Sunday, January 13, 2019

Thou Shalt Not Steal by Bill 'Ready' Cash and Al Hunter Jr. | Book Review

One can hear the voice of Bill “Ready” Cash guiding you as you experience his career in the Negro Leagues in his new biography Thou Shalt Not Steal (Love Eagle Books, 2012). Passing away only a few months prior to the release of his life story, Cash revels in telling the narrative of playing in the famed league.


Co-authored by Philadelphia Daily News writer Al Hunter Jr., Thou Shalt Not Steal stands out from other athlete biographies, as it feels like you are sitting on the couch next to Cash as he reels you in with the details of his life and career, while neither bragging nor complaining.

Cash was a catcher for the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues during the 1940s, earning the nod for the East-West All-Star games twice during his career. During that time, Cash played alongside some of the finest players in baseball history, including Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. He regarded both players respectively as, “the best hitter and pitcher ever.”

After Jackie Robinson broke down the color barrier, major league teams began to further inspect the Negro League rosters for talent. As the Negro Leagues met its decline around 1950, Cash, a bona fide star at the time, was itching to prove that he too belonged in the major leagues, alongside the same talent that he excelled against in the Negro Leagues.

Possessing little control over the dealings between management at the major league clubs, Cash discovered that the Philadelphia Stars’ owner Eddie Gottlieb set the market too high for his services when the clubs beckoned. Gottlieb received at least three offers from the Dodgers, Giants, and Braves for Cash’s services; however, when he doubled the asking price on his star receiver, he effectively priced him out of the market for these clubs.

Cash was eventually whisked away from the Stars, but it was not by a major league club. His route to a chance in the majors would come through Mexico, signing with Mexico City Red Devils in 1950. His time in the Negro Leagues was finished.

Like many African-American players of his time, Cash experienced greater fortunes in Latin America.

He was so well regarded in Mexico for his stellar play, that newspapers in that country ranked him ahead of Roy Campanella when they spoke of the best catchers who ever played there. Every winter, teams would feverishly bid for his services, paying top dollar salaries and offering improved racial conditions in places like Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic.

After a torrid winter season in Mexico, Cash was whisked away by Granby of the Canadian Provincial League for the princely sum of $10,000. Batting close to .300 for Granby in 1951, major league teams could simply no longer deny his talent. Cash signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1952, looking for a chance to prove his skills on baseball’s biggest stage.

Excited to have the opportunity at the major leagues, Cash reluctantly signed or far less than what he made in Canada. Lured by the promise of a fair shot at their Class-A Colorado Springs farm team, Cash went in to spring training competing with fellow Negro League alum Sam Hairston for the top catching spot on the team. Battling through phlebitis in his leg, Cash outpaced Hairston that spring, batting .375 compared to Hairston’s .214. In a cruel twist of fate, Cash painfully describes in the book how the White Sox brass already decided at the beginning of spring training that the job was Hairston’s no matter how well Cash fared.

Persisting through injuries and broken promises, Cash finished the 1952 season in the White Sox organization. He continued to play baseball in the United States and the Caribbean through 1955, hanging it up for good at the age of 36.

Facing life away from the diamond, Cash worked as a machinist at Westinghouse Electrical, while upholding the virtues of a longstanding Mason and church deacon.

As interest in the Negro Leagues increased in the early 1990s, Cash helped to spread the word, serving on the board of the Negro League Baseball Players Association and making frequent appearances across the country as he approached the age of 90.

Cash passed away in September of 2011 at the age of 91, one of the last surviving members of the glory days of the Negro Leagues prior to baseball’s integration. I have a feeling that if Cash lived to see his book published, that he would have been “ready” to take the field once again to tell as many people as possible about the wonderful players in the Negro Leagues. Fortunately, with some help from Mr. Hunter, Cash’s stories will continue to be told in grand fashion for generations to come.

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