NPR recently did a wonderful piece on Satchel Paige. I am not a huge baseball fan. In fact, I quit the sport as a young boy, choosing futbol (soccer) instead – despite the fact my brothers were extraordinary baseball players. However, I do love to attend ball games games, there is a certain American ambiance and sense of history that isn’t present at American Football or Basketball games.
Though I wouldn’t call myself a fan of baseball, the significance of Satchel Paige has long been with me. I remember hearing stories from my grandfather and other older African-American men. None of them knew Satchel, but they knew what Satchel meant to baseball and they knew the inspirational and entertaining impact Satchel Paige had on the African American community.
Here is an excerpt from Larry Tye’s new book Satchel
Satchel would get his first shot at seeing the world beyond Alabama and playing in a real baseball league. Alex Herman would get a tale to recite for the rest of his life. Driving his children by a weed-infested sandlot on the South Side of Mobile he would say, “That’s where Satchel Paige used to pitch. That’s where I discovered him.” There was a fire in Satchel’s belly even then, to hear Herman tell it, and the manager vowed to stoke it. So he swept the boyish ballplayer away from the city of his birth and brought him to Tennessee. Herman would say that, then stop, knowing his listeners knew that was where Satchel’s story takes off. Read More
Many argue – I tend to agree – that despite his short MLB career, which was due to segregation, Paige was the best pitcher in baseball’s history. Scores of his contemporaries both in the Negro Leagues and MLB marveled at how incredible he was. An interesting element of Paige’s story is the fact he was passed up for the major league in favor of Jackie Robinson – who was radiatively new to professional baseball. Jackie got the call because took less money and was not as strong a personality a Paige. The MLB feared that integrating the MLB with an already self-established star would cause too much dissension.
But what perhaps most impresses me about Paige is not his incredible record or the John Henry-like tales told of his expertise and showmanship, but his insistence to be treated as a human. Paige did not play for white folks if his team could not stay in town or be treated as men – though of course overt racism did occur. Paige refused to live by Jim Crow laws and he was good enough and entertaining enough that he could pull it off. Although we give great credit to Jackie for “breaking the color barrier”, a difficult task regardless of whom it is, it is really Paige – and Josh Gibson – who should be thanked for transforming the game. Paige’s skills and interaction with MLB players opened the game up and revealed the secret mastery of the Negro Leagues, thus enabling integration to occur.
Here is a video of Larry Tye speaking about Paige. The story at the end really celebrates how amazing this man was.