Joe Black: More Than a Dodger
Chicago Review Press, 2015
One wouldn’t think a book about a "single-season wonder" could hold enough information to fill 350 pages. But this engaging life story written by Joe Black’s daughter, Martha Jo, and AP/UPI sportswriter Chuck Schoffner, captures the essence of a determined competitor in sport as well as life. Joe was raised in the integrated town of Plainfield, New Jersey, but beginning in his university years, he faced life’s toughest curves from the challenges of Jim Crow. As a young man in 1944, he aspired to pitch in the major leagues but was surprised to learn that he would probably never have that opportunity. Not only did he achieve his dream in 1952, but he led his Brooklyn Dodgers to the pennant, leading the club in wins, earning Rookie of the Year honors, and finishing third in the MVP race. That season he became the first African-American to win a World Series game.
But Joe Black was so much more than a one-dimensional sports figure. Joe had an over-sized, magnetic personality that matched his later-in-life physical presence, allowing him to become a beloved school teacher and the first African-American Vice-President of a corporation of its size, when he worked at and later consulted for Greyhound. From the 1980s until the end of his life he worked hard on behalf of major league baseball to aid retired ballplayers who had fallen upon hard times.
After divorcing Martha Jo’s mother, Joe was determined to win sole custody of his daughter, perhaps his biggest life challenge. After all, the odds were clearly stacked against a black man in conservative Arizona during the early 1970s, especially considering that Martha Jo’s mom was also a "fit" parent. But Joe miraculously prevailed and Martha Jo, who today works for Jerry Reinsdorf with the Whitesox, penned this labor of love to honor a top athlete, a great humanitarian, and an exceptional dad.
Though a great portion of the book has to do with his career leading up to, and during, his days with Brooklyn, you need not be a Dodger fan at all to enjoy this uplifting biography.