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In the summer of 1959, Craft became the first white man to play baseball in the West Texas Colored League. Here, with the assistance of Sullivan, he provides an eminently readable account of that experience. The book includes only a few references to historical texts; the strength of the book is the telling of a fascinating tale. Craft recounts how while on summer break from college he was contacted by the manager of the Wichita Falls/Graham Stars about joining the team (Craft had been a high school and semi-pro pitcher). Believing that he would be paid and not expecting his new team, and league, to be African American, Craft accepted the offer and showed up to pitch. He so enjoyed the experience and the team that he became a regular member. On one level, this is a simple baseball story about a team and its successes and failures. On another level, it is the story of how a young white man in rural Texas learned firsthand not only about how profoundly painful and limiting segregation was for both whites and blacks but also about how segregation could promote black pride and entrepreneurialism. This is a wonderful book in every respect. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. -- S. K. Fields, Ohio State University

 

Book review from "The Irish Emigrant" online

Sports Books Worth Reading This Summer

By Mark Stokes

Every sport has its icons and overpaid, over-hyped 'brats' who often never appreciate the chance they've been given in life.

On the other side of the coin are the 'nearly' men who might just have made the big time had they been in the right place at the right time. Falling into that category were the players of the semi-professional Negro baseball Leagues of Texas in the 1950's and 60's all of whom played for the love of the game and might have made the big time in the modern day.

"Our White Boy" is a riveting eyewitness account of life in the West Texas Colored League in 1959/60. Authors Jerry Craft and Kathleen Sullivan put us on the pitcher's mound (where Craft crossed the color line to become the first white man to play in the league) in what was often a highly charged atmosphere.

Craft proved himself the best way a sportsman can — by earning the respect of his team-mates. Most of them warmed to Jerry, one or two never did.

At home and on the road in segregated Texas, Craft saw discrimination firsthand and from every side. Yet thanks to his two seasons with the Wichita Falls/Graham Stars comes an unlikely story of respect, character, humor, and ultimately friendship as the teammates pulled together to succeed in a game they loved. This is a story which will keep you engrossed throughout.

Jerry Craft went on to become the Mayor of Jacksboro, Texas, and a pioneer in the national cable television industry. He still operates ranches in Texas and New Mexico.

Kathleen Sullivan has taught at the University of Texas and Southern Methodist University. She is a member of the Sport Literature Association and the Society for American Baseball Research, and author of reviews and articles on sport literature and Women Characters in Baseball Literature: A Critical Study. She lives in Arlington, Texas.

 

Dallas Morning News

Ex-pitcher's story is an unlikely mix

10:51 PM CDT on Saturday, March 27, 2010

Column by KEVIN SHERRINGTON / The Dallas Morning News | ksherrington@dallasnews.com

Kevin Sherrington

When he showed up for his tryout at a Wichita Falls baseball field in the spring of 1959, Jerry Craft figured he must be in the wrong place.

The son of a prominent Jacksboro rancher on summer break from Texas Tech, Craft had received his invitation by phone.

The caller didn't mention the team's racial makeup.

"I didn't mention it," Carl Sedberry Jr. said, hand extended, "because I thought if you knew we were a black baseball club you wouldn't want to play with us."

Sedberry asked if it mattered.

"I'm not sure."

"Well, are you prejudiced?"

"I don't think so."

And thus began an experiment unlike any other in segregated Texas in 1959: a white man who pitched two seasons of semiprofessional baseball for the Wichita Falls/Graham Stars of the West Texas Colored League.

Craft tells his rather unusual story in Our White Boy, a book with local writer Kathleen Sullivan. He's told it before, in bits and pieces. The last time, in 1998, he got four phone calls from independent filmmakers wanting the movie rights. As a rancher, cable TV pioneer and mayor of his hometown, Craft had little Hollywood savvy, so he called an old family friend whose grandfather once traded cattle with his grandfather.

Larry McMurtry told Craft he'd make a few calls. Steven Spielberg already had rights to a story about a white man who'd played for a Negro League team in the '30s. McMurtry suggested a made-for-TV movie. Even had Bill Cosby interested.

