Los Angeles.
Jackson’s major league career spanned the entire decade of the 1950s, a time when the landscape of baseball changed dramatically as teams moved to new cities, built new stadiums, and integrated their rosters.
Handsome Ransom Jackson: Accidental Big Leaguer is an autobiographical account of his fascinating journey from his boyhood days in Arkansas to playing in the major leagues, where many of his teammates were future Hall of Famers.
This is a fun and nostalgic visit to the past, as Jackson shares such memories as spring training with the Cubs on Catalina Island, befriending a Mafia boss in Massachusetts, batting behind Hank Sauer and getting knocked down by pitchers retaliating for Sauer’s home runs, rooming with Don Drysdale on an historic baseball tour of Japan, and sitting in the dugout in Los Angles with Dodger teammates looking for movie stars in the stands.
In addition, Jackson remembers being brought to Brooklyn to take over third base for the aging Jackie Robinson.
“How do you replace a baseball legend and civil rights pioneer – the only man in history to have his number, forty-two, retired by every team in the majors?” writes Jackson. “The answer: you don’t.
“The Brooklyn Dodgers acquired me from the Chicago Cubs to succeed Jackie Robinson, the greatest all-round baseball player ever.
“‘Yes, Jackson will play third base,’ Dodgers vice president Bavasi said in announcing the deal. ‘It’s the only position he plays. And no, we didn’t get him for bench duty.’
“I was thirty years old at the time – seven years younger than Jackie.
“I was in college in 1947 when Jackie became the first African American to play in the big leagues.
“I was in the minors in 1949 when he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, leading the league with a .342 batting average and thirty-seven stolen bases.
“I was so absorbed in my own career that when I reached the majors in 1950, I had yet to appreciate Jackie’s greatness. He was just another player I had to compete against.
“There are a few guys that come along that have everything. Jackie was one of them. He was the ultimate ballplayer, one that transcends all of the statistics used to measure performance. On all-time lists, his career batting average of .311 barely ranks in the top hundred while nearly 350 players have topped his 197 stolen bases. The most home runs he hit in a single season was nineteen.
“What Jackie did better than anybody else was beat you. And he could do it with a glove or bat as well as his throwing arm, legs, and head.”
While many of the players from the 1950s are no longer with us, Jackson’s invaluable and timeless stories celebrate the greatness of the game and preserve a sliver of history from the heart of the golden age of baseball.
Featuring many never-before-published photographs from Ransom Jackson’s personal collection, including photos of Dodger and Cub greats Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Ralph Kiner, and Ernie Banks, Handsome Ransom Jackson will take the reader back to an era when baseball was truly the national pastime.
This is a book that people who appreciate baseball’s rich history will cherish.
Hugh Casey: The Triumphs and Tragedies of a Brooklyn Dodger
By Lyle Spatz
Rowman & Littlefield; hardcover, $40.00; eBook, $38.00
Hugh Casey was one of the most colorful members of the iconic Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940s, when they became one of the most successful teams in baseball.
In Hugh Casey: The Triumphs and Tragedies of a Brooklyn Dodger, Lyle Spatz details Casey’s life and career, from his birth in Atlanta to his suicide in that same city thirty-seven years later.
Spatz writes of his time with the Dodgers, “He is a link between two of that team’s most storied members, both named Robinson. Wilbert Robinson, then retired but formerly the manager of the pennant winning 1916 and 1920 Brooklyn clubs, discovered him. And in 1947, he was one of the many Southern-born players on the Dodgers who welcomed Jackie Robinson with mixed emotions, as the first black man to play in the major leagues in the twentieth century.
“Casey, an unabashed son of the South, was an outstanding pitcher for the Dodgers in the 1940s. That famed and colorful team engaged in four great pennant races, the first National League playoff series, and two exciting World Series. Casey was very much a part of all those teams, peopled by outsized personalities, including executives Larry MacPhail and Branch Rickey; manager Leo Durocher; and players like Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Dixie Walker, Eddie Stanky, Joe Medwick, Dolph Camilli, and Pete Reiser. Along the way, he helped redefine the role of the relief pitcher and threw the most famous ‘pitch that got away’ in World Series history.”
Spatz looks at the impact of Casey’s career, such as how he helped to redefine the role of the relief pitcher, twice leading the National League in saves and twice finishing second—if saves had been an official statistic during his lifetime. There also is the memorable brawls and beanball wars in which Casey was frequently involved.
While this book focuses on Casey’s baseball career in Brooklyn, Spatz also covers Casey’s often-tragic personal life. He not only ran into trouble with the IRS, he also got into a fistfight with Ernest Hemingway and was charged in a paternity suit that was decided against him.
Hugh Casey: The Triumphs and Tragedies of a Brooklyn Dodger features personal interviews with Casey’s son and with former teammate Carl Erskine.
This work will fascinate and inform fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers and baseball historians alike.