Left on Base in the Bush Leagues: Legends, Near Greats, and Unknowns in the Minors, a book review by Rick “Shaq” Goldstein, authored by Gaylon H. White. Shaq says: There was a time… There were 59 Bush Leagues… 464 Bush League cities… and the fans… and the players… were proud to be considered Bush League!
If you’re looking for a unique baseball book.. where when you start reading it… you probably haven’t heard of ninety-per-cent of the players… barely heard of some of the towns… and yet before you’re half-way through reading it … you’ll be simply mesmerized… and wish you could go back in time… and had gotten to immerse yourself in the magic of being a bush league fan… in a bush league town.
In the 1940’s… 50’s… and 60’s… there was a love affair throughout the country with professional minor league players and teams. From California… where the Pacific Coast League was considered by many to be a third Major League. Where kids and movie stars went to games by the thousands… and idolized the players. Players were paid top dollar… and many DID NOT WANT TO GO TO THE MAJOR LEAGUES WHEN THEY WERE OFFERED THE CHANCE! THEY WERE TOO HAPPY WHERE THEY WERE! And it wasn’t just on the West Coast.. some top notch mid-west players didn’t want to go to the Majors.. they wanted to play bush-league ball and still work on their farms.
The individual stories contained within… range from Joe Bauman breaking the all-time single season professional homerun record by hitting seventy-two home-runs in 1954… in where else… but Roswell, New Mexico… and how about nineteen-year-old Ron Necciai… who in 1952… “achieved legendary status pitching for the Bristol (VA) Twins of the Class D Appalachian League. He tossed a no-hitter that was different than any no-hitter anyone had ever thrown — before or since. “Rocket Ron“, as he became known, struck out 27 batters in a nine-inning game.”
What the author Gaylon White (much more on him later in the review) does so movingly… throughout this book… which is literally embedded with his personal lifeblood journey… (along with OVER 200 interviews) is engulf each baseball milestone or accomplishment with the tortuous pathos that the ballplayer endured during their attempt to succeed. The battles against alcoholism… battles against failed teams and towns… against injuries… and racism… and of course… the ultimate baseball battle of them all… simply being the “one-in-a-million” that makes it!
There’s a chapter on former Big League pitcher Bobo Newsom… who won over 200 games in the Majors… and over 100 more in too many bush league towns to count. “Bobo” was eccentric… way before it was fashionable… after reading this chapter I would describe him as a combination on the mound of Muhammad Ali and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych.
“Wherever Bobo played, he led the league in laughs and sometimes wins, losses, and getting kicked out of games. He said what many people thought and did what they could only imagine.”
What makes this incredible slice in time of our country and our national pastime so compelling to me… is the author’s “style”… and you’ll notice… I didn’t just say “writing” style. Some authors write words without true inner emotion… some use statistics that are just dumped in sentences like concrete bricks… some have little or no humor… no sorrow… or despair.
Gaylon integrates all of these facts and emotions… like the leader of a fully integrated human symphony. What is amazing… is as you start reading… you find yourself… not even feeling like you’re reading… Gaylon is sharing stories with you… and you just want more… and you keep listening.
There is a very short… yet powerful forward to the book… by perhaps the greatest fielding first baseman in Dodger history… Wes Parker. Wes grew up in L.A. when the Pacific Coast League was still in Southern California… before the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn and the “bush-leagues” were replaced. One statement from Wes… as to how important those bush-league games were… struck me… as if it was a quote (it isn’t) from my favorite baseball movie of all-time Field of Dreams:
“THEY WERE LIKE G-DS… MAJESTIC, YOUNG, SUPREMELY SKILLED, BEAUTIFUL IN THOSE WHITE UNIFORMS WITH THE RED-AND-BLUE-HIGHLIGHTS, THE EXACT SAME COLOR AND SHADE SUPERMAN WORE.”
“Bristol, VA has made sure future generations remember the amazing performance of Rocket Ron the night of May 13, 1952. Outside the city’s ballpark, DeVault Stadium, there’s a plaque that reads:
“IN OVER ONE MILLION PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL GAMES PLAYED SINCE ORGANIZED BASEBALL BEGAN IN 1869, NO ONE HAS EVER MATCHED ROCKET RON’S FEAT THAT SPECIAL EVENING. IT REMAINS ONE OF BASEBALL’S GREATEST INDIVIDUAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS.”
Note 1: I was given a copy of this book on its date of release based on my multiple decades of highly rated baseball reviews.
Note 2: In 1949 there were 59 Minor Leagues… in 1963 there were 18.
Reviewer: Rick “Shaq” Goldstein