Biz Mackey, a Giant Behind the Plate by Rich Westcott

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate
The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcher
by Rich Westcott
Temple University Press, 208 pp., cloth $27.50

Rich Westcott, former president of the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association, commonly maintains that professional baseball, with its complicated racial history, “is not one that can be easily digested.” While true, the career of James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey (1897–1965) is mystifying. At least that is how Westcott describes the subject of his new book. This very readable story chronicles the life of Biz Mackey, a forgotten gem of professional baseball.

A relatively short book, Biz Mackey includes 165 pages of text with forewords by early African American Major League Baseball player Monte Irvin and Biz’s great-nephew Ray Mackey III, but it does more than offer only an account of this extraordinary defensive catcher whose career in the Negro leagues spanned from 1918 to 1950. Chapter 3 is dedicated entirely to the history of the Negro leagues, the Eastern Colored League, and Major League Baseball in Philadelphia and includes a treatise on the African American powerhouse team from Darby, the Hilldale Daisies (Mackey played for them, 1923–31). The author’s purpose for this chapter is to establish Philadelphia’s place as “the top city in the country in the annals of black baseball history.”

Westcott leans heavily on interviews with several baseball luminaries to reconstruct Mackey’s biography. Some aspects of the book could have been more thoroughly researched, such as Mackey’s barnstorming stints in the Far East during the 1920s and 1930s. In a chapter titled “Elevating Baseball in Japan,” Westcott recognizes Mackey’s baseball feats in that country but never explains how he enriched the talent of Japanese baseball players. This omission, however, does not detract from the book’s quality and significance. Biz Mackey is an important contribution to the African American baseball literary canon.

Todd M. Mealy
Penn Manor High School