Thursday, June 04, 2009

Satchel Paige | The Life and Times of an American Legend

Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend
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“Having known Satchel when I was a young ballplayer, I’m reminded of the man who took over the game with both his superior pitching and his dynamic personality. This book is a must-read that captures the essence of one of the greatest legends in baseball history, Satchel Paige.”—Dusty Baker, Manager, Cincinnati Reds

"Knowing Satchel Paige is knowing nobody like him. This is a superb book about an outstanding man."—Yogi Berra

“First, make a list of, say, the five athletes of all time you'd want to invite to the house for a night of beer and nonsense. Second, if you haven't picked Leroy (Satchel) Paige, one of the others has to go. (Good-bye Wilt, Arnie, Whomever.) Third, get up the cash for this book and Satchel's there. Larry Tye delivers him in fine, robust prose, living and breathing, riding the buses and breaking off outrageous curve balls and figuring out the complexities of segregated America. Great stuff.”—Leigh Montville, author of The Big Bam, The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Biography of An American Hero, and The Mysterious Montague, A True Tale of Hollywood, Gold and Armed Robbery

“Satchel is a wonderful book. Larry Tye, with his deep research and clear writing, does not just baseball fans but all of America a great service by showing us the real Leroy Paige and why he deserves his legendary status on and off the mound.—David Maraniss, author of Clemente and When Pride Still Mattered

"It takes nothing away from Jackie Robinson to note, as Larry Tye does in this important new book, that Satchel Paige—he of a fastball of historic proportions--is an overlooked pioneer in the integration of baseball, and of America itself. This engaging biography sheds light not only on Paige but on the game and the country he helped change forever."—Jon Meacham

Interview with the Author

Larry Tye’s research into the Hall of Fame pitcher and Negro Leagues icon, resulted in Satchel, The Live and Times of an American Legend.

You seem to have great passion for this subject. Is that accurate?

One of the most exciting things to me about doing books is you get a chance to talk to people who have never told their story before, other than in oral form. These are all great story tellers. The Pullman Porters and the Negro Leaguers. The other thing, is that, for better or worse, if I didn’t tell their story, nobody would. It would die without it being told. (Book jacket cover courtesy of Random House)

Much of that history is gone.

So many of the people, probably of the 200 Major Leaguers and Negro Leaguers I talked to in the last two or three years, a quarter of them are already gone. There is sense of getting to people who have never told their story before and who are old enough, that unless it is told that day, there is a chance that they will not be there tomorrow.

Were you surprised that Jackie Robinson was not well-respected?

It was surprising how many Negro Leaguers that I read about or talked to who had resentment toward Jackie. They all thought they should have been first. The other was that Jackie was not especially good to them. He didn’t go out there saying “I’m one of what could have been 100 Negro Leaguers.” He thought he deserved it. He also disparaged the Negro Leagues generally. He thought it was beneath him. They thought he was too young and unproven. They didn’t think he was a good fielder.

Of course Paige thought he should have been the one.

He would have loved to have had the natural legacy of having been the first. He thought he had earned the right. He thought that was the way it would go down. It would have been a completely different way of how history would have gone down. Jackie was young and had many great years. Satchel was on the way down. It is an interesting dilemma to think about what it would have been like for Satchel to have been first. But there is no question in my mind that he would have traded in everything to be the guy that Branch Rickey picked.

How did you separate fact from fiction?

I found that the Liberty Valance quote was true about Satchel Paige over the years. People printed the legend and they printed the legend partly because that is what Satchel told them and they had neither the time nor the inclination to sort it out because the legends were good. And they printed the legend because it had been printed enough that it had become fact. One of the fun things for me in this project was trying to sort out fact from legend. Satchel did in factor embellish and it got me to wonder why he did.

And why was that?

One was that he was a great story teller, it was natural to him to tell a hundred stories that he had told 100 times to reporters who he knew were not going to catch up on it. At times he would play with people. But he also exaggerated for a reason that I thought was kind of sad. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio had reporters with them everyday chronicling their legend. Satchel Paige knew to get attention he had to go a step beyond and create a bit of mystery.The idea that he to be his own legend builder is a reflection of the Jim Crow era he grew up in and played in his early years.

Would he have been a good pick?

In many ways he would have been a brilliant pick. He would have been entertaining to fans. At the age of 42 he would have had people wondering what they had missed in terms of all the younger years of this guy who was still sensational. Much more than Jackie he would have been a symbol of all those years of segregation.

But you can understand how frustrating he might have been to authority?

Yes. I would rather have had him as my grandfather or uncle than my father. As a father you want someone who is dependable. And that isn’t someone Satchel was. He was somebody who you want to have a grandfather who was a great story teller. And you didn’t care if they were true or not. I would have also rather had him as a friend and as a competitor than as a teammate. Dependability was something he had a hard time with.

How good of a pitcher was he really?

Bob Feller said Satchel was close to in equivalency to him in terms of speed and finesse. I think that Satchel may have been the best combination of speed, finesse and intelligence in spurts like Sandy Koufax at their greatest. And did it so much longer than anybody could have ever dreamed of doing it. He did it so well for so long he will go down as accomplishing something no one ever did.

Source: USA Today

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