Jules Tygiel, Historian, Dies at 59
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: July 4, 2008
Jules Tygiel, a historian and self-confessed baseball nut whose Brooklyn upbringing inspired his highly regarded scholarship on Jackie Robinson and on the integration of American society seen through the lens of baseball, died on Tuesday in San Francisco, where he lived. He was 59.
For 30 years, Mr. Tygiel (pronounced ty-GELL) worked in the history department at San Francisco State University, where he taught mostly conventional courses on the Great Depression, the history of California and the history of labor in the United States. His published works include the story of C. C. Julian, the Los Angeles oil business con man of the 1920’s, and a biography of Ronald Reagan. But if the classroom and the library were Mr. Tygiel’s intellectual haunts, his heart was on the ball field.
“Writing this book has allowed me to combine my vocation as a historian and my avocation as a baseball fanatic,” Mr. Tygiel wrote in an introduction to his best-known work, “Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy” (Oxford University Press, 1983).
“I spent joyous months poring over sports pages, reading microfilmed back issues of The Sporting News and devouring baseball biographies.”
A meticulously researched and gracefully written account of the relationship between blacks and professional baseball, the book begins with Robinson’s first game in pro ball, on April 18, 1946, when he got four hits, including a home run, playing for the Montreal Royals of the International League.
From there it uses Robinson’s experience in Montreal and, beginning the next season, with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the centerpiece of a history of baseball’s integration — from the early days of the game through the appearance on the field, in 1959, of Pumpsie Green, the first black player for the last major league team to integrate, the Boston Red Sox.
A “rich, intelligent cultural history,” as it was described by Christopher Lehman-Haupt of The New York Times, the book was among the notable books in The Times’s Book Review of 1983. In 2002 it was ranked No. 50 on Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 100 sports books of all time.
“He loved all aspects of baseball,” Ms. Custer said. “And as an academic, it was important to him to write not just for academics.”
Jules Everett Tygiel was born in Brooklyn on March 9, 1949. His father and mother ran a store that sold and repaired pens, lighters and electric shavers. They lived in the East Flatbush section, not too far from Ebbets Field, home of Robinson’s Dodgers, and a place the young Mr. Tygiel first visited when he was 7.
“My favorite player was Jackie Robinson, largely because he integrated baseball,” Mr. Tygiel wrote. “I was not sure what this meant, but I knew it was wonderful. I thus learned my first lesson in race relations and politics.”
Mr. Tygiel graduated from Brooklyn College, then received his M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the U.C.L.A. He taught at the University of Tennessee and the University of Virginia before settling at San Francisco State in 1978.
He wrote or edited several other books about race and baseball, including “Past Time: Baseball as History” (Oxford, 2000) and “Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race and Baseball History” (University of Nebraska Press, 2002).
His books on other subjects include “The Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks and Scandal in the Roaring Twenties” (Oxford, 1994) and “Ronald Reagan and the Rise of American Conservatism” (Longman, 2004).
In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1982, he is survived by his mother, Rose, of Tucson; a brother, Philip, also of Tucson; a sister, Martha, of the Bronx, and two sons, Charles, of Santa Cruz, Calif., and Sam, of San Francisco.
Richard Zitrin, a law professor who was among Mr. Tygiel’s oldest friends, said Mr. Tygiel was especially proud of being the commissioner of the Pacific Ghost League, a fantasy baseball league — the first on the West Coast, Mr. Zitrin said — that the two men started in 1981. He wasn’t a bad sandlot ballplayer, either.
“Good shortstop, solid glove,” Mr. Zitrin said. “Slap hitter.”