SOUTHERN LEAGUE: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South's Most Compelling Pennant Race

SOUTHERN LEAGUE                               LARRY COLTON
Posted:  April 28, 2014

"Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings in Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation." 
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail1963
Anybody who is familiar with the Civil Rights movement knows that 1964 was a pivotal year. And in Birmingham, Alabama - perhaps the epicenter of racial conflict - the Barons amazingly started their season with an integrated team. 
Johnny "Blue Moon" Odom, a talented pitcher and Tommie Reynolds, an outfielder - both young black ballplayers with dreams of playing someday in the big leagues, along with Bert Campaneris, a dark-skinned shortstop from Cuba, all found themselves in this simmering cauldron of a minor league town, all playing for Heywood Sullivan, a white former major leaguer who grew up just down the road in Dothan, Alabama. 
Colton traces the entire season, writing about the extraordinary relationships among these players with Sullivan, and Colton tells their story by capturing the essence of Birmingham and its citizens during this tumultuous year. (The infamous Bull Connor, for example, when not ordering blacks to be blasted by powerful water hoses, is a fervent follower of the Barons and served as a long-time broadcaster of their games.) 
By all accounts, the racial jeers and taunts that rained down upon these Birmingham players were much worse than anything that Jackie Robinson ever endured.
More than a story about baseball, this is a true accounting of life in a different time and clearly a different place. Seventeen years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color line in the major leagues, Birmingham was exploding in race riots....and now, they were going to have their very first integrated sports team. This is a story that has never been told.

This is not just a baseball book. This book is about a time and a place that I know I did not see or experience. I cannot imagine what some of these men had to go through. The story takes place in Birmingham, Alabama in 1964. Baseball is coming back to this town and to other towns in the South. But like so much of everything else that is happening there are a lot of that don’t want baseball back. Because now it will not be segregated. The author Larry Colton, mostly follows 4 players, Johnny “Blue Moon” Odom, Tommie Reynolds from CA. Bert Campaneries, from Cuba, and Paul Lindblad. Odom would not get to the team until after he graduated from high school. This was a farm team for the Kansas City A’s, who were owned by Charlie Finley, he was some character. This was still years before he moved the team to Oakland. The team was managed by a man named Haywood Sullivan. Mister Colton weaves stories, tragedies really from the civil rights movement and even events that happened long before the 60s that really shaped the minds of these people in the South. This part of the story true and I know needs to be told and retold, still bother me for the lack of total injustice and people never being held accountable, even so-called law enforcement. These are just a few of the things these players had to deal with. I will say Mister Sullivan did work everyone as a team. They would not eat at certain dinners because they could not eat as a team. And people need to remember that though Campaneries was from Cuba he could not go were the whites went because he was darker skinned. How ignorant. That was the times in the south and these men were playing baseball trying to win their league championship. That part of the story is very fascinating. I really enjoyed the baseball part because I remember watching Bert Campaneries, playing shortstop for the A’s when they won 3 straight World Series, “Blue Moon” was there along with Paul Lindblad. Tommie Reynolds also made it to the big leagues. Haywood Sullivan, would manage one year with the big club then spend the 25 plus years with the Red Sox, at the end being part owner before selling in the 90”s. a good book about baseball and what was going on in our country at that time. I got this book from galley.

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