"I don't know," Craft told the legendary Texas author. "I've never cared much for TV movies."

"Ever heard of Lonesome Dove?"

"Oh. Right."

The TV project fizzled, but Craft eventually got a book deal done. He writes about the league's meager resources, the reaction of other teams and towns, the camaraderie, the clowning, the impact it all had on his sheltered sensibilities as well as those of family and friends.

When his teammates couldn't rent rooms, he slept in his car, too. And his teammates walked out with him when he was denied service at a black diner. As one said, draping his arm around Craft's shoulders, "Welcome to our world, white boy."

The Stars were a good team, especially that first year, which was a learning experience for Craft. His first game, fans rained beer bottles on the field before he'd thrown a pitch.

"It's not because you're white," his first baseman explained. "They do it to every pitcher, home or visitor. It's just a part of the game. It helps the fans pass the time and clears out the stands to make room for another couple of rounds."

In the half-century since, Craft didn't forget the feel of that welcome, and this reader won't, either.

 

Dromgoole: Two books take look at black baseball

Former Jacksboro Mayor Jerry Craft is the author of "Our White Boy" ($29.95 hardcover), a delightful and candid narrative about his personal experience of playing two years for the Wichita Falls/Graham Stars black semipro team in the summers of 1959 and 1960. Craft says he was the first white player to play in the West Texas Colored League.

Teaming up with co-author Kathleen Sullivan, Craft fills his book with anecdotes and reflections about pitching for the Stars and, for the first time in his life, getting to know black men as friends.

In his first game, against the Abilene Blues, a batter stood on home plate taunting him and wouldn't move. Craft protested to the umpire that the batter wasn't in the batter's box, but the umpire didn't care. Craft walked him.

When the next batter did the same thing, Stars manager Carl Sedberry ordered Craft to throw the ball at his head. Afraid that he might kill the batter if he hit him in the head, Craft instead hit him in the chest. After that, no one else stood on home plate, and the Stars won the game.

During a road trip, an incident in a black diner in West taught Craft a lesson about racial discrimination. The team had ordered its food when the black owner refused to serve Craft because he was white. The team walked out of the diner in support of its white teammate.

"Until then," Craft observed to his father, "I never felt much of anything when the TV showed blacks forcibly removed from public places. Now I think I understand in a tiny way the resentment they feel because I was the one being rejected."

 

 

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Westbrook: Memoir recounts crashing color barrier in baseball

Published: Monday, April 19, 2010

Jerry Craft, like the legendary Jackie Robinson, crossed into uncharted waters for the love of baseball.

While a student at Texas Tech in the late 1950s, he was beginning to exhibit professional-level talent as a pitcher. And during play in the Oil Belt League, he wielded a dropping curve ball with such a magical touch that it couldn't even be easily caught. Most batters simply were left wondering if the ball they tried to hit was vapor.

Craft's abilities were noticed in 1958 by the manager and the catcher of the Wichita Falls Stars, a semi-pro team he had never heard of, and he accepted their phone offer the next year to play during the summer for $75 a game.

The manager, Carl Sedberry, thought it best not to mention that the Stars happened to belong to the West Texas Colored League. Segregation still was a reality, and Craft, he knew, was white - the only white the league would have. Anyway, Craft would get the picture at the first game against the Abilene Blues, the team the Stars had never beaten because they didn't have a pitching staff to speak of.

When Craft arrived at Spudder Park in Wichita Falls and saw only black spectators and two black teams warming up, he assumed he was at the wrong address. He tried two other baseball fields before returning to find out what was going on.

"They knew I would show up, but they didn't think I would play once I found out they were black. We were totally segregated at that time, but Mr. Sedberry was very insightful, and had already figured out what he was going to say to me when I came down the stairs," Craft remembers.

"He came up and introduced himself, and my mouth dropped open. He said, 'Mr. Craft, you didn't know I was black, did you? You ever play for a black team?' I said, 'I never even saw a black team, Mr. Sedberry.'"

Sedberry went for the heart - Craft's hometown of Jacksboro. "Our people in Jacksboro tell us you are not a prejudiced man."

