Playing with Tigers


Playing with Tigers

A Minor League Chronicle of the Sixties

George Gmelch

288 pages
20 illustrations, 1 table


February 2016


$26.95 Add to Cart

April 2020


$18.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

February 2016


$18.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

February 2016


$18.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

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.

Author Bio

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).


"Playing with Tigers provides a wonderful, easy-to-follow anthropological view of an above-average minor league baseball player coming of age in a rapidly changing social environment."—Timothy Dodson, Journal of Sport History

"Gmelch's Playing With Tigers balances humility with grace, heartbreak with humor, and victory with defeat in a way that readers not only understand, but appreciate."—R. Zachary Sanzone, Spitball

"George Gmelch is to be congratulated for the courage it took to write this memorable chronicle of life and baseball in the 1960s."—Ron Briley, NINE

"You don't need to have any particular team affiliation to enjoy this book. It really is a good book about a life journey that has a baseball flair to it."—Gregg Kersey, Gregg's Baseball Bookcase

"The greatest strengths of Playing with Tigers are the author's honest humor and unapologetic sentimentality. He stages his era of pro ball as a vague apparition, an atmosphere and culture incomprehensible to contemporary players and fans. Nostalgia is often the enemy of progress, but in George Gmelch's case, it feels necessary."—Tyler Sonnichsen, Oral History Review

“A completely engaging, insightful tour of a lost era of the 1960s in baseball and America. . . . A ballplayer-turned-anthropologist, Gmelch skillfully applies his ethnographic skills to his own experience. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to want to read this fascinating, very personal, and often surprising story. Enthusiastically recommended.”—Robert Elias, author of The Empire Strikes Out 

“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 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 

“A remarkable baseball story from an extraordinary anthropologist and writer.”—Dan Gordon, author of Haunted Baseball

“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

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
1. Ambition for the Game    
2. Breaking In: Duluth-Superior Dukes    
3. Wearing Kaline’s Pants: Jamestown Tigers    
4. A Little Wildness: Jamestown Tigers    
5. Spring Training: Tiger Town    
6. Putting Up Numbers: Daytona Beach Islanders    
7. Moving Up: Daytona to Rocky Mount    
8. Double Passage: The Carolinas    
9. Southern Exposure: The Rocky Mount Leafs    
10. When the Cheering Stops: The Rocky Mount Leafs    
11. Exiled: The Québec Provincial League    
12. Lights Out: Drummondville Les Royaux    
Appendix: What They Did after Baseball    

Also of Interest