We are the Ship is one of those books that I kept seeing at my library, but never looked at closely. Finally something, maybe that my Detroit Tigers are in first place, prompted me to pick it up and start reading. Published in 2008, Kadir Nelson presents an interesting overview of the Negro Leagues along with his amazing paintings of its players and games.
The book is packed with stories and the history behind the league. It is divided into 9 Innings plus Extra Innings highlighting its eras, players, owners and more. In approximately 1887, baseball's owners got together to ban black players. Until Rube Fowler organized the Negro National League in 1920, the players were without a league and just played on local teams, barnstorming teams and the like. The league lasted through the 1940's when Jackie Robinson became the first player to break through into Major League Baseball.
I found the most interesting parts of the book were about the daily lives of the players and how they played the game. They would play multiple games almost everyday and when lighted stadiums allowed night games, they might play four or five games. The teams were small with just 15 or 16 players, so they wouldn’t take games off and would often play hurt. They traveled on busses and depending on whether they could find hotels friendly to the black players they often slept and pretty much lived on those busses. It was also an entertaining style of baseball, played fast and rough. This book is written in much the same way.
Nelson writes in such a conversational way that it like the players are telling you these stories themselves. Nelson doesn't ignore the horrible injustices of the era yet the book is hopeful and lively. The striking art presents the players as larger than life and looking out from the book itself. The title comes from the league's founder Rube Foster who said, "We are the ship; all else the sea."
I greatly enjoyed We are the Ship and it is a great introduction to the Negro Leagues. This is a quick read and one of those rare books that younger teens, older teens and even adults will enjoy.