Wednesday, July 10, 2013

play ball!

Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season by Jonathan Eig
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: American history/biography
Review: The title of this book is wonderfully accurate.  It really is the story of the entire season, and not just the baseball parts (although baseball fans won't be disappointed in the description of plays and pitches).  But it is much more than a play-by-play of every game the Dodgers played in 1947; Eig paints a picture of the entire season and how it resonated throughout the country.

Eig's writing is so vivid, you can feel the emotion as Jackie walks into the clubhouse for the first time, as he takes the plate for the first time, as he faces both cruelty and kindness in cities and ballparks across the Major Leagues.  He gives us profiles of people who were affected by Robinson's barrier-breaking, including author Robert B. Parker, civil rights leader Malcolm X, and future governor of Virginia Douglas Wilder. Although some of these profiles go on a bit too long, they contribute a lot to the sense of change that was in atmosphere in 1947.

Eig doesn't exactly soft-pedal the negative reactions from both within and without baseball that arose as a result of integration, but in some ways, he down-plays it a little bit.  Some of Jackie's fellow Dodgers were opposed on principle to playing with a black man, but when he joined the team, they realized he was an ok guy and that integration probably wouldn't actually bring about the end of civilization as we know it.  Somehow I don't think it was that easy.

No comments: