During the Great Depression, in drought stricken Bismarck, North Dakota, one of the most improbable teams in the history of baseball was assembled by one of the sport's most unlikely champions.
A decade before Jackie Robinson broke into the Major Leagues, car dealer Neil Churchill signed the best players he could find, regardless of race, and fielded an integrated squad that took on all comers in spectacular fashion.
"Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball's Color Line (Atlantic Monthly Press), by award-winning journalist Tom Dunkel, tells this remarkable, largely forgotten story.
When baseball swept America in the years after the Civil War, independent, semipro, and municipal leagues sprouted up everywhere. With civic pride on the line, rivalries were fierce and teams often signed ringers to play alongside the town dentist, the insurance salesman, and the teen prodigy.
Set against the backdrop of the Great Plains and the Great Depression, "Color Blind" immerses the reader in the wild and wonderful world of independent baseball, with its tough competition and its novelty - from all-brother teams and a prison team (who only played home games, naturally) to one from a religious commune that sported Old Testament beards.
Dunkel traces the rise of the Bismarck squad, and follows them through their ups and downs, focusing on the 1935 season, and the first national semipro tournament in Wichita, Kansas.
This is an entertaining, must-read for anyone interested in the history of baseball.
(Atlantic Monthly publicity)