Picks and Pans Review: Baseball on Video

updated 05/14/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/14/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT


The story of black baseball players, both in the Negro Leagues pre-Jackie Robinson and in the majors after 1947, is a vital part of American social history. This tape nicely chronicles the sweaty part of that history, if not the blood and tears.

Co-hosted by former Chicago Cub star Ernie Bank's (on-camera) and New York deejay Sid McCoy (voiceovers), it includes photographs, film footage and interviews with black players Monte Irvin, Henry Aaron, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith, and a token Whitey—Herzog, the present Cardinal manager.

The old stills and clips of such players as Josh Gibson and James "Cool Papa" Bell are intriguing. So is a clip of Branch Rickey telling, in self-aggrandizing terms, how he chose Robinson to be the majors' first black. There are segments on such stars as Robinson, Willie Mays and Aaron too.

What limits the 45-minute tape's impact is that neither Banks nor Irvin (both ex-Negro Leaguers) nor anyone addresses the frustration and rage black players must have felt both before 1947 and after, when racism created more subtle barriers. Smith voices the only one real complaint, that blacks still, must be exceptionally talented to make the majors. That argument, ironically, seems dated, judging by the number of journeyman blacks on teams today.

The tape, produced by Melvin B. Bergman and William M. Speckin and written by Ken Lueders, does make one want to know more. (Only the Ball Was White, a book about blacks in baseball by R. Peterson, is a place to start.) And Banks remains sublimely good-natured. It wouldn't have been surprising if he had said, "It's a beautiful day for a videotape. Let's watch two," (Fries, $19.95; 800-248-1113)

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