One Nation Under Baseball
How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime
Written By: John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro
Published By: University of Nebraska Press
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When baseball opening day is eminent, I usually find myself reading a book about baseball to pave the way. Nothing has changed and here I am posting a review about my latest read – One Nation Under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime.
Many would think that baseball is just something outside of politics and social issues, its own entity, but that is simply not the case. We begin with one of the most influential social issue – the Civil Rights Movement. In the 60s, African Americans were still finding it difficult to get a spot on a major league baseball team. When they did, they had to behave in a certain way. No owner wanted an African American player who was going to be outspoken about their rights or their fair treatment or draw attention to themselves – otherwise known as being “uppity.” So many great prospects were passed over because they were presumed to be “uppity” in preference of the silent type.
Never mind the fact that when blacks were allowed to play, they had to deal with discrimination at every turn – not being allowed to stay in the same hotels as whites or eat in the same restaurants, dealing with racial discrimination in comments on and off the field and letters to their home…threats toward their loved ones. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy were a terrible setback for players who were hoping the work of these two great men combined could finally bring equality to the United States and the game of baseball. And many a player felt their deaths down to the depths of their souls.
The 1960s marked the Vietnam War era, but, unlike in the past, ballplayers were not encouraged to enlist. In fact, to read it in this book, it looks as if the baseball owners were doing all they could to keep their players out of that war. This was an unprecedented turn of events as baseball players prior to this war were celebrated for having enlisted to fight for their country.
Reporting was changing as well. There were newspaper strikes, forcing the writers to look for other means of employment. Some were able to find success writing for magazines. Others looked toward the future – television would soon be a big market for news and newspapers would have to play catch-up or miss the mark. Newer reporters were hitting the scene with a fresh look at baseball and an interest in more than just the stats of the game, but the motivations behind the players actions on and off the field, making for more interesting reading and making the set-in-their-ways old tie reporters a bit uncomfortable.
And then there was the million dollar hold-out by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in which two players refused to be underpaid by management. There were other labor relations issues within baseball that were finally about to be addressed, such as the theory that a baseball team owned a player as soon as he signed a contract and that he was that team’s commodity for life until that team decided they no longer wanted him. This brought about a more realistic players union and free agency clauses, in addition to higher salaries and better benefits for players.
One Nation Under Baseball touched so many aspects in which political and social issues shaped the sport. I found myself engrossed in this book and quite angry at the way some of the players were treated at the time. I found myself rooting for those who fought back against unfair treatment and discrimination, despite knowing how everything would turn out in the end. I also like that the authors didn’t just stick to writing about how baseball was affected by things. They wrote about the lack of blacks playing in professional football and how teams like the Washington Redskins tried everything they could to prevent having black men play for them. They wrote about union and salary issues in basketball as well. They also took on Mohammad Ali and race issues and religion issues that plagued him throughout his fighting career. These were intense issues that affected every American sport.
I found the writing extremely well done and enjoyed the fact that the authors provided quotes from ballplayers, baseball owners and reporters as often as they could to enhance the accuracy of the book. This was definitely not the dry read it could have been as was the case when I first read Lords of the Realm (which is referred to in this book). It was incredibly interesting to see how changes in society affected America’s favorite pastime from the way the players were treated to the way they were paid and the way they played, plus their actions off the field.
One Nation Under Baseball is definitely a must read for any fan of the sport, especially if you were wondering just how much baseball has been touched by the social issues of the 60s and how those issues changed the way the sport is played today.