cover image

Playing with Tigers

A Minor League Chronicle of the Sixties

George Gmelch

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 02/2016
Pages: 264
Subject: Biography and Autobiography
eBook ISBN: 9780803284852


In 1965 George Gmelch signed a contract to play professional baseball with the Detroit Tigers organization. Growing up sheltered in an all-white, affluent San Francisco suburb, he knew little of the world outside. Over the next four seasons, he came of age in baseball's Minor Leagues through experiences ranging from learning the craft of the professional game to becoming conscious of race and class for the first time. Playing with Tigers is not a typical baseball memoir. Now a well-known anthropologist, Gmelch recounts a baseball education unlike any other as he got to know small-town life across the United States against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, civil rights protests, and the emergence of the counterculture. The social and political turmoil of the times spilled into baseball, and Gmelch experienced the consequences firsthand as he played out his career in the Jim Crow South. Playing with Tigers captures the gritty, insular, and humorous life and culture of Minor League baseball during a period when both the author and the country were undergoing profound changes. Drawing from journals he kept as a player, letters, and recent interviews with thirty former teammates, coaches, club officials, and even former girlfriends, Gmelch immerses the reader in the life of the Minor Leagues, capturing—in a manner his unique position makes possible—the universal struggle of young athletes trying to make their way.


George Gmelch is a professor of anthropology at the University of San Francisco and at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He is the author of fourteen books, including In the Field: Life and Work in Cultural Anthropology; In the Ballpark: The Working Lives of Baseball People, with J. J. Weiner (Bison Books, 2006); Inside Pitch: Life in Professional Baseball (Bison Books, 2006); and Baseball Beyond Our Borders: An International Pastime, with Dan Nathan (Nebraska, 2017). .


"George Gmelch is an astute guide to the magic and mystery of the Minor Leagues in the 1960s, and Playing with Tigers belongs alongside baseball memoirs by Brosnan, Bouton, Jordan, and Hayhurst. Anyone who cares about the people who play the game should read this insightful and intelligent book."—Trey Strecker, editor of NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture

"A poignant memoir about coming of age in and through baseball in the turbulent 1960s. Racial, gender, political, and identity conflicts—they're all here, recounted by a gifted author."—Jean Ardell, author of Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime

"A compelling glimpse into a vanished social world, the trials and tribulations of an aspiring Minor League Tiger, as well as the glimmerings of an insightful, productive social scientist who still loves and has a feel for the game."—Daniel A. Nathan, president of the North American Society for Sport History and author of Saying It's So: A Cultural History of the Black Sox Scandal