Day One Reads – Satchel

A master of the first impression, [Satchel] whistled in a few fast ones that popped against the catcher’s glove like they was firecrackers. Then he challenged the Tigers’ skipper to pick up a bat, blowing ten pitches by him. ‘Do you throw that fast consistently?’ The manager asked. “No sir,” Satchel answered. “I do it all the time.

Baseball was my first sports love, and while it’s hard to be a true baseball fan without hearing the legend of Satchel Paige, I had never taken the time to sit down and really dive deep into his story. What I learned was that his story, as remarkable as it is, represents the stories of so many people whose brilliance has been lost to history. It’s impossible to read a book about the negro leagues without being reminded of what hatred stripped from the world, and reflecting on how far we really haven’t come sometimes.

Larry Tye

Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend

Title: Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend

Category*: Biographical

Author: Larry Tye

About the author: Larry Tye was a longtime journalist — at the Boston Globe, Anniston (AL) Star, and Louisville Courier-Journal — and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. Tye’s books have ranged from biographies of PR pioneer Edward L. Bernays, Negro Leagues legend Satchel Paige, and Superman, to explorations of the Jewish diaspora, the Pullman porters, and ECT, the most stigmatized treatment in medicine. Tye runs a Boston-based fellowship program for health reporters.

How I found it: I’m a subscriber to The Athletic, which I’ve come to believe is the absolute best source for sports news in existence right now. One of their writers, Joe Posnanski, has been counting down the 100 greatest baseball players of all time for a few months now, and I have to tell you, this series in and of itself is worth the subscription price. Reading his story on Satchel, ranked #10 on his list, reminded me how much I’ve been meaning to dive deeper into his story.

Leroy “Satchel” Paige

