Monday, February 20, 2006

"Only the Ball Was White" Author Robert W. Peterson Dies at 80


February 20, 2006 | latimes.com OBITUARIES
By Jon Thurber, Times Staff Writer

Robert W. Peterson, a former newspaper editor who shed light on a little-known aspect of baseball history with his seminal book on the sport's Negro Leagues, "Only the Ball Was White," has died. He was 80.

Peterson, who had lung cancer and emphysema, died of a heart attack Feb. 11 at a hospital near Allentown, Pa., according to his wife, Peggy.

Published in 1970, "Only the Ball Was White" was the first detailed accounting of Negro baseball. As both an oral history by the players and an accounting of the glory and despair of their times, the book was like no other.

One day a team might be playing before a huge crowd made up of fans of all colors at Yankee Stadium, the book related. A few days later the same team might be on a bus in the countryside, the players broke and looking for a game to earn gas money.

This was part of American life for decades until 1951, when the Negro Leagues finally went out of business after the integration of baseball's major leagues. Through much of that time an unofficial — but firm — color barrier kept blacks from playing in the majors. Jackie Robinson broke that barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

"It isn't possible to exaggerate how important that book is," said Lawrence Hogan, a professor of history at Union County College in Cranford, N.J., who is also a leading expert on the Negro Leagues. "When you start [investigating] the Negro Leagues, you start with Bob's book."

Jim Gates, the library director at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., agreed: "His book is among the top 10 ever written [on baseball], the key that unlocked the door to a missing piece in baseball history." . . . [full story]

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