Who Got Game?: Baseball

Amazing but True Stories!


By Derrick D. Barnes

Illustrated by John John Bajet

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 17, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Celebrate the unheralded people and stories that helped shape the game of baseball!

Meet unsung pioneers,
like John “Bud” Fowler, William Edward White, and brothers Moses Fleetwood Walker and Weld Walker, four African Americans who integrated white teams decades before Jackie Robinson.

Discover unforgettable moments, like the time a 17-year old girl named Jackie Mtchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Marvel at records. Did you know that Japanese superstar Sadaharu Oh has a whopping 113 more career homers than Hank Aaron?

And that’s just for starters! This lively illustrated collection of shiny nuggets of baseball lore will transform you into a superfan who knows the game better than anyone else. Someone who’s got game.


Chapter #1

Pivotal Players

Let's put some shine on a group of very important people in baseball who almost never get the recognition they deserve. Some are mold-makers, the prototypes, the first of their kind. Others are mold-breakers, the ones who did the seemingly impossible. People who saw the way things always were and thought, there's a better way.

These are the innovators, both on and off the field. The inventors of new playing styles, new scoring techniques, new ways to overcome devastating injuries. They are so pivotal to the game, that today you can still hear echoes of the things they did back then.

Don't worry if you don't know their names you will! Learn them, remember their stories, then tell everyone you meet!

the father of the negro leagues

Rube Foster

There was a time when official team baseball was considered a game for White men only. But that didn't stop women and people of color from picking up a bat and taking a swing. In fact, in the 1860s, around the time of the Civil War, a number of all-Black baseball teams popped up throughout the country. Teams like the Philadelphia Pythians, the Bachelor Base Ball Club of Albany, and the Brooklyn Unique played against each other in an unofficial way. Over the next twenty years, there were more than 200 Black ball clubs all over the country, traveling from town to town to play one another. But there was no organized league, no way to tell who was the best of the best—or at least the best in a region. An incredible visionary—and pretty amazing pitcher—named Andrew "Rube" Foster wanted to change that. Thanks to his undeniable talent and unrelenting drive, he is now known as the father of the Negro Leagues.

The legend of Rube Foster, the pride of Calvert, Texas, began in 1897 when he joined an all-Black team called the Waco Yellow Jackets at the age of seventeen. Tall and powerful, he quickly became known for his blazing fastball and his wicked screwball.

A screwball, one of the most difficult pitches to throw, is the opposite of a curveball. A curveball, if thrown with the right hand, arcs out to the right then swoops back down and in toward home plate. But a screwball, even if thrown with the right hand, arcs inside, and then swoops down into the catcher's mitt. Crazy, right?

When major league teams came to Texas for spring training, Rube would practice with the White players. He impressed the teams with his talent. They impressed him with how organized and professional they were.

At the time, Black teams were a little all over the place. Some had unusually short seasons. Others folded because of financial issues. And players were always jumping from one team to the next. Rube himself played for three different teams during the 1902 season: the Giants in Chicago, a semi-pro White team in Michigan called the Independents, and the Cuban X-Giants. None of this team-hopping slowed Rube down—he ended the season with a 44–0 winning streak.

For the next three years, Rube threw fire. But being on the field wasn't enough for Rube—he wanted a piece of the behind-the-scenes action, too. He went back to Chicago, and in 1907 became player-manager of his old team, now called the Leland Giants. Three years later, he left the Leland Giants and started his own team, the Chicago American Giants, made up of players from the Leland Giants and the Philadelphia Giants (giants were apparently very popular back then). Over the next few years, he grew his team into a powerhouse, even securing a home field—a ballpark once owned by the Chicago White Sox.

In 1920, at a Kansas City YMCA, Rube arranged a meeting with seven owners of other all-Black teams from the Midwest. Together they formed the first Black baseball league: the Negro National League (NNL), with Rube as president and treasurer. The league consisted of eight teams: the American Giants (Chicago), Chicago Giants, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Kansas City Monarchs, St. Louis Giants, and Cuban Stars. Some NNL teams drew larger crowds than the White major league teams, inspiring Black teams in other parts of the country to form their own leagues. Rube worked hard to maintain the NNL until he became ill in the late 1920s. The league continued after his death in 1930, but was never quite the same.

Between 1920 and 1960, six other Negro Leagues were formed. Then, in 1947, Jackie Robinson left the Kansas City Monarchs (an all-Black team that was first part of the NNL, and later part of the Negro American League) to become the first Black player in the Major Leagues. Robinson paved the way for twenty Black players to move from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues in the next four years, and the need for the Negro Leagues diminished.

