Major League Baseball finally began its long-delayed, shortened season on July 23, when Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the first pitch at Nationals Park for the opening day game between the defending champion Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees. Fauci’s wild pitch may not have “flattened the curve,” but it got the ball rolling again for America’s much-missed great national pastime. As the “Boys of Summer” once again take to the field to play ball, there are innumerable books available from the library to read about them and the game they play. But while we all know the celebrated legends of baseball lore from Babe Ruth to Mike Trout, there were countless unheralded heroes of the game, including stars of the Negro Leagues, barnstorming teams, semipro clubs and foreign teams. Thankfully, acclaimed artist Gary Cieradkowski (whose resume includes creating the graphics for Oriole Park at Camden Yards!) tells the story of these colorful characters in The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes (2015), which can be checked out from Pratt using our Sidewalk Service or Books By Mail services.
Alongside his trademark vintage baseball card-style illustrations, Cieradkowski sheds light on the lesser known stories of the unsung heroes and ordinary lovers of the game in chapters devoted to “Bush Leaguers” (everyone starts somewhere: George Herman “Babe” Ruth for the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys and minor league Baltimore Orioles; Walter Johnson for the semipro Anaheim Oil Wells; Willie Mays for the Trenton, NJ Giants, and so on); “Could-Have-Beens” (like the Brooklyn Dodgers’ injury-prone wall-crashing outfielder “Pistol Pete” Reiser, or the Orioles’ legendary minor league pitching prospect Steve Dalkowski, the original “Wild Thing” model for Bull Durham’s Nuke LaLoosh; he could throw 110-mph but walked as many as he struck out and never stepped foot on a major league mound); “International Game” (highlighting foreign stars like Japan’s Eija Sawamura, who once struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in succession in a 1934 All-Star exhibition game, only to die in naval action during WWII); “Bad Guys” (so many! Like St. Louis Browns pitcher Ralph “Blackie” Schwamb, who became an enforcer for gangster Mickey Cohen and later served time for murder at San Quentin; and Martinsville Athletics shortstop John “Jackrabbit” Dillinger, who went from stealing bases to robbing banks and risked capture to attend home games of his beloved Chicago Cubs; and 1920s Baltimore Black Sox stars Frank “The Weasel” Warfield and Oliver “The Ghost” Marcelle, whose fight over a crap game ended with Weasel biting off The Ghost’s nose - long before anyone had ever heard the name Mike Tyson!); “People’s Game” (featuring famous people that most never knew played the game, like Pittsbugh Plymouths manager Jack Kerouac; Frank "Swoonatra" Sinatra, who played second base for his 1940s Hollywood team, The Swooners; future US Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and George H.R. Bush; and, Fidel Castro, who in 1959 pitched a mere two innings in an exhibition game pitting his Los Barbudos against a military police squad); and “Race Game,” the longest (and arguably best) chapter, which highlights the many stars of the Negro Leagues.
Here one finds the “Black Babe Ruth” Josh Gibson; Baltimore native Leon Day; Cyclone Joe Williams (considered, along with Satchel Paige, the finest blackball pitcher of all time); fleet-footed Pittsburgh Crawfords outfielder “Cool Papa” Bell (whom Jesse Owens refused to race against); Baltimore Black Sox star “Jud” Wilson; Oakland Oaks pitcher Jimmie Claxton (the first Black player to appear on a baseball card!); Charlie Hippo (a two-sport Canadian athlete who was the first Black to play pro hockey and the last to play organized baseball before Jackie Robinson in 1946); and second baseman Charlie Grant, whom manager John McGraw attempted to get onto his major league Baltimore Orioles team by disguising him as a Native American called “Chief Tokohama”! (As Cieradkowski comments, “Native Americans were reluctantly allowed to play professional baseball alongside whites, though virtually every one who did was saddled with the nickname of “Chief.”)
|In a League of Her Own: Nightclub singer Kitty Burke faced Cardinals pitcher Daffy Dean in 1935|
You can’t make stuff like this up because it’s the lore of which baseball is made. And baseball continues to provide “oddball” stories, like today’s stars playing their games in empty stadiums in a virus-shortened season. But that’s a tale for a future accounting; there’s more than enough great and unusual stories between the pages of The League of Outsider Baseball to fill readers with delight this summer!