Half a century later, Craft remembers, "You know, he had already played the race card against me right there."

Craft was met with icy aloofness by team members, and was called "white boy" as a kind of put-down.

But he stayed and pitched and won games, and this year completed a book of baseball memories with the title that his teammates later began using with pride as his new name: "Our White Boy."

The book, published by Texas Tech University Press and written in collaboration with Kathleen Sullivan, tells a non-fiction account of an experience so rare for the 1950s that it likely will wind up in Hollywood.

Craft remembers vividly today the first game he pitched in 1959, and in a documentary style recounts the hair-raising experience that included a crisis of injury, angry baseball fans and a touch of humor.

The Stars manager had a plan for defeating the Blues, according to the account in "Our White Boy." He figured he could lead the Stars into an ambush by intentionally letting them get seven runs ahead during the top of the first inning.

"Let them get ahead and overconfident, and then we'll put in the big artillery. We'll blow them back to Abilene!"

Sedberry started with his worst pitcher, then when all was lost in the first inning, he put in Craft.

Craft met a barrage of intimidation by fans, the opposing team - and the home-plate umpire.

The Abilene batter stood firmly in the middle of home plate to face the pitcher. Craft protested to the umpire, but was met only with incredulity that a pitcher should think the batter couldn't stand on home plate instead of in the batter's box beside the plate.

Craft walked one batter because every pitch had to be outside to keep from hitting the player. Then he called Sedberry to the mound for consultation. Sedberry told him to aim at the batter's head and throw hard.

"No, sir. I don't do that. It could kill the guy."

"If you don't, we'll lose this game. We might as well pack up and leave because all the batters will stand on home plate."

Craft consulted with his catcher, and told him he was going to throw either at the batter's leg or his left shoulder. And hard.

The book contains this account:

"I gave the batter one last warning. He told me to shut up and pitch. Full of fear and adrenaline, I threw as hard as I could at his left shoulder. Instead of turning away from the ball, he turned into it, and it hit him right in the heart. Thump! He fell over backwards, his legs kicked a couple of times, and his eyes rolled back into his head.

"My God, I've killed this man, I whispered to myself."

Craft ran to home plate and was met there by the Blues coach, who was the batter's father.

"His son lay on the ground, quivering, and the Blues players poured water on him and fanned him with their caps until his eyes rolled back down."

Then, in the fragmented grammar of the 1950s, the book recalls the agonized words of the father:

"'Son, son, is you dead?' the coach asked.

"'No, Daddy, but I almost is,' he said."

The strategy, as drastic and dangerous as it was, worked. While the crowd, enjoying the entertainment, was chanting "Kill Him! Kill him! Kill him!" Craft returned to the mound thinking, "What am I doing here?"

But when he looked at the next batter, he saw this:

"To my amazement, he was at least three feet from home plate, his eyes as big as saucers."

The final score was Stars 18, Blues 7. Sedberry had known what he was doing.

And Texas Tech University Press apparently knew what it was doing with Craft's story. It is one of the highlights of this year's Literary Lubbock event at 5:30 p.m. April 30 at Frazier Alumni Pavilion. Book signings also are planned from 1-3 p.m. May 1 at Barnes & Noble in South Plains Mall.

Clarence Myles, who played center field for the Stars in the 1950s, said, "Jerry was a real good friend. He could throw that curve ball, and you weren't going to do anything with it."

Craft, who now is a rancher at Jacksboro, recalls that before the end of his second season with the Stars, teammates were introducing him proudly by this name: "Our White Boy, Jerry."

 

 

 

 

News Channel 6 Wichita Falls

Book Signing At Books-A-Million

Posted: Apr 17, 2010 10:38 PM CDT Updated: Apr 21, 2010 3:53 AM CDT

At the Books-A-Million store in Sikes Center Mall on Saturday April 17, Jerry Craft came to sign autographs for his book "Our White Boy."

The book details Craft's story of overcoming racial tension, being the only white player on an all African American baseball team.

During the Civil Rights movement Craft was recruited by the Wichita Falls Graham Stars manager to try out for the West Texas colored league.

