Book Review: Southern League

Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South’s Most Compelling Pennant Race


by Larry Colton, 321 pages, published-2013

As a sabermetrician examines statistics in context, author Larry Colton examines baseball and civil rights in the same way with his well researched book on The Birmingham Barons’ 1964 season.  This was a particularly critical time in the history of our nation.  It’s one thing to be in the midst of the pressure of an exciting pennant race.  But if you were of Latin or African-American descent during 1964, playing baseball in the deep south, then that takes on quite a different dimension of pressure.  The players of color weren’t only targeted by the fans, but by other players, the police, politicians, and business owners.  After baseball had been disbanded there for two years for reasons directly related to segregation, Birmingham was granted a AA franchise by The Kansas City Athletics.  With the Civil Rights movement as a backdrop to baseball (or is it baseball as a backdrop to the Civil Rights movement?), the reader can view a turbulent time in American history through the eyes of the players, manager, and owner. 

Many of the "players" are well-known.  You will, of course recognize the names ‘Blue Moon’ Odom, Tommie Reynolds, Paul Linblad, Haywood Sullivan, Campy Campaneris, Ken Sanders, Charlie Finley, The 16th St. Baptist Church, The KKK, Bull Connor, and George Wallace.  Others such as Albert Belcher and Hoss Bowlin are not not so well known, but pivotal characters in their own right.  

The book by Larry Colton, who made his own barely-brief big-league appearance, is a quick read.  Anyone with any interest in minor league baseball and how the game affected and was affected by the social climate of those times will enjoy learning about these subjects through the eyes of those who lived them.

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