Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball's Color Line

Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball's Color Line

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by Tom Dunkel
     
 

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A 2013 CASEY Award Finalist for Best Baseball Book of the Year and a Booklist Top Ten Sports Book of the Year

When baseball swept America in the years after the Civil War, independent, semipro, and municipal leagues sprouted up everywhere. With civic pride on the line, rivalries were fierce and teams often signed ringers to play alongside the town

Overview


A 2013 CASEY Award Finalist for Best Baseball Book of the Year and a Booklist Top Ten Sports Book of the Year

When baseball swept America in the years after the Civil War, independent, semipro, and municipal leagues sprouted up everywhere. With civic pride on the line, rivalries were fierce and teams often signed ringers to play alongside the town dentist, insurance salesman, and teen prodigy. In drought-stricken Bismarck, North Dakota during the Great Depression, one of the most improbable teams in the history of baseball was assembled by one of the sport’s most unlikely champions. A decade before Jackie Robinson broke into the Major Leagues, car dealer Neil Churchill signed the best players he could find, regardless of race, and fielded an integrated squad that took on all comers in spectacular fashion.

Color Blind immerses the reader in the wild and wonderful world of early independent baseball, with its tough competition and its novelty. Dunkel traces the rise of the Bismarck squad, focusing on the 1935 season and the first National Semipro Tournament. This is an entertaining, must-read for anyone interested in the history of baseball.

“A tale as fantastic as it is true.”—Boston Globe

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Steven V. Roberts
As told by Tom Dunkel, the story of how this team came to be—and won the national semipro championship—is a delightful read.
Publishers Weekly
A decade before Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color line in 1947, an integrated team captured the imagination of Bismarck, N.Dak. by winning the national, semiprofessional baseball title. Bismarck was a town where “Norman Rockwell would have found plenty of... inspiration,” even though “Dakotans groped their way along the racial divide.” Bismarck’s integrated team was the brainchild of Neil Churchill, a failed dry goods clerk–cum–car salesman and inveterate gambler who subsidized the team’s existence with his winnings. Churchill looked to the Negro Leagues, “cherry-picking players” who were prohibited from playing in the Major Leagues to reinforce his roster, with his prize being the great Satchel Paige. Freelance journalist Dunkel (the Washington Post) delves into the history of players, towns, and baseball itself in constructing this portrait of a harmonious team rising above a segregated society. The tangential history lessons render the triumph of racial harmony a subtext within the larger context of sports, but it’s a story that transcends championships, and an inspirational reflection on an otherwise dismal human rights history. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

“A tale as fantastic as it is true, as American as racism and baseball. . . . Dunkel’s extensive research shows—there’s enough detail here to satisfy the most rabid fan—and his portraits of Troupe, Paige, and Churchill are lively and warm.”—Boston Globe

"A delightful read. This is a tale worth telling."—Washington Post

"Dunkel tells one of the great untold stories about baseball history, one that almost sounds too good to be true."—Chicago Tribune

"Dunkel's enthralling narrative of Bismarck's talented collection of white and black players falls into the 'must-read' category."—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A terrific book. . . . It is funny, it is sad, it is spellbinding, required reading for anyone who loves baseball, who loves a vivid story well-told. . . . Color Blind is crammed with characters . . . laced with joy, rocked by sadness, framed by the civil rights struggle. . . . If you want to understand America, you have to understand baseball.”—Philadelphia Daily News

"Give an exceptional storyteller an exceptional story to tell, and you just might wind up with a book as good as Tom Dunkel's Color Blind."—Gene Weingarten, Washington Post columnist and feature writer, two-time winner of The Pulitzer Prize

"Dunkel writes with a passion and flair that matches the gritty, hardscrabble North Dakota landscape and culture of the Great Depression. His meticulous research and clever writing blows the dust off a forgotten—but important—chapter in baseball history. A fascinating addition to baseball’s library."—Tampa Tribune

"A little-known but charming narrative that affirms baseball as a cornucopia of good stories."—Daily Beast

Color Blind is an amazing story of black and white that should be read all over.”—John Thorn, Official Historian, Major League Baseball and author of Baseball in the Garden of Eden

"[A] wonderful book. Color Blind captures Satch and his Negro League pals at their absolute rollicking best. What a fabulous addition to the literature of our national pastime!"—Timothy M. Gay, author of Satch, Dizzy, and Rapid Robert: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson

“Very entertaining. . . . Baseball fans will cherish this book."—Booklist (starred review)

