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Fall 2013

TTUP Author Returns with ‘Pitching for the Stars’

Lessons of life across the color line for a white pitcher in the colored league.

by Sally Post

Our White Boy

Jerry Craft has accomplished a lot in his lifetime: Texas Tech graduate, rancher, state political leader and the only white man to pitch in the West Texas Colored League.

During the summers of 1959 and 1960, Craft played with the semiprofessional baseball team based in Wichita Falls, Texas. It was an unexpected job. Craft had played semiprofessional baseball in previous summers, but the call in 1959 from Carl Sedberry was a surprise. He had anticipated spending the summer helping his father on the ranch. The biggest surprise was when he arrived in Wichita Falls to try out for the Wichita Falls/Graham Stars and found he would be playing for an all-black team.

In 2010, Texas Tech University Press (TTUP) published “Our White Boy,” Craft’s account of his two summers living and working among black baseball players and their fans. TTUP then approached Craft about doing a middle-reader adaptation of the book, aimed at children ages 9 through 12. The result is “Pitching for the Stars: My Seasons Across the Color Line,” which was released this spring. Craft wrote the books with Kathleen Sullivan, who was then a professor at Southern Methodist University. She has written extensively on sports literature and women characters in baseball literature.

“I had never heard of a middle reader,” said Craft. “But I love to tell my story to a younger audience and have spoken at a number of grade schools. So we did it. ‘Pitching for the Stars’ is 125 pages shorter and has less of my personal history, but it is still true to the heart of this story.”

Craft’s story is one of discovery. While Jackie Robinson had already broken the color barrier in professional baseball, racism and segregation were still a way of life in the U.S. It was that divide and how he dealt with it that moved Craft from being just a member of the team to one of the family.

“It was during a Juneteenth tournament in Ranger, Texas. After our first game I asked what hotel we were staying in,” he said. “They said, ‘white boy, we can’t stay in hotels; we stay in our cars, but we don’t expect you to do that.’ Well, I didn’t stay in the hotel. I stayed with the rest of the team, sleeping in our cars for three nights.”

Pitching for the Stars: My Seasons Across the Color Line

Craft also came to realize that black baseball was not just about the game, it was a major social occasion. The team did not have a bus, so players loaded up in their own cars to travel to away games. “I had never heard of tailgating back then,” he said. “But at our out-of-town games we’d sit on the tailgates of our pickup trucks and eat and drink beer and visit with new people.”

It was the social aspect that kept the Stars on the road most of the season.

“I always thought Spudder Park in Wichita Falls was the nicest stadium in the Colored League, but we played so many games on the road,” he said. “I asked our shortstop why one day, and he said, ‘white boy, we know all the black folks in Wichita Falls.’”

Craft remembers well the lessons he learned with the Stars. The long discussions with Coach Sedberry and his teammates as they traveled around the league still have an impact on Craft.

“We would talk about our different views on race and integration, especially in our schools,” he said. “We’d talk about whether white or black pitchers were better. I came to realize just how little we understood each other and each other’s way of life.”

Craft is unapologetic about the title of his original book, “Our White Boy.” “I had a reporter from a New York newspaper tell me that the title of the book was disturbing to some people, that it was very racial. That may be, but I didn’t want to tiptoe around the subjects of segregation and race. I wanted to tell the story of what life was really like back then,” said Craft.

Despite a decent fastball and a wicked curve, Craft knew his baseball career would end with the Stars. He had a chance to sign with the Boston Red Sox, but turned down the contract.

“I love baseball, and it was hard to give up the dream,” Craft said. “But I knew I wasn’t that good. I had gotten married, and I couldn’t see kicking around in the minors. I knew I had to get on with a normal life—if you can call ranching a normal life.”

Meet the Author

Jerry Craft

Craft, who graduated from the then Texas Technological College in 1960, is a rancher, banker and former mayor of Jacksboro, Texas, his hometown. He was a national cable television industry pioneer and operates ranches in Texas and New Mexico.

Sullivan is now an adviser to the University Studies major at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“Our White Boy” is part of the Texas Tech University Press series Sport in the American West. Edited by Jorge Iber, associate academic dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech, the series examines the impact of sport throughout the region and how sports intersect historically with such cultural issues as race, ethnicity, gender and class.

Also in the series is “Playing in Shadows: Texas and Negro League Baseball” by Rob Fink, a Texas Tech graduate and assistant professor of education at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. “Pitching for the Stars: My Seasons Across the Color Line” is part of TTUP’s WindWord Books for Young Readers.

Sally Post is Director of Research and Academic Communications in the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University.

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Nov 24, 2015