Currently, thirty-five players from the Negro Leagues have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Rube Foster.

The "Negro League" was not one unified group of teams. It was seven loosely connected leagues that existed from 1920 to 1960. They included:

The Negro National League I (1920–1931)

The Negro National League II (1933–1948)

The Eastern Colored League (1923–1928)

The American Negro League (1929)

The East-West League (1932)

The Negro Southern League (1932)

The Negro American League (1937–1960)*

The first championship was played in 1924 between the Kansas City Monarchs of the NNL and the Hilldale Club of the Eastern Colored League. The Kansas City Monarchs won, five games to four.

the hebrew hammer

Hank GreenBerg

During an immigration wave that began in the 1880s, the Jewish population in the United States grew by about two million people. Some Americans worried about competing with Jewish immigrants for jobs, housing, and other resources. Across the United States, communities passed laws limiting the rights of Jewish people. Some laws prevented them from buying houses in certain neighborhoods. Others banned them from country clubs and hotels.

Then, in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and inflicted horrific violence upon German Jews. Many fled for their lives, and over 300,000 Jews sought refuge in the United States. But by 1938, after decades of trying to discourage immigration, the United States government would allow only 27,370 German immigrants a year to enter the country.

Against this backdrop of anti-Semitism (discrimination against Jewish people), Detroit's Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, the first Jewish American player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, became a legend.

Hammerin' Hank was a bona fide power hitter. In his 13-season career, he racked up 331 homers and 1,274 RBIs. He led the American League in home runs four times in his career (1935, 1938, 1940, and 1946), and he won the Most Valuable Player award twice (in 1935 and 1940). His skills with a bat made him one of the most popular players of the time. Despite this, there were still people, fans and players alike, who taunted him and called him anti-Semitic names during games. But he just ignored them and sent the ball screaming out of the park.

Hank wasn't very religious, but he still appreciated the importance of tradition. In 1934, he became the first major leaguer to skip a game because of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. And it wasn't just any game—his team, Detroit, was playing against the mighty Yankees during a pennant race (in other words—a chance to go to the World Series)! When Hank arrived at the synagogue for the Yom Kippur service, the entire congregation stood and gave him a round of applause.

Hank was also one of the first major leaguers to enlist in the Army to fight against Germany and its allies in World War II. At the time, he was the highest-paid player in the league, with a $55,000 annual salary. That would be close to a million dollars today, which isn't as much as the gigantic $200 to $300 million dollar–deals modern baseball stars get (see page 114), but back then that was a lot of money for a professional athlete. Yet, in 1942, Hank chose to give all that up to serve his country, missing nearly four full seasons.

When Hank returned to play with Detroit on July 1, 1945, it was as if he'd never left. In his first season-and-a half back, he tallied 57 homers and 187 RBIs! When Hank's fourteen-year baseball career came to an end, he was making close to $100,000 and was a five-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion (1935, 1945). In 1956, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

In 1947, Hank was one of the first players to publicly welcome Jackie Robinson to the majors.

the first dominican player in the majors

Ozzie Virgil

Out of the 882 Major League Baseball (MLB) players who took the field on opening day in 2019, a whopping 251 were born outside of the United States. The country with the greatest representation—102 players—was the Dominican Republic. Who was the maverick, the trailblazer, the first to come from the small Caribbean nation on the island of Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic is on the east side, Haiti is on the west) and open the door for so many others? New York Giant Ozzie Virgil.


  • “A highly recommended first purchase. Readers will be sucked into this unique collection of ‘amazing but true stories’.” — School Library Journal, STARRED

    "Inviting for newcomers and eye-opening for longtime fans, this one will have wide appeal in its exploration of the shortcomings and the beauty of America’s favorite pastime.” — Booklist, STARRED

    “An ebullient collection of stunning comebacks, awesome athletes, and achievements both grand and dubious.” — Kirkus Reviews


On Sale
Mar 17, 2020
Page Count
176 pages

Derrick D. Barnes

Derrick D. Barnes

About the Author

Derrick Barnes is the winner of the 2018 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award for outstanding new writer, and his picture book Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut took home four honors at the 2018 American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards: the Coretta Scott King Author Honor and Illustrator Honor, the Newbery Honor, and the Caldecott Honor. Derrick is also the author of the New York Times bestselling picture book The King of Kindergarten, and the bestselling chapter book series Ruby and the Booker Boys. Derrick lives in Charlotte, NC, with his wife, Dr. Tinka Barnes, and their four sons, all of whom play sports.

Learn more about this author