Sunday, July 18, 2010

On the Coffee Table: Larry Tye

The story of Satchel Paige is, by any measure, one of the very best in baseball. Larry Tye's Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend provides a balanced look at the life of the legendary pitcher. To be sure, all of the apocryphal myths are included but Tye did extensive research (the bibliography is 35 pages long!) to separate fact from fiction. I certainly finished the book convinced that Paige is one of baseball's all-time best pitchers, indeed one of the 20th century's most extraordinary athletes.

Of course, the Satchel Paige story is just the tip of the iceberg in the larger saga of Negro League baseball and the eventual and long-overdue integration of the Major Leagues. If anything, I am now eager to learn more about the generations of players who were locked out of the bigs. The very least the baseball world owes them is to tell their stories and tell them well. Therefore, I am grateful for the many books which have been published on the subject in recent years.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Satchel Paige story in the broader baseball view is the very different perspective on Jackie Robinson. Previously, I did not fully appreciate the well-justified resentment which Paige and many of his contemporaries felt towards Robinson, an unproven talent at the time of his ascent to integration icon. Not only were more accomplished players, Paige foremost among them, better qualified as baseball talents but Robinson's irreverent attitude towards the Negro Leagues was well-known. In the end, of course, Robinson certainly proved himself worthy, being named National League MVP in 1949. Paige made the most of his opportunities in the Majors once he finally made it, too. But one does feel the painful sting of historical injustice for Satch.

A great read.

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