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“Beyond the Shadow of the Senators” by Brad Snyder (Contemporary Books, 418 pages, $24.95) As we age, our memories tend to fade. Perhaps that’s why we’re so fond of scrapbooks, photo albums, and old letters � they help us fend off the inevitable decay. Memory loss can plague not only individuals but also societies, which can repress unpleasant or embarrassing episodes and all but drive them from the collective consciousness. That’s one reason to value historians � they help keep us from forgetting. If you’re a local baseball fan, then, you owe a debt of thanks to Brad Snyder, author of Beyond the Shadow of the Senators, and you owe it to yourself to read his book. Beyond the Shadow of the Senators is ostensibly the tale of the Homestead Grays, a team that called the District its home for about a decade and was arguably the most successful franchise in the history of the Negro Leagues. But the book is really about much more than the game of baseball. It’s an astute social history that, while telling the story of the Grays and the Negro Leagues, also recounts the all-but-forgotten efforts of a number of local citizens to force Major League Baseball to integrate and explores the folkways of black Washington in the early and mid-1900s. Of course, there probably would have been no Negro Leagues at all had African-American ballplayers not been prevented from joining their white counterparts in the ranks of professional baseball. So, although the Negro Leagues showcased the talents of black athletes and provided their mostly black fans with a form of entertainment they would have otherwise been denied, the leagues also stood as a stark reminder of the nation’s racial divide and of the unwritten rule that barred black players from the national pastime. It’s no wonder that Robert Peterson writes in his classic history Only the Ball Was White that “Negro baseball was at once heroic and tawdry, a gladsome thing and a blot on America’s conscience.” The Negro Leagues were loosely organized. As is traditional in a league structure, the teams of course played one another. But much of the season was spent on the road barnstorming against local teams, black and white. When the teams did play at home, some of them played in small stadiums of their own; others played in major league stadiums when their primary residents were on the road. When the Grays were in Washington, for example, they played in Griffith Stadium, on Florida Avenue and 7th Street, N.W., which was also home to the Senators. The Gray’s owner, Cum Posey, rented the stadium from Senators owner Clark Griffith at a steep rate. Griffith also got a cut of the gate and a cut of the concessions. His opening of the stadium to the black teams was hardly an act of altruism. While telling the story of the Grays, Snyder also builds a convincing case for why the Washington Senators � and not the Brooklyn Dodgers � should have been the team to integrate Major League Baseball, and considerably earlier than 1947, the year Jackie Robinson made his debut. That the Senators didn’t take this pioneering step is to the shame of Griffith. Regardless of whether Griffith’s inaction could be attributed to shortsightedness, cowardice, prejudice, or just old-fashioned greed, Snyder makes clear that the owner failed to seize the moment. In Snyder’s heavily populated drama, two men most often appear center stage � sportswriter Sam Lacy and longtime Grays first baseman Buck Leonard. In many ways, Lacy, a writer and editor for both the The Washington Tribune and The Baltimore Afro-American, stands as the hero of Snyder’s tale. A skilled sandlot player, Lacy turned to journalism when his Negro Leagues career couldn’t get off the ground. Lacy was in the vanguard of those urging Major League Baseball to break the color line, calling for integration of the league in print as early as the 1920s. In 1937, he landed an interview with Griffith, after sending letters to both him and the then-commissioner of baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, arguing that “it was time for organized baseball to keep apace with the spirit of the times.” Landis, whose views on race were hardly enlightened, didn’t deign to respond to Lacy. He did, however, give Griffith the go-ahead to talk to the sportswriter. In his interview, Griffith gave hope to Lacy and his readers that black players would not be banned forever from big league play. “[T]he time is not far off when colored players will take their places beside those of other races in the major leagues,” Griffith predicted. But that hope, he added, “is one that will not be realized in one year, or two, or maybe five. It will take time. My belief is that the answer lies in the setting up of a single league of eight real, bona-fide clubs.” This was one of Griffith’s mantras � that the prerequisite for the integration of baseball was the establishment of a black professional league modeled on the major league system. Griffith’s call for a tightknit black league was largely self-serving, however. The continuance of separate black and white leagues would guarantee that he would reap the financial benefits of having two teams playing in his stadium. Yet Lacy and others still believed that they one day might persuade Griffith to welcome a black player onto his major league team. In some ways, Griffith was relatively racially progressive. Unlike some owners, he didn’t prevent black citizens from seeing his team play. (Those black fans, however, were restricted to seats in the right field pavilion.) And he signed to major league contracts a number of Cuban players whose racial pedigrees were often questioned by self-named purists. But even during the war years, when the Senators were perennial second-division finishers and the Grays dominated the Negro National League with a roster full of stars, Griffith refused to sign a black player to help his major league club. He finally signed a black player, Carlos Paula, in 1954. Beyond the Shadow of the Senators contains enough surprises to intrigue even a knowledgeable baseball fan . There is much in these pages to be cherished � from anecdotes about the University of Maryland and Shirley Povich to Snyder’s portraits of such black stars as Leonard, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige. Snyder shows just how talented these players were and just how unfortunate it was � for them and for us � that they never got the chance to ply their trade against major league players on a regular basis. Joel Chineson is chief copy editor of Legal Times.

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