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We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

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One of the baseball books I've read this Spring in anticipation of the new season was Kadir Nelson's gorgeous new book, We Are the Ship. The eight years he dedicated to its making are much-evident and make it well worth multiple readings. Not just a children's book, or a coffee table book, pure history or a simple collection of paintings, this book transcends genre or format to be a thing entirely its own.

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Written in the collective "we" voice, Nelson's narrator speaks for all players of the Negro Leagues, the "everyplayer" that tells the sad but inspiring story of these fine players who were not allowed to play in the major leagues. So, they carved out their own place; their own ship. The book doesn't flinch from the hard, shameful truths of racial bias in our history, or sugarcoat the weaknesses of some players within the Negro Leagues. Rather, it's a full and ultimately hopeful portrait and tale, of proud men doing what they loved, paving the way for integration, not only in baseball, but more broadly in all of American society.

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The book is filled with reproductions of Nelson's outstanding oil paintings: strong portraits; blazing action; quiet anticipation; and the obvious pride these players had in themselves and what they were doing, that Nelson feels for them. These works are rich and powerful, meticulously researched and executed, bringing to life for us the subject(s), many of them otherwise largely lost to history, lifting them up to mythic and heroic proportions, while remaining true and real.

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The book covers greats like Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson and Satchel Page, but also gives lesser known players their due, as well as the men who not only played but started and ran the league, while acknowledging the important roles played white owners and general managers like Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck, who were instrumental in breaking the color barrier to the major leagues. Without this league, without the efforts of these players, the careers of Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and a host of others would not be fully realized or known to us. The smaller images I've included here do not do this tremendous book justice. It can be enjoyed in many ways from many angles. One can just pour over the paintings, or read through the text while scanning them as illustrations, or it can be lingered over to revisit favorite chapters. Grab a copy from your local library today, or pick up a copy of your own. This one's a keeper.

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