© 2024 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘The League’ tells the broad story of Negro League baseball

The Newark Eagles in Dugout in 1936, from "THE LEAGUE", a Magnolia Pictures release.
© Yale University Art Gallery
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
The Newark Eagles in Dugout in 1936, from "THE LEAGUE", a Magnolia Pictures release.

The League is a pretty good documentary that I wish were better, but its ambition is to be exactly what it is, and it’s hard to fault it for that. It covers the existence of baseball’s Negro Leagues from before their inception until their mid-century demise, which is a lot to pack in. And so, director Sam Pollard goes broad and not deep: he tells the big stories, shows us the stars, and gives the outlines of the major social narratives that shaped the leagues.

If you’ve read about the subject, you know most of what Pollard presents here—we get Rube Foster founding the Negro National League in 1920, we get the otherworldly talent of Josh Gibson, and we get a lot of Satchel Paige, although somehow it still feels like not nearly enough. It is fun to see some of the economics behind the leagues and the front office machinations that moved players from one place to another. But it is all an overview—basically, we get the basics, which is good for people who are brand new to these stories, but wouldn’t we love to hear about some of the players who don’t always get all the attention?

Although if we’re talking stars, the real star in the movie is unquestionably the archival material. We see many, many, many photographs and film clips of Negro Leagues players through the years, and it’s a genuine thrill. If Pollard is a bit hyperactive in showing us all of this, constantly whipping and cutting cutting cutting, we can kind of understand—when you’ve got this much good stuff, you want people to see it. I do wish there were a toggle switch to turn off the intrusive, near-constant, and constantly changing musical score, which doesn’t make a lot of sense and only makes us feel as if, somehow, Pollard doesn’t trust his subject to tell the story.

The League is maybe not the most successful film as a film, but if you know nothing about the Negro Leagues, it’ll teach you a bit, and if you do know something, man is it still great to see those guys in action.

The League is on VOD July 14th.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.