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Like a pitcher with strong command of his fastball and a variety of breaking pitches, the new book “After Jackie” peppers the strike zone as it covers a transitional era of major league baseball.

The book (Paragon House) by Jeffrey S. Copeland explores the 15 major leaguers who broke the color barrier for their respective teams following Jackie Robinson’s debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers 75 years ago on April 15, 1947. Since 2004, MLB has commemorated the historic occasion on April 15 with all MLB teams, including players, managers, coaches, and umpires, wearing Robinson’s iconic No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day.

Utilizing a literary nonfiction approach, Copeland emphasizes that “every major event in the book is true, based on fact,” but he has taken “some latitude” to place events in “the voices of the characters,” which came through tremendous research about every highlighted player.

The book "After Jackie" (Paragon House) by Jeffrey S. Copeland explores the 15 major leaguers who broke the color barrier for their respective teams following Jackie Robinson’s debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

The book "After Jackie" (Paragon House) by Jeffrey S. Copeland explores the 15 major leaguers who broke the color barrier for their respective teams following Jackie Robinson’s debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

“I was lucky to be able to visit with former teammates, relatives, baseball executives and have at my disposal all sorts of video and audio to study (like at the National Baseball Hall of Fame). I wanted to use stories to represent the full range of what they went through for their journeys to the big leagues,” the author noted.

Also See: Baseball cards for 15 black pioneers who followed Jackie 

The nearly 300-page book first focuses on Hall of Famer Larry Doby, who integrated the American League with the Cleveland Indians a few months after Robinson’s historic introduction into the mainstream.

Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby are photographed together for the first time. Robinson broke the MLB color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, while Doby was the first player to integrate the American League.

Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby are photographed together for the first time. Robinson broke the MLB color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, while Doby was the first player to integrate the American League.

Also See: Jackie Robinson bat, jersey, HOF plaque coming to auction

Doby’s chapter centers on his struggles when commuting to an exhibition game shortly before the beginning of the 1948 regular season. On top of dealing with the prevailing social norms that prevented black players from staying with their teammates close to the ballpark, the outfielder, in uniform, traveled part of the way from his host family’s house — by horse. And it appears this horse never came close to running in the Kentucky Derby.

Where did the author get such exceptional detail for this section? “I listened to a series of audio tapes in an oral history archives where he [Doby] actually told that story himself.” 

With every chapter, one for each of the “15 Pioneers Who Helped Change the Face of Baseball,” to use the book’s subtitle, the player also gets an individual picture and we see them in a team photo and on one of their trading cards, if these images exist. A nice touch.

WHO’S ON FIRST?

Hank Thompson, who broke the color barrier for the St. Louis Browns in 1947, and his black teammate Willard Brown, who first appeared in the team’s lineup with Thompson just a few days later, were the first pair of black major leaguers to play together. But according to Copeland, they were never photographed with the rest of the ball club.

Thankfully, the book provides a shot of the pair together in full uniform.

Thompson was one of the first black MLB players and many think he was the first to play for the New York Giants in 1949. But “After Jackie” lists Hall of Famer Monte Irvin with making that mark for the Giants that season. The author, in a few cases in the book, deals with similar “Who came first?” situations, where some sources state it was Player A taking the initial strides for a team, while other sources point to Player B owning that title. Each time Copeland summarizes other potential candidates.

The author anticipates some readers contacting him about these discrepancies.

“MLB has a list, The National Baseball Hall of Fame has a list, The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has a list, and all these other groups had their own list, but they really didn’t match up,” Copeland said. “I knew I was not able to please everybody, so I decided to go with the list from MLB.” With MLB as the governing body of the sport, that seems like the logical “go-to” choice for this roster.

That said, Thompson and Irvin first appeared for the Giants in the same game, Thompson as the starting third baseman and Irvin as a late-inning pinch-hitter. Copeland said Thompson gets his vote as the first black New York Giant, but MLB has another take on it. In any of these circumstances, Copeland stressed that whatever name is on this or that organization’s short list, the players all served significant roles in the big leagues.

Monte Irvin (left), Willie Mays and Hank Thompson of the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium prior to the 1951 World Series.

Monte Irvin (left), Willie Mays and Hank Thompson of the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium prior to the 1951 World Series.

Arguably the biggest name featured in the book for many baseball fans not only put up the best power numbers of the group (512 homers and over 1,600 RBIs), but also won back-to-back MVP awards in the late 1950s. Along the way, Ernie Banks also earned a stellar reputation for his inviting personality. Originally a shortstop, Banks played his entire big league career with the Chicago Cubs and Copeland said at his book events “Mr. Cub” is the player that fans want to talk about most.

Somewhat surprisingly, Banks originally did not want to play in the majors. Instead, he wanted to remain in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs, where he was having “the time of my life,” as the book reads.

Ernie Banks at Spring Training in 1961. No one loved playing the game more than “Mr. Cub.”

Ernie Banks at Spring Training in 1961. No one loved playing the game more than “Mr. Cub.”

“He just loved the game,” Copeland said, but he was “a reluctant pioneer.” The author added Banks strived to prove one basic philosophy: “If your heart was so much into the game, you could succeed if you tried hard enough and had decent skills. He was proud of representing African Americans, but he was more proud of representing every kid on the planet who just wanted to play baseball. He was that kid.”

When “After Jackie” went through its final editing phase in 2021, Banks, Doby and Irvin stood out as the Hall of Famers from the trailblazing group. But with first-edition copies selling briskly, once the next printing takes place, one revision in particular will occur: Minnie Miñoso, who integrated the Chicago White Sox in 1951, will have turned that trio into a quartet as he will enter the famed Hall posthumously this summer with the Class of 2022.

Copeland said several of the Latin ball players who followed Miñoso referred to him as the “Latin Jackie Robinson,” partly for his hitting skills and perhaps even more so for his generally inspirational ways.

A DREAM BEGINNING

The book concludes with “Pumpsie” Green breaking the Red Sox’ color line. And even though the second baseman did so on the road in July 1959, the hometown fans had to wait until early August to see him in person, in a manner one could easily describe as “legendary.”

That first day at Fenway Park superstar teammate Ted Williams provided some encouraging words. Boston Celtics legendary center Bill Russell, a boyhood acquaintance of Green, showed up in person with a similar message, and shortly before he took the field, the rookie received a surprise clubhouse phone call from the man that started the journey for players of color — Jackie Robinson.

Pumpsie Green is greeted by Red Sox manager Bill Jurges prior to Green’s MLB debut in 1959. Green was the first black player to play for Boston, the last MLB team to integrate.

Pumpsie Green is greeted by Red Sox manager Bill Jurges prior to Green’s MLB debut in 1959. Green was the first black player to play for Boston, the last MLB team to integrate.

If that was not enough of a welcome, as Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green approached the batter’s box that day to lead off the game, he received a standing ovation. Moments later he received more of the same after tripling off the famed Green Monster, finally dotting each “I” in integration for Boston, the last MLB franchise to do so.

Yes, 75 years ago Jackie Robinson stepped out of the dugout and raced onto the field to officially and permanently break the MLB color barrier. In the 12 years that followed, those highlighted in “After Jackie” and others did their part to fill out the narrative.

“After Jackie” does the subject matter justice, and just like the athletes on this historic roster, the book does it with thought and flavor.

Doug Koztoski is a frequent SCD contributor. He can be reached at dkoz3000@gmail.com

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