"Dunkel delves into the history of players, towns, and baseball itself in constructing this portrait of a harmonious team rising above a segregated society. . . . a story that transcends championships, and an inspirational reflection on an otherwise dismal human rights history."—Publishers Weekly

“Tom Dunkel’s wonderfully reported book Color Blind casts a spotlight on a long overlooked but fascinating corner of baseball history.”—San Antonio Express-News

“A rich history.”—Bismarck Tribune

“Dunkel well describes the loosey-goosey, not quite minor-league level of America’s regional teams in the 1920s and ‘30s, with ballplayers bouncing across the map to join one team and then another. . . . A happy story.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Painstakingly researched. … [here] is Paige in all his maddening glory . . . against a sepia backdrop of drought, dust storms, and swarms of grasshoppers at the depth of the Depression.”—Washington Independent Review of Books

Kirkus Reviews
Freelance journalist Dunkel spins the colorful yarn of an improbably integrated team's wild days of independent baseball during the Great Depression. As the new sport of baseball took hold of the American imagination after the turn of the century, teams of all forms sprang up across the country. For players unable to make the big leagues for lack of talent, personal issues or skin color, one of the legions of semiprofessional teams often offered a way to earn a living playing the game. In Bismarck, N.D., one of the areas hit hardest by drought and depression, successful car dealer and inveterate gambler Neil Churchill's desire to put together a winning team led him to seek out the finest players available, regardless of race. The resulting mix of has-beens, wannabes and assorted others went on to dominate opponents across the Midwest, culminating in the 1935 National Semipro Tournament. Their success was due in no small part to the on-again, off-again presence of the legendary Satchel Paige, arguably the greatest pitcher of all time and a character worthy of many books for his accomplishments and antics on and off the diamond. Though the team's inclusion of both black and white players is obviously noteworthy, Dunkel does not focus on racial politics or the issue of whether the Bismarck team was a precursor of things to come or merely a historical anomaly. The author does address the racism faced by the black players, many of whom would likely have been major league All-Stars had they been allowed to play, and he provides sufficient historical background to flesh out the story. But at its heart, the book is a tale of a time when baseball was more than just a sport, a multibillion-dollar industry or another form of entertainment competing for Americans' attention. A well-told account of a fascinating, and forgotten, chapter in the history of America's national pastime.
Library Journal
Freelance journalist Dunkel provides a captivating recollection of the Bismarck, ND, Churchills, an integrated baseball team that won the 1935 semi-pro national championship held in Wichita, KS. While organized baseball remained segregated, Bismarck owner Neil Churchill refused to give in to prevailing racial sensibilities, whether they involved his ballplayers dining together or performing on the diamond. He put together a potent, integrated ball club, attracting some of the Negro League's finest, including legendary pitchers Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith and catcher Quincy Trouppe. Paige's brilliance, exemplified by his rising fastball and pinpoint control, drew thousands to the games he pitched and enabled Bismarck to carve out a spot in baseball history. The team proved unable to repeat the next year, falling in the semifinal round, because in his typically peripatetic fashion, Paige failed to return to the team. VERDICT This work delivers an important rendering of a too-little-remembered challenge to American society's segregated practices. Strongly recommended.—Robert C. Cottrell, California State Univ., Chico

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802120120
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
04/02/2013
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author


Tom Dunkel is an award-winning freelance journalist with more than 25 years of experience reporting for major newspapers and magazines including The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, New York Times Sunday Magazine, and Wall Street Journal. He lives in Washington, D.C. This is his first book.

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Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball's Color Line 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. Mr Dunkel captures the essence of life in the upper Midwest during the 1930s. With the background of a racially integrated Semi-pro baseball team,he details the history life along the Missouri river and towns in North Dakota. This was before Jackie Robinson when professional baseball was racially segregated.True chronicles of Custer, Sitting Bull,local leaders and baseball players(most from the Negro leagues) are richly detailed.The central character of the book is Neil Churchill, a local car salesman, who spends most of his own money attracting the best baseball players from the Negro leagues to come to Bismarck North Dakota.One of the players is the great Satchel Paige.This is a great true story that was lost in the shadows
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mr. Dunkel writes this book with amazing insights on all sides of the playing field gathered from many sources. I kept reminding myself that the book was about real people and a real time. The characters involved were given their very human side, which can make a person capture all of the emotions and leaves you with a good sense of how different we all see life. A must read.