Book Review

“Bush League Boys – The Postwar Legends of Baseball in the American Southwest” by Toby Smith. The University of New Mexico Press is the publisher. Retail price is $24.95.  Toby Smith discusses and signs copies of “Bush League Boys” at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15 at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW and at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30 at Treasure House Books & Gifts, 2012 South Plaza St. NW, Old Town Albuquerque.

By David Steinberg

If there are off-beat or hidden sides to a story, ask Toby Smith to find them.

Smith, a veteran Albuquerque author and journalist, consistently brings out disparate strands to construct stories of whole cloth.

He has a talent for making the people in his stories come alive.

And Smith does it with a thorough backgrounding, a fresh writing style and an informal tone that make readers want to know all about the subject.

Those qualities are evident in his new book “Bush League Boys.”

It is about minor league baseball in post-World War II America, specifically in West Texas and New Mexico from 1946 to 1961. The book covers four minor leagues – West Texas-New Mexico, the Southwestern, the Longhorn and the Sophomore, their notable players, team owners and sportswriters.

The book will hold the attention of fans of the sport.

A main focus of the book are two legendary, record-setting home run-hitters – Joe Bauman and Bob Crues.

These are some of the subjects:

–Baseball’s predilection for brawling. Though not a brawl, Smith relates a 1955 incident in which enraged Albuquerque Dukes outfielder Larry Segovia kicked a water fountain next to the dugout. The kick burst a pipe sending water skyward and soaking nearby fans.

–Beaning. Part of one chapter tells of 20-year-old batter Jimmy Hugh “Stormy” Davis of the Ballinger (Texas) Cats getting hit behind the left ear by a wild pitch. He died a week later.

–Players’ fear of contracting polio, the most feared public health issue in that era;

–Game-stopping severe weather. Smith cites a tornado that cancelled game in 1953 in San Angelo, Texas between that town’s Colts and the Carlsbad Potashers. The tornado’s death toll was 13, with 120 injured.

–Race relations. In the chapter “Invisible Men,” readers learn that Willie Stargell, a Hall of Fame outfielder for Pittsburgh, had played for the San Angelo Pirates, then the Roswell Pirates of the Class D Sophomore League in 1959. The book quotes Stargell as saying that the racism he encountered was as bad in the Southwest as it was in the Deep South.

–Sportswriters’ use of lingo peculiar to baseball. Smith uncovered this sentence in a 1948 newspaper story about an upcoming game: “Maynard will be twirling the horsehide at Tuesday’s tilt, hoping to continue his skein.” (Translation: “Maynard will be pitching at Tuesday’s game, hoping to continue his record.”)

Because of Smith’s approach to the subject, anyone interested in regional history or in American history will want to read this book. The storytelling shows holds up baseball as a mirror of American life.

The bulk of the book is Smith’s narrative. But it’s bolstered by chapter-ended “Voices,” recollections of sundry individuals that round out chapter themes.

The final game day of the Sophomore League, the last of the four above mentioned minor leagues in the Southwest, was Aug.  29, 1961. On that day, the Hobbs Pirates defeated the Albuquerque Dukes in the playoffs.

Smith placed the drop in numbers of unaffiliated minor league teams nationally to fewer fans, reducing  team revenues. Smith blames several factors beyond the control of the leagues, principally television and air conditioning. So folks stayed cool at home.

The author concludes that the four post-war minor leagues in the Southwest left “a legacy on which to build. That more than anything is why the teams in their leagues and their players should not be forgotten.”

In all, it is a gratifying read.

(Disclaimer: Reviewer David Steinberg and author Toby Smith were colleagues at the Albuquerque Journal)