A fine biography of the legendary baseball Methuselah.
In 1945 Brooklyn Dodger’s general manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson, breaking a color barrier that had held for more than 75 years. Though revolutionary, Rickey’s selection overlooked a generation of Negro Leagues superstars, none bigger than Satchel Paige (1906–82), quite possibly the greatest pitcher ever. After a lengthy Negro Leagues career, tours barnstorming against the likes of Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller and seasons played in Cuba, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, by 1944 Paige had become the biggest attraction and the highest paid player in the game. Starting out as a blazing fastballer, he later developed an array of pitches that baffled hitters and delighted fans. He matched his on-field showmanship with a larger-than-life persona as a comic and aphorist. Along the way, he also developed a reputation as a contract jumper, crazy driver, mad fisherman, womanizer and all-around fast liver who bridled at Jim Crow’s rules. Although Paige had proven that white fans would come to see a black ballplayer, his age and reputation disqualified him as the impeccable figure Rickey needed for the tricky role of “first.” Journalist and biographer Tye (Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class, 2004, etc.) conducted more than 200 interviews with Paige’s former teammates to reconstruct this amazing career, in which the facts, including such basics as Paige’s birth date, the spelling of his last name and the origins of his sobriquet, require careful sifting from the mistakes, misinformation and myth. Tye never quite convinces us that Paige consciously constructed “a brilliantly defiant parody” in order to combat racism, but he’s correct that Paige knew his value and put himself first in a way that anticipated the superstars of today’s game. Well past his prime, Paige finally got a shot at the Majors with three teams—including an appearance for the Kansas City Athletics at age 59—and a plaque in Cooperstown in 1971.
An authoritative treatment of a true baseball immortal.