Volume 56, Number 1 July 21 , 2008
Professor of History Jules Tygiel
Tygiel's work on the history of baseball helped both to legitimize sports history among academic historians and to show non-historians how sports history can illuminate larger patterns in the American past. In his large and significant body of scholarly work in the history of baseball and the history of California, Tygiel established a reputation for careful research, clear and graceful writing, and the selection of topics that speak to the understanding of the past and the understanding of society in the present.
Born in 1949 in Brooklyn, Tygiel was 8-years-old when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. In his first book, "Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy" (1983), Tygiel not only explored the integration of major league baseball but also analyzed the process of integration itself. As he explained, "The dynamics of interracial relationships among players, coaches and managers provide rare insights into what occurs when nonwhites are introduced into a previously segregated industry." He not only explored this dynamic of integration, but also its limits. In the end, "Baseball's Great Experiment" is as much about race in America as it is about baseball. Named to the "best book" lists of The New York Timesand other papers, "Baseball's Great Experiment" also brought Tygiel a Robert Kennedy Book Award. In 2003, Sports Illustrated called "Baseball's Great Experiment" one of the top 50 sports books of all time.
Tygiel also wrote "Past Time: Baseball as History" (2000) and "Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race, and Baseball History" (2002). "Past Time" shows how each generation of Americans has reinvented the national pastime to fit its own reality and perceptions. The New York Times named it a "Notable Book of the Year," and the Society for American Baseball Research gave it the Harold Seymour Award in 2001. "Extra Bases" focuses on the broader cultural context of baseball -- how developments in baseball have reflected American society and the ways in which it has changed.
Tygiel's work on the history of California began with his dissertation, "Workingmen in San Francisco, 1880-1901," which he completed at UCLA in 1977; it was later published as part of series of outstanding dissertations. Tygiel's work on the history of California continued with "The Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks, and Scandal in the Roaring Twenties" (1994). Barron's specified that it "should be required reading for anyone interested in the history of American finance." Tygiel's most recent contribution to California history, and to national history as well, is "Ronald Reagan and the Rise of American Conservatism" (2004); though Tygiel was the faculty advisor for the College Democrats at SF State when he was writing it, one reviewer called it "the most balanced account of Reagan's life."
Tygiel's writing and his wry sense of humor made him much in demand across the country as a speaker, including delivering the keynote address for the "Ninth Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture," National Baseball Hall of Fame, in 1997.
Tygiel received two highly competitive awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities and received SF State's second annual Excellence in Professional Achievement Award in 2008. He also contributed op-ed pieces to the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times and Newsday, appeared regularly on radio and television talk shows and was often a guest on KQED Forum on opening day of the baseball season.
At SF State, Tygiel taught advanced courses on history of the United States, 1916-45, the history of California, the history and literature of baseball, and computer methodologies for historians. His seminars for senior history majors included "San Francisco and Los Angeles," "California in the Great Depression" and "the San Francisco State Strike." His graduate seminars focused on the 1920s and 1930s. His students remember that he had high expectations and was, at the same time, easy-going and kind with a delightful sense of humor.
"Jules gave so much to the department and his colleagues -- as if we were part of his extended family," said Richard Hoffman, a former history department chair. "He tirelessly gave of his time and energy to things that really mattered, from hiring new colleagues to helping with their promotion and scholarship." Tygiel's colleagues elected him to nearly every departmental committee, and he served as chair of the hiring committee during years when the department was extensively rebuilding, to replace retirements.
Tygiel is survived by his wife Luise Custer and his two sons Charles and Samuel.
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