While Left on Base in the Bush Leagues is a fascinating and worthwhile book on a topic that deserves dozens of more books, it is very poorly composed.
In the years immediately following the Second World War, the United States was a country riding high on national pride at having vanquished the Nazis and the Japanese. It was also a country that was absolutely besotted with baseball; the sport was never more dominant in the national consciousness as in the decade after the war, when tens of thousands of war veterans returned to playing fields and spectator seats across the country. This revealed several contradictions. One of these was race, as Major League Baseball was finally integrated in 1947, though only a few clubs dared field a black player over the next half-decade. Add in the complications of US imperial adventures throughout Latin America in the first half of the 20th century spreading baseball across the hemisphere even while MLB was hostile to dark-skinned Hispanics and race becomes central to the sport in this era. Another contradiction was geography: the MLB clubs were all clustered in a small area of the United States, with no teams west of St. Louis or south of the Ohio River. If baseball was to be a sport for everyone—and to be clear, the country was truly obsessed with baseball in these years—then these contradictions had to be faced.
The solution was an unprecedented expansion of minor league baseball in every far-flung and forgotten corner of the country. The proliferation of the so-called “Bush Leagues” was a haphazard, semi-official process, as leagues and teams were created on a whim and expanded and contracted (or outright disappeared) overnight. The minor league system was never as expansive as the English Football Pyramid, the most incredible accomplishment of organized sports, nor was it as systematic and democratic as the every-village-gets-a-team Irish GAA model. The minor leagues in the post-War baseball boom instead reflected the rugged individualist ethos of the United States: any city or millionaire who dreamed of a team could make one. The minor league system, created and semi-regulated in this fashion, was full of legendary players, renegade owners, ridiculous publicity stunts and corrupt backroom deals. In other words, it was a gold mine of good stories.
Into this mine steps Gaylon H. White, with his Left on Base in the Bush Leagues, which endeavors to unearth some unknown tales from the ramshackle baseball leagues on the periphery of the US, many of which only survived a handful of seasons before collapsing. White tells of titanic home run hitters who slugged 60-plus in a season, a fireball pitcher who recorded all 27 outs in a regulation game via strikeout and two-way Cuban super-players who both smacked homers and struck out batters. He makes clear that many of the bush leaguers had Major League talent, but were unwilling to move away from Oklahoma, had bad luck and/or could not overcome their dark-colored skin.
While Left on Base in the Bush Leagues is a fascinating and worthwhile book on a topic that deserves dozens of more books, it is very poorly composed. The book desperately needs a firm editor, as White consistently rumbles off topic and very frequently repeats himself. Every chapter is written as if it is a stand-alone effort, rather than a part of a single, unitary book. Characters that appear in multiple chapters are discussed as if the reader has never encountered them before. White also seems not to have any idea regarding the level of knowledge his readers have. A few examples are helpful to illustrate this: White is careful to introduce the reader to Thomas Jefferson as “the third president of the United States”; makes sure the reader knows that Mariano Rivera is “the outstanding relief pitcher for the New York Yankees”; and ensures readers understand that Life magazine “was a popular national publication that often featured world leaders…” What literate person does not know who Thomas Jefferson was and what person reading a baseball history book would be unfamiliar with Hall of Fame legend Mariano Rivera? White, in sum, is an irritating authorial voice throughout, so much so that he ruins the book, which with sharper editing and a more conscientious writer would be an incredible jumping-off point for exploring the array of wonderful stories to be found in the boom-and-bust post-War minor leagues.