Satchel, by Larry Tye

Paige got around, playing not just in the Negro Leagues, but barnstorming, too, against major leaguers such as Dizzy Dean. Paige even made it south of the border, to Venezuela, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. He clearly got a lot of joy out of the baseball life, which he played forever. When the Majors were ready to integrate, though, he was not the first choice. He was too old (about 42) and, Nye implies, too rough around the edges. Still, Paige made it into the Majors the next year, and played on several teams, including a turn for Bill Veeck, whose eye for a good show lit on Paige immediately. He even had a year with the new Atlanta Braves in 1968 as a “pitcher-coach-trainer.” Like Melchizidek, no one knew exactly how old he was. He fit the cliché of the legend in his own time. They told the stories about him calling the outfielders in and daring the batter to get a hit. He had dozens of pitches, supposedly, each one with a crazy name–Jump Ball, Long Tom, Four-Day Creeper. But all this was really just make-believe. He had rules for living that were reprinted in Reader’s Digest and elsewhere. Lye tracks them down and shows that they were largely the work of creative sportswriters.

Paige was admitted to the Hall of Fame after a controversy over whether to confine the Negro League players to a special area. It seems that there was discussion over whether the Negro League players really deserved to be classed with the Majors. Paige’s own career illustrates the difficulties in making direct comparison between the two leagues–different schedules, lack of record keeping in the Negro Leagues, etc. Such legitimate questions, however, had to yield to the importance of not creating a segregated Hall of Fame.

This was a fun book, though a bit of a mess. The author is not a sportswriter, and seems to rely too much on Paige’s own memoirs. There are tables of statistics in the back, if you like that sort of thing. After the early chapters on growing up in Mobile, the book is not well organized. The chronology shifts back and forth; by the end, it’s a collection of anecdotes. Still, everyone should know some of these stories.

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