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Beer writes award-winning book on Negro Leaguer Charleston

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Beer grew up with an appreciation for baseball.

He played Little League and Pony League in Milford, Ind. (now the Wawasee Summer League).

The oldest child of the late Dr. Ken and Lynne Beer, Jeremy graduated from Wawasee High School in 1990 then earned psychology degrees at Indiana University and the University of Texas and read about the game’s past. He considered himself pretty knowledgable about baseball. 

One day Beer was going through the second edition of the Bill James Historical Abstract and the listing of all-time best players.

No. 4 in the James rankings was Oscar Charleston.

“I had never heard of Oscar Charleston,” says Beer. “When I found out he was from Indiana I was floored.”

The National Baseball Hall of Famer from Indianapolis and long-time Negro Leagues star just wasn’t on Beer’s radar.

With a sense of “Indiana patriotism,” Beer decided he wanted to know more. 

Much more.

Around 2012, he got serious about his research and decided to write a comprehensive book about the “Hoosier Comet” and his times.

“I had to learn everything about the Negro Leagues and African American culture and history in the early 20th Century,” says Beer, a Society for American Baseball Research member. “I was a baseball guy and had read a good deal of baseball history, but not black baseball. 

“I looked for every mention I could find of Charleston. I did a thorough investigative job. I wanted it to be pretty definitive. The thing about biography is you can’t make things up. It’s not like philosophy.”

The 456-page book — “Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Forgotten Player” (University of Nebraska Press) — came out late in 2019 and helped the author earn honors from SABR. 

Beer won the Seymour Medal that recognizes the author(s) of the best book of baseball history or biography first published during the preceding calendar year and the Larry Ritter Book Award presented for the best new book set primarily in the Deadball Era.

Charleston was born in Indianapolis in 1896 and died at 57 in Philadelphia in 1954. He is buried in Floral Park Cemetery on the west side of Indianapolis. As part of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s centennial celebration of the first Negro National League game (May 2, 1920, Chicago at Indianapolis), a new grave marker was placed for Charleston.

The lefty-swinging center fielder and first baseman played pro baseball first for the 1915 Indianapolis ABC’s and last for the 1941 Philadelphia Stars.

Paul Debono’s book “Indianapolis ABCs: History of a Premier Team in the Negro Leagues” (McFarland) tells much about the team and Indianapolis during that era.

Between 1924-48, he managed the Harrisburg Giants, Hilldale Club, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Toledo Crawfords, Toledo-Indianapolis Crawfords, Philadelphia Stars and Brooklyn Brown Dodgers plus East All-Stars, West All-Stars and Negro National League All-Stars.

Beer’s first reading about Charleston online showed him to be a bully and someone with an uncontrollable temper and not well-liked.

“That’s not true,” says Beer after much more research. “He got into fights on the field, but not that much more than other players did at the time.

“He was very well-liked and charming. He smiled and was charismatic.”

Beer learned that Charleston had an affinity for billiards and playing the piano. He taught himself Spanish when he was in Cuba.

“He was intellectual and socially ambitious,” says Beer. “He was fascinating. I expected a mean jock. That’s not who he was.”

An article by Beer appears in SABR’s Spring 2017 Baseball Research Journal entitled “Hothead: How the Oscar Charleston Myth Began.”

Beer, who has also published a blog about Charleston, discovered that Charleston broke the color line for paid big league scouts when Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey put him on the payroll in 1945 — two years before Jackie Robinson played for Rickey’s club.

Future Hall of Famer Rickey made Charleston the manager of the United States League’s Brooklyn Brown Dodgers and he was able to provide inside information about the Negro Leagues.

“I can’t find record of anyone who was paid to do that before that,” says Beer. “(Top Dodgers scout) Clyde Sukeforth is how we know about that.”

Sukeforth not only helped bring Robinson to the Dodgers, but another future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. Charleston knew well about the catcher since he played and managed in Campy’s hometown of Philadelphia.

Former Ball State University professor Geri Strecker has been researching Charleston for years and helped get a marker placed at the site of Washington Park during the 2011 Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference in Indianapolis.

With Strecker guiding BSU students came the documentary film, “Black Baseball in Indiana.” Beer said her findings were useful for his book.

Beer appeared on an author panel at the NINE Spring Training Conference in Tempe, Ariz., that also featured James Brunson and Ron Rapoport. That discussion plus another with just Beer can be heard on the Baseball by the Book with Justin McGuire podcast (episodes 242 and 225).

After getting his undergraduate degree at Indiana and master’s and doctorates at Texas, Beer worked as vice president of publications and editor in chief at Intercollegiate Studies Institute Books. ISI produces books written by academics intended for an audience outside their own disciplines.

Next Beer was the president at The American Conservative before landing at his current job in 2009.

Beer is the principal partner and co-founder of American Philanthropic, LLC, a national firm that provides strategic consulting and services to non-profit organizations. His Phoenix office is three blocks from SABR headquarters at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and he helps SABR with fundraising. He also attends meetings of the Hemond-Flame Delhi chapter (the Indianapolis SABR chapter is named for Oscar Charleston).

While Beer is working on an anthology of Negro Leagues writing, his next book will not be about baseball. It will focus on Fr. Francisco Garces (1738-1781), a Spanish missionary priest who led an expedition across the Mojave Desert.

Jeremy is married to Kara, who is from the Phoenix area. Brother Jonah Beer is married (Sara) and lives in Napa, Calif. Sister Amanda Woodiel is married (Thomas) with five children and resides in Goshen, Ind. Ken Beer, who ran a real estate school and was a world traveler, died in 2018. Lynne Beer passed away in 2009.

Indianapolis native Oscar Charleston managed the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers in 1945 and 1946. He is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the subject of a book by Indiana native Jeremy Beer,  “Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Forgotten Player” (University of Nebraska Press).
Jeremy Beer, who grew up in Milford, Ind., graduated from Wawasee High School, Indiana University and the University of Texas, is principal partner and co-founder of American Philanthropic, LLC and os based in Phoenix. He won the Society for American Baseball Research’s Seymour Medal and Larry Ritter Book Award for the book “Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Forgotten Player” (University of Nebraska Press).