Author and historian Tygiel dies at 59
MLB.com July 4, 2008
Perhaps Jules Tygiel wasn't the most authoritative source on "black baseball," but if other people did have greater intellectual impact in mining the rich history of segregated baseball, they'd still have to pay their proper respects to Tygiel and his seminal work.
For no academician
raised research into that area of baseball to serious scholarship the
way Tygiel did.
From the day his book on Robinson hit bookshelves, Tygiel, a history professor at San Francisco State University, became a much-sought source for any topic related to Robinson and the Negro Leagues.
His pioneering research on black baseball, and its ties to American history, will be missed. On Tuesday, Tygiel died of cancer. He was 59.
"His book gave people a better understanding of what the Negro Leagues represented," said Bob Kendrick, marketing director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. "[One thing] we try to do here at the Museum is to counter that whole aspect of vaudeville, buffoonish and the things that so often had been linked to black baseball."
Here comes Robinson, Kendrick said, to defy those images. Here comes Tygiel, Kendrick said, to write an account of that period in a literary voice tuned with an intellectual's mind. Scholarship was at the heart of who Tygiel was.
"He was an
excellent scholar and teacher, and very, very giving of his time to people,"
said Adrian Burgos, a history professor at the University of Illinois
and author of "Playing America's Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the
Tygiel, who mentored
Burgos, earned his doctorate at the University of California-Los Angeles
in 1977, and he taught at the University of Tennessee and the University
Educated as a classical historian, Tygiel, like a handful of his academic peers, found parallels between the changing social and cultural fabric of America in the early 1900s and sports.
As unyielding practices
of Jim Crow stood as the barrier to full participation of blacks in the
experience, organized baseball had its own unyielding practices, Tygiel
Those men had no choice, if pursuing baseball was their quest, but to find an alternative for their passion.
They did. They formed leagues of their own.
of black baseball was a vibrant and colorful one," Tygiel once wrote.
"It offered a panorama of innovations and enterprise, entertainment
and excitement, an unparalleled athletic achievement. It enriched the
But his bent toward
viewing history through an
In his writings
and teachings, Tygiel captured the resiliency of black men who toiled
outside the spotlight of Major League Baseball. He wrote of their struggles;
he wrote of their achievements; and he lectured on their
His scholarship proved an inspiration to other historians. "'Baseball's Great Experiment' is a classic work on baseball integration," Burgos said. "The way that Jules did it was the right way, in that he incorporated the story of the Negro Leagues into the story of baseball integration."
His book didn't just celebrate Robinson; Tygiel stitched together the mosaic that led directly to the breaking of the color barrier.
In doing so, Tygiel left behind a work that will be his enduring legacy. While not the first book on black baseball -- John Holway and Robert Peterson wrote about this storied institution before anybody else - "Baseball's Great Experiment" might have been the best.
Ken Burns' Baseball (1994) put the Robinson story at the center of baseball
history, and 14 years before the immense 50th-anniversary celebrations
of Robinson's 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Tygiel's masterful
account provided a sophisticated, at times riveting, tale, deftly combining
social and cultural history with first-rate drama," a review
Tygiel, however, wrote about more than Robinson.
In his 2001 book
"Past Time: Baseball as History," Tygiel penned a collection
of essays that, according to a review in The Washington Post, showed that
"baseball, far from being a freak show at the periphery of the country's
public and important business, has been part
But like a few others before him, and many after him, Tygiel found that sports in general and baseball specifically dovetailed with the emerging progress whites and blacks have made in bridging the racial divide that U.S. courts had sanctioned.
like Professor Tygiel, who wrote this wonderful account, he gave people
a better understanding and a better appreciation of what the Negro Leagues