Craft made it and pitched for two seasons with the Stars.

In his book he writes about the discrimination he faced and how he overcame it.

"I think both of us stepped into a world that we didn't eve know existed, white or black at that time," Craft said. "It was a story of slowly working up friendships."

Also at the signing was fellow player Clarence Myles, the only other surviving member of the Stars.

 

 

'We were just playing baseball'

White pitcher recounts days with black team Ted Bus Despite instances to the contrary, baseball forever has been a game played by men and boys with large hearts.

The passion to pitch, hit, run bases and compete between the chalk lines sometimes can be a guiding force that overcomes mischaracterization, flaws or discrimination. What else could explain the manager of an all-black semi-pro baseball team calling on a white boy to join his team in the summer of 1959?

Carl Sedberry was the manager of the Wichita Falls/Graham Stars. It would have been noble to think that Sedberry, in the midst of the civil rights movement, wanted to make Jerry Craft, a talented pitcher from Jacksboro, a Jackie Robinson statement in reverse.

The headline could have spurred widespread attention: "Jerry Craft: First White Man to Play in West Texas Colored League." But that wasn't the case. Sedberry was said to be a man of integrity and not opposed to being gracious. However, his love for baseball and winning came first, and he knew he couldn't win without an outstanding pitcher.

"Mr. Sedberry" as everyone called him, had a team with offensive punch, speed and fine defense, but no pitching. "Mr. Craft," as Sedberry called him, was a pure mound man who happened to be white.

Craft was a tall, lean right-hander with a sharp curve and a deceptive fastball. Sedberry had watched him throw and knew he had excellent command of his pitches, especially his breaking ball, and he could pile up "K's" and scoreless innings.

In his newly-released book "Our White Boy," written with Kathleen Sullivan, Craft tells the story about how he became the first white man to play in the West Texas Colored League during the summers of 1959 and 1960.

The story unfolds during the height of the Civil Rights movement and has the potential of becoming a movie. Pulitzer Prize novelist Larry McMurtry called it, "An engaging and touching story of racial harmony in an era of racial distrust." Former Wichitan Skip Hollandsworth of Texas Monthly called it a deeply moving story and added, "Some of the details came straight out of a Hollywood screenwriter's imagination."

Pitching in

Craft, a Texas Tech alum, rancher and a former mayor of Jacksboro, talked at length recently about how his involvement with the Wichita Falls/Graham Stars came about. Like Sedberry, he didn't set out to make any kind of inspiring brotherly statement. He just liked to play baseball, and the call he received one spring day came out of the blue and carried no hint of cultural overtone.

"The caller didn't sound colored, so the possibility never crossed my mind," Craft said. "He said, 'Mr. Craft, we have a team, the Wichita Falls Stars, and we need a first-class pitcher. We would like for you to give us a try.'

"I'd never heard of the Wichita Falls Stars," Craft said, "but they were willing to pay me $75 a game. They told me that if I was interested to show up at 2 p.m. that coming Sunday at Spudder Park.

"They told me we were playing the Abilene Blue, and I'd never heard of them, either. They just asked me to come to the park ready to play. It was a pretty casual invitation. They said, 'Let's just see if we like you and you like us.' "

Craft drove up to Spudder Park a little early and saw a black baseball team taking warmups. There were black fans and children in the stands. Thinking he had the date, time or site wrong, he drove around, searching other ballparks in the area. Puzzled, he drove back to Spudder Park, got out of his car and walked on the playing field.

"I even thought maybe the black guys played first and then the white guys played in a second game," he said, chuckling. "Then this colored man named Mr. (Carl) Sedberry walked toward me and said, 'Didn't know I was black, did you Mr. Craft?'

"No, sir," Craft said. "I didn't."

Craft admitted he was a little stunned because he'd never played for a black team before. He said, "Mr. Sedberry, "I'm not sure this is gonna work out."

"You're not prejudiced are you Mr. Craft?" Sedberry countered.

"No sir," Craft assured. He told Sedberry that it could be a little uncomfortable for everyone involved.

"Maybe," Sedberry shrugged. "Why don't we give it a try? Call it an interesting experiment."

