JANESVILLE

By day, Janesville’s John Graf is a clerk for the Wisconsin State Assembly.

In his spare time, he moonlights as a baseball historian.

In that latter capacity, Graf has co-edited a book, “From Rube to Robinson,” a collection of articles on the history of Negro League baseball.

Graf gave a presentation on the book this past Tuesday night at the Hedberg Public Library in Janesville. In addition, the library is currently displaying a collection of Negro League baseball memorabilia.

Graf collaborated with associate editors Larry Lester of Kansas City and Duke Goldman of Northampton, Mass. on the book. It was produced on behalf of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

The society, Graf said, has a committee devoted to Negro League issues and puts on an annual conference. The conference, called the Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference, has been cancelled the past two seasons due to COVID-19, but has been rescheduled for June 2-4, 2022 in Birmingham, Ala.

Proceeds from the book go to helping defray the costs of attending the conference, Graf said.

Graf wrote the introduction to the book, and served as the lead editor. Articles cover the entire history of Negro League baseball in the U.S., from the earliest 19th century incarnations of the sport, to the official formation of the Negro Leagues in 1920, as well as the integration of Major League Baseball in 1947 with Branch Rickey signing Negro League star Jackie Robinson to a contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Baseball’s integration, Graf said, began a gradual decline of the Negro Leagues, which began to come to an end by the early 1960s.

The Negro Leagues have re-entered the public eye in recent years with a decision by Major League Baseball to consider the Negro Leagues from 1920-48 as an official part of the Major Leagues.

2020 was the official centennial of the Negro National League, considered one of the first official Negro Leagues.

That’s not the only thing done by those associated with baseball in recent years to attone for some of the sins of the past, Graf said.

Earlier this year, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWA) voted to remove the name of J.G.Taylor Spink from the group’s annual sportswriting award. Spink, publisher of the Sporting News from 1914-62, was opposed to the integration of baseball, Spaf said.

Graf said the baseball writers’ group also voted in 2020 to remove the name of longtime commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis from the Most Valuable Player Awards given to players from the American and National Leagues. That move, Graf said, was also made due to Landis’ opposition to integration.

Landios was baseball’s first commissioner, serving from 1920-44.

Graf shared a number of stories from the book with the audience, even showing video of an appearance made in Brooklyn, Wis. by legendary pitcher Satchel Paige in 1954. Brooklyn is near Evansville.

Paige is well-known for one of his most famous phrases: “Don’t look back … Something might be gaining on you.”

“But he had many other rules for living,” Graf said.

Some of those, Graf said, included “Avoid running at all times” and “If your stomach disputes you, pacify it with cool thoughts.”

Graf collaborated with associate editors Larry Lester of Kansas City and Duke Goldman of Northampton, Mass. on the book. It was produced on behalf of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

The “Rube” in the title is Rube Foster, a Negro Leagues pioneer. The “Robinson,” of course, is Jackie Robinson.

Graf said he has always been interested in sports, even working part-time on the sports staff at The Gazette in his youth.

Graf stayed awhile after the event to answer questions, chat with audience members, and sign copies of the book.  

“From Rube to Robinson” is available at BookWorld at 2451 Milton Ave. in Janesville. It retails for $24.95. It’s also available from online booksellers.

2
0
0
0
0

Recommended for you