The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues: a Review

Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues

Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues

There are a lot of good works on the Negro Leagues. Most tell the stories of a particular player, or of a team, or of a season. James A. Riley has compiled a wonderful book that presents biographies of each Negro League player. It’s well worth having if you’re interested in Negro League players.

Published in 2002, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James A. Riley is a big book, both physically and in length. It’s heart is a series of baseball biographies of black ball players from 1872 until 1950. Players as early as Bud Fowler and as late as Ernie Banks show up. Some of the biographies are very short, as little is known of the player, some are much longer. As some players are so obscure their first name is unknown, a few of the bios list only the last name of a forgotten player and a few simple facts such as who he played his handful of games for. Other than a few of the more well-known players all the biographies are strictly baseball oriented, meaning there is little information about their parents, children, wives, and non-baseball related jobs. There are also a small selection of photographs and embedded in the biographies are occasional statistics.

If the heart of the book is a series of player biographies, the “gravy” is another series of short articles on various Negro League teams covering some of the early barnstorming teams as well as the more well-known and well established teams of the “classic” Negro League era of the 1920s through the 1940s. Finally there are also biographies of various executives, umpires, and contributors who were instrumental in making the Negro Leagues what they were to the players and their fans.

Want to know info on Josh Gibson? It’s there. How about Effa Manley? It’s also there. Steel Arm Davis? He’s there too, as is Charles Thomas, the Ohio Wesleyan player whose embarrassment led Branch Rickey to later integrate the Major Leagues (Thomas played a few games in the negro Leagues before becoming  a dentist).

The book is well-worth the admittedly high $78.30 price at You can probably find it for less in used condition.


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3 Responses to “The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues: a Review”

  1. Glen Says:

    V, want to thank you, for this heads-up on what sounds to be a well-worthwhile book. Living under the poverty level as I do, $78.30 is out of the question for me (and a lot of other people, too, not only those under the poverty level), but I looked at the following website, which I highly recommend to all— and I found that book is available for as low as six dollars and change to up to less than half that $78.30 price. Here’s the URL to make it easier for people for searching for that particular book, although the website has an excellent search-engine and it’s usually very easy to find the book or author that one is searching for. Here’s the exact URL for the book that you were writing about, V—-

    While searching under the author on the ABE website, I also discovered that he’s written a LOT of books on Negro League baseball, such as books about Monte Irvin, Buck Leonard, and lots more, including “Dandy, Day, and The Devil”, which sounds as if it would be a novel, but is actually a factual book about Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, and Willie Wells, who apparently got the nickname “Devil” because, according to Monte Irvin’s forward, opposing players used to say “Don’t hit it to shortstop because The Devil is playing out there.”

    Also, I happened upon a website that is edited by Riley, and it’s about the Negro Leagues, with various videos, etc. (including one of Roy Campanella on the TV game show, “What’s My Line?”!!!” Here’s the link to that website. Thought you might like it, V.

    Also, here’s a story in the New York Times about Charlie Smith.
    I’ve been familiar with Charlie Thomas for years, as it was an unforgettable forward to a book called “Jackie Robinson of The Brooklyn Dodgers”, written by Milton J. Shapiro which I read in the car (don’t worry; I wasn’t driving) on a trip across Pennsylvania in 1971. I was about nine years old at the time, and didn’t have much trouble reading it, so being that that is the case, I would have to say that its considered a “young adults” or “juvenile” book, although still a very unforgettable book that I remember vividly to this very day.


    • verdun2 Says:

      Thanks for the heads up on the ABE site. I’m sure the cost will make it easier for readers to pick up a copy. Am already familiar with but thanks for putting up the address for others to note.

  2. Glen Says:

    Yeah, that’s me, Glen Russell Slater. Sorry I forgot to sign my full name. Again, I’m glad you posted this, V, because I might buy it from one of the vendors on the ABE website.

    Glen Russell Slater

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