After he warmed up, Craft took the mound and the first thing he heard was his catcher say, "OK. Throw in here white boy."

Craft's breaking ball dipped hard and away from right-handed hitters. The first two clipped the outside corner and drove hard into the catcher's thigh. The catcher complained to Sedberry, and Sedberry told him, catchers he could find. What he couldn't find was a pitcher like Jerry Craft. "Get back out there and play ball," he said.

A new world

No team in the league had decent bats or gloves. No uniform matched. With the exception of a few fine playing sites like Spudder Park, most ballfields on the road were nothing more than glorified pastures

Weeds, sticker patches and dandelions overwhelmed real grass. Cow patties often had to be scooped off the turf into paper plates, and hot winds relentlessly stirred the field into clouds of dust.

They played in cities and small towns in Oklahoma and Texas, mostly against all-black teams. When they traveled, they caravanned in cars and pickup trucks. On long trips like to Waco or somewhere in the Hill Country, it was always an adventure to make sure every vehicle held up and everyone arrived on time.

Sometimes they could eat on the road at colored diners, but most of the time they stopped at a grocery store for bread and sandwich meat. At home, however, they feasted and celebrated after every game with cold beer, barbecue and potato salad. Families, friends and children joined in to make it a true postgame spread.

Craft was 16-1 his first summer with the Stars. He averaged eight to 10 strikeouts a game and in one outing he fanned 23. With every win, the name "White Boy" began to give way to "Our White Boy."

On the way home after a game in Meridian, the team stopped at a small black restaurant to get something to eat. The proprietor noticed Craft when he walked in with his teammates and quietly told Mr. Sedberry the white boy needed to leave. He wouldn't serve him. Sedberry said Craft was part of the team, but the restaurant manager said it didn't matter.

"Mr. Sedberry just looked at him a second and, as a team, we all turned around and left," he said. "I really appreciated their support that day. Bobby Heron, one of our best players, put his arm around me and said, 'Welcome to our world, white boy.'

"Another time I got a standing ovation for a catch I made of a foul ball at a game in Hamlin. They didn't care that I was white and played for the other team. They just appreciated a good play." "Mr. Craft" and "Mr. Sedberry" spoke often of things near the hearts of black and white men who wanted to overcome obstacles and "get along." Clarence "Rabbit" Myles, the center fielder for the Stars and Craft's lone surviving teammate said, "We didn't have anything to wear until Mr. (Paul) Brotherton got us uniforms. Sometimes there weren't enough gloves to go around and we had to share with players from the other team.

"But we were happy just playing ball," he added. "It was a good period of time. We learned a lot about each other as men. We were family."

After one road game, Myles was arrested for drinking beer and he didn't even drink. It was a mistake, but the town sheriff hauled him to jail. It was going to take $100 to get him out, but the most the team could scrape together was $48. The lawman took the cash and said, "Don't come back."

"So," Craft said, "we went home broke and hungry."

Craft said it took him years to realize the values he learned and the accomplishments Mr. Sedberry's team made as athletes, men and friends. A few of them reunited Feb. 20, 1999, at the Texas State Fair Park for the "Southwest Negro Leagues Baseball Reunion."

"It was," Craft said, "a wonderful day."

Today he often repeats something Myles once said when asked, "Do you realize what a statement you were making back then?"

"We weren't making a statement," Craft repeated. "We were just playing ball."

 

 

 

 

Waco Tribune-Herald Sports

Brice Cherry: A white man in a black league

BRICE CHERRY Tribune-Herald staff writer

Saturday May 22, 2010
 
 

Jerry Craft never set out to break any color barriers.

In fact, after it appeared he might be headed in that direction, he wasn't too keen on the idea.

Back in the summer of 1959, Craft had just wrapped up his senior year at Texas Tech and, with limited job options, figured he'd soon be joining his family's ranching business. That all changed with a phone invitation to try out for a semipro baseball team.

Jerry CraftWhat Craft, a white man, didn't know is that he was being recruited to play in the all-black West Texas Colored League.

