Negro leagues historian Peterson dies at 80

2/21/2006 - MLB

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Robert W. Peterson, whose book "Only the Ball Was White" chronicled the story of the Negro leagues, has died. He was 80.

Peterson died at a hospital near Allentown on Feb. 11, according to his wife, Peggy. He suffered from lung cancer and emphysema.

The Negro leagues thrived in the first half of the 20th century, when the major leagues excluded black players, but went out of business in the 1950s. Major League Baseball's color barrier was broken by Jackie Robinson in 1947.

When Peterson's book was published by Prentice-Hall in 1970, relatively little was known about the Negro leagues. The book traced the history of black baseball from the 19th century, giving first-person accounts and biographies of top players, as well as standings and statistics.

"Negro baseball," Peterson wrote, "was both a gladsome thing and a blot on America's conscience."

Peterson was picked by baseball's Hall of Fame for the 12-man selection committee that meets Feb. 27 to consider 39 candidates from the Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues. Minnie Minoso and Buck O'Neil are among those on the ballot.

Peterson, who grew up in Warren, Pa., served in the Navy from 1944-46. He played baseball at Upsala College in East Orange, N.J., and worked as an editor for the New York World-Telegram and The Sun.

When the newspaper closed in 1966, he set out trying to chronicle the Negro leagues -- which produced star players such as Satchel Paige and Buck Leonard -- by interviewing players and studying microfilm of black newspapers.

In addition to his wife, Peterson is survived by his son, daughter and two grandsons.