I spent yesterday sitting on the beach reading Larry Tye’s biography of Satchel Paige, and I’m sporting a pretty sweet sunburn because I was so engrossed that I forgot to reapply sunscreen. It’s that good.
Tye chronicles Paige’s life and legendary career, from his very humble beginnings in Mobile, Alabama, to the reform school that changed his life, to his barnstorming in the Negro Leagues and finally, to the Major Leagues at the age of 42, when most of his contemporaries had long since hung up their cleats.
It’s unbelievable how well Satchel pitched, and for how long. He was an incredible talent, with a rare combination of velocity, accuracy, and longevity, and Tye gives legend his due while still portraying Satchel’s human side - his equally legendary antics, his struggles, and his painful decline into old age.
The book’s title is Satchel, but it’s impossible to tell his story without also telling that of “blackball” in America. Reading it, I could only imagine what it must have been like to watch Satchel play, decades before I was born, but far too many people who were alive during his time and could’ve seen him missed out, because he and countless other talented ballplayers were forced to remain in the segregated Negro Leagues.
It’s fascinating reading stories about Satchel’s interactions with white ballplayers, long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, and it’s hard to comprehend how segregation in the sport lasted as long as it did, when you consider that white players and executives knew firsthand the kind of talent that was waiting in the Negro Leagues.
If you love baseball or sports history, I highly recommend giving this biography a try. It’s a wonderfully thorough and interesting picture of one of baseball’s most intriguing and entertaining characters.