"Quite frankly, if I'd have known, I wouldn't have gone," said Craft, who will throw out the first pitch at today's Baylor-Oklahoma State baseball game. "Everything was totally segregated in those days, and you just didn't do that.

"But Mr. (Carl) Sedberry, the manager, realized I wouldn't come if I knew. He thought it was worth the gamble, and sure enough, it was."

For the next two years, Craft witnessed — and endured — racial discrimination from a firsthand perspective, in the years before the civil rights movement took hold. He has authored a book, "Our White Boy," about his unique experience that has been praised as both "provocative" and "remarkable."

That summer day in '59, however, Craft never realized he was embarking on such a journey. He was just hoping someone might pay him to play ball for a few years.

"When I showed up at the stadium for the tryout, there were hundreds of black people all around," Craft said. "I thought, 'Uh-oh, I've got the wrong park.' "

Craft drove to another set of baseball fields, only to find them empty. So he returned to the original ballpark, figuring that his tryout would follow the black ballplayers' game.

"I was walking down to the stadium, and this well-dressed black gentleman approached me and said, 'Mr. Craft? I'm Mr. Sedberry,' " Craft recalled. "I just looked at him. And he said, 'Well, well, Mr. Craft, you didn't know I was black, did you?'  "

Upon learning that the tryout would be for the Wichita Falls/Graham Stars, a team in the WTCL, Craft's trepidation was evident. He nearly left.

"Mr. Sedberry said, 'Now, Mr. Craft, they told me you weren't a prejudice man. Are you?' " Craft said. "And I said, 'Well, no, of course not.' And he said, 'Well, why don't you stick around? It'll be an interesting experiment.' "

Becoming the experiment

That comment rubbed Craft the wrong way. "I told him, 'I'm not sure I want to be part of any experiment,' " he said. "Finally, Mr. Sedberry said, 'Well, why don't you give us a try, and you don't like it, you don't have to come back.' "

Sedberry needed a pitcher, and Craft could pitch. Only problem was, his potential new teammates were about as enthused at seeing him as he was about being there.

"They didn't like it all. They were cold toward me," Craft said. "Like everything else back then, the West Texas Colored League was segregated. Having a white man show up, that didn't sit too well with them."

But the decision wasn't up to the team. Sedberry ended up offering Craft a roster spot, and despite his misgivings, the pitcher accepted.

Why? "Because they were the best team I'd ever seen," Craft said.

A white man playing baseball in an all-black league was more than a little unusual in that era. Some of Craft's family and friends tried to discourage him from joining the Stars.

"My dad hated it," Craft said. "He was a rancher, and very prejudiced. He was still a good man, and he loved baseball, loved watching me play. When I came home, he said, 'How'd that tryout go?' I said, 'They're probably the best team I've ever played for.' And he said, 'Really? What are the players like?' And I said, 'Well, they're all black.' My dad couldn't believe it. He said, 'Surely, you're not going to play for them, are you?' "

"We had a big fuss about it, but he saw that I was convinced," Craft continued. "Finally, he just said, 'Well, for God's sake, don't tell anyone about it.' For those next two years, he never came and saw me play."

His new teammates were equally slow to embrace Craft. They didn't call him by name, but rather "White Boy," and it wasn't a compliment.

"They said it with the same derision with which white people used the word 'Boy' with them," Craft said. "It was like, 'We don't want to see you doing this, White Boy.' "

It was a different world than anything Craft had seen before. The team traveled all over the Southwest, playing in run-down ballparks that frequently lacked outfield fences. Games were generally played on Sunday and Wednesday nights — when the white folks were in church — and always ended with a fair amount of socializing.

"After the games, both teams would sit on somebody's pickup truck in the parking lot, eating dinner and drinking beer with their families," Craft said. "I came to really look forward to that."

Over time, a mutual respect developed between Craft and his teammates. At the team's only tournament of the season, a Juneteenth event in Ranger, Texas, Craft was stunned to learn the players planned to sleep in their cars, since hotel rooms for blacks were nonexistent.

