NIU historian joins Major League Baseball’s ‘origins committee’ to expand game’s research

Cover of "The Early Image of BLACK BASEBALL" by James E. Brunson III

When NIU’s James Brunson, assistant vice president for Diversity & Equity in Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, received a letter from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, he thought to himself, “How does he even know about me?”

But it should come as no surprise as Brunson, after more than 25 years of tireless research, has established himself as the foremost researcher on “colored baseball,” or “pre-Negro League baseball,” specific to the years 1867 to 1899.

As a result, Brunson has been selected to a panel of 12 Major League Baseball historians and scholars to serve on the “Baseball Origins Committee.”

Led by John Thorn, the official historian of MLB, this decorated panel of experts will research and expand upon the beloved American pastime to provide a rich history of its inception and evolution. The committee also will explore the growth of baseball and its development in local communities.

“This will provide an opportunity for historians and students of the game who write on the subject to submit and share ideas about how the game was played, how it directly impacted the professional game and how we fit into the dynamic of baseball’s rich history,” Brunson said.

James Brunson
James Brunson

Brunson, a noteworthy historian, esteemed artist and NIU alum, began his research in 1985 as he was working on a series of paintings called Renaissance, which consisted of 57 pieces of art, five of which were dedicated to the Negro Leagues.

What Brunson discovered, however, was a deep and rich history of baseball which was rarely discussed.

“Initially I knew this was something nobody else was doing,” Brunson said. “Baseball’s been around for a long time; it’s just evolved.”

Brunson, who has aspirations of creating an encyclopedia-like book documenting his findings, is the author of “The Early Image of Black Baseball: Race and Representation in the Popular Press, 1871-1890.”

His work has also been published in several refereed journals.

“It’s an honor for me to be invited to serve in this role,” Brunson said. “I purchased John Thorn’s most recent book, ‘The Secret History of Baseball,’ and he gives me an acknowledgement in his credits. I think that says something about how important this topic is.”

Among those joining Brunson on the “Baseball Origins Committee” are award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator and Washington Post and Newsweek columnist George Will and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

by Andrew Hrubec

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