Book Review: Baseball Rebels

Don Laible
If you want history lessons in professional baseball and to listen to a voice that has a finger on the pulse of social movements today in America, Peter Dreier and Robert Elias have written a book for you.

Baseball Rebels - The Players, People, And Social Movements That Shook Up The Game And Changed America (nebraskapress.unl.edu) will tug at your emotions, for sure.

Who better to tell a different side of baseball history than a social justice lifer than Dreir?  The 284 pages in Baseball Rebels are attention-getters from the get-go. For some readers, the subjects and topics detailed will be a refresher, and introductions to others.

Baseball isn't immune to having an ugly past. Racist practices of the times are examined, from decades ago to current discussions on who and what is being done to make lives and careers better for all - in the game and for those in the teams' communities.

"My dad was a baseball fan. He was a fan of the New York Giants; Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott his favorites. I inherited his appreciation for the team. Willie Mays, Johnny Antonelli, and Jackie Robinson (Brooklyn Dodgers) are my favorites," said Dreier during a phone conversation earlier this week.

Dreier and Elias have known each other for nearly a half-century. After their careers saw them drift in different directions across the country, it was back in the early 2000s that the two socially-conscious college professors reconnected, and baseball remained their mutual friend.

Baseball Rebels conducts deep dives into the ugly past in the game. The history lessons offered through the lens of Dreier and Elias make their book a must-read.

The topics covered run a wide range of racist people in the game, from players to managers, and others in and out of uniform, confronted. 

Gay MLB umpires are discussed. Both open and in the closet, experiences by Dave Pallone and Dale Scott are educational and emotional. Women in baseball and their struggles for respect and equality in promotion are also well chronologized in Baseball Rebels.

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is reviewed. A marvelous example of how far women in the game are marching on is Kim Ng.  As general manager of the Miami Marlins, Dreier and Elias well document Ng's qualifications for a position that traditionally has been male-dominated.

Internships with the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, and Major League Baseball, proving all along the way she had the chops for the front office, made it a no-brainer for Ng to be hired for her current position.  

Baseball Rebels also digs into the only female inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Effa Manley co-owned the Negro League's Newark Bears in the 1930s and '40s. What was it like for a woman, a woman of mixed race no less, to run a club's day-to-day operations? Dreier and Elias offer a wonderful synopsis.

The sacrifices and struggles made by Black ballplayers like Larry Doby, Curt Flood, Bill White Dick Allen, and Moses Fleetwood Walker make for addictive reading.

Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle's community-minded approach to the game's public is brought forward and proves to be refreshing and admirable.  Working with veteran groups, the Nationals' youth baseball academy, and understanding there's more responsibility than striking batters out when wearing an MLB uniform, Doolittle is one of many fine examples of what the game's public as a whole might be missing.

Baseball Rebels both entertains and makes you think. What a great baseball "double play" to present.

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