"They told me, 'We don't expect you to do that,' " Craft said. "And I said, 'Yeah, that's what I'm going to do, too.' So I slept in my car. One of the guys brought me a pillow. After that, I was pretty well-accepted. . . . But I sure did smell by Sunday."

From there, friendships blossomed. Craft knew things had changed when the players began introducing him as "Our White Boy."

Yet the team's newfound bond was put to the test following a game in Waco. Typically after a game, the players would pool money and allow Craft to go buy sandwiches for dinner. But on this night, Sedberry informed the team that they'd be eating at a black-owned restaurant in West.

'Welcome to our world'

Craft's presence in the diner, however, was not met with hospitality.

"All the patrons were looking at me, and the guy who owned the restaurant came over and said, 'Sir, I don't want any trouble, but you're going to have to leave,' " Craft said. "I said, 'Why?' And he said, 'Because you're white. My customers don't want you here.' "

The owner told Sedberry that he and the players could stay, but Craft would have to leave. But when Craft rose to head outside, the entire team followed.

"All of them left their suppers sitting there, and we were hungry," Craft said. "Bobby Haren was our rightfielder, and he didn't like me, but it wasn't because I was white. Bobby didn't like anybody. But he got a kick out this. He smiled and threw his arm around me and said, 'Welcome to our world.' "

After a couple of summers of semipro ball, Craft, who's now 73, hung up his glove. He was a pioneer in the cable television business, and dabbled in politics, including a stint as mayor of his hometown of Jacksboro. He's also worked as a rancher for more than five decades.

But that two-year period playing for the Stars forever altered his perspective.

"It gave me a lot more empathy. For a while, I was the leading liberal here in Jacksboro," Craft said, laughing. "I think it opened my views to what other races experienced, some of the struggles they faced. I don't think I would have been cognizant of their injustices if I hadn't lived it."

 

The Baylor Line

Shades of Gray

Discovering that life is not all black or white

While it might not seem like it, the title of this book, Our White Boy, is a term of endearment, not a slur—but it didn't start out that way.

When Jerry Craft first joined the Wichita Falls/Graham Stars semi-professional baseball team in 1959, his teammates called him "white boy" or simply "boy." It was only after they got to know him and understand his motives for joining the team that they added the "our," signifying that he truly was one of them.

Our White Boy recounts a time and a place that will be a distant memory for older readers and almost incomprehensible to younger ones. During the summers of 1959 and 1960, Craft was the only white player in the West Texas Colored League, a semi-pro league whose seven teams included the Waco Tigers and the Haskell Yellow Dogs. Together with his teammates, he traveled the state, playing other black teams, along with independent Hispanic and white teams. Not only were the players unpaid, but they often took up collections during the seventh-inning stretch, hoping to get money to buy gas and even baseballs.

Now a rancher and former mayor of Jacksboro, Craft says he played with the Stars against his family's wishes for one simple reason—he loved the game. "The integration of the Stars is more meaningful to me now than it was in 1959," he writes. "Back then, I was just happy to play baseball. Now I realize the significance of our achievement."
  
One of the people who helped Craft put his experiences into perspective is Kathleen Sullivan '92, MA '94, who was teaching sports literature at the University of Texas at Arlington when she met the former player in 2005. After hearing Craft's story, Sullivan persuaded him to put his experiences down on paper. "I would be his ghostwriter," she writes, "and preserve his voice, a white West Texas rancher who loved baseball and fondly recalled his experiences with an all-black baseball team."

Craft and Sullivan recount how the all-black crowds grew to love the young pitcher, who helped the team win all but one game in 1959. They relate how the team would caravan to away games, when Craft was the only one who could purchase cold drinks and snacks from the "whites only" service stations along the way.

Perhaps the most compelling incident is one that took place after a game in Waco, when the team was denied service at a "blacks only" restaurant because of Craft. "To a man, my teammates stood up and walked away from plates full of food," Craft remembers.

While his playing days are far behind
him, Craft has developed a whole new set of fans who are eager to read his story. One of his biggest admirers is famed Texas author Larry McMurtry. "Jerry Craft has given us an engaging and finally touching book," McMurtry writes. "It is a story of racial harmony in an era of racial distrust. I highly recommend it