Press Box Red
REVIEW by Willard Manus
story of the battle to integrate professional baseball is the subject
of PRESS BOX RED, a book about a gutsy, controversial sportswriter named
Lester Rodney. Long before Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers,
broke the color barrier by signing up Jackie Robinson, Rodney had written
dozens of articles calling on major-league baseball to change its Jim
Crow policy. But in most of the books, plays and movies about Rickey/Robinson,
there is no mention of his name. Reason? He wrote for a communist newspaper,
The Daily Worker.
when Rodney, a 24-year-old NYU graduate (and non-communist), first joined
The Daily Worker, the paper was almost mainstream. As Irwin Silber, author
of PRESS BOX RED states, New York at the time was awash in radical
newspapers and left-wing pamphlets. Despite three years of FDRs
New Deal, the Great Depression remained a somber reality for the country
at large, and there was no shortage of Communists, socialists, Trotskyites,
anarchists, and sundry radicals to hawk newspapers and hand out leaflets
explaining what they believed were the causes of Americas economic
woes and offering revolutionary solutions.
had played three sports as a kid, covered not only baseball but boxing,
football and basketball. Hed write mostly straight stories
with no political slant: You wouldnt know they were in the
Daily Worker. But when it came to breaking the color line in baseball,
he took a firm ideological stand. In his first editorial, which ran under
the front-page banner Fans Ask End of Jim Crow Baseball, Rodney
blasted the un-American and invisible barrier of racial prejudice
that keeps Negro ballplayers on the sidelines. Fans, its up to you.
Tell the big league magnates that youre tired of the poor pitching
in the American League. You want to see Satchel Paige out there on the
mound. Youre tired of a flop team in Boston, of the silly Brooklyn
Dodgers, of the inept Philadelphia Phillies and the semi-pro Athletics...Demand
better ball...Demand Americanism in baseball, equal opportunities for
Negro and white. Demand the end of Jim Crow baseball!
eras right-wing politics helped cover up the role the Daily Worker
had played in the democratization of major-league baseball. PRESS BOX
RED not only sets the record straight but pays long-overdue tribute to
Lester Rodney, one of the best and most courageous sports writers this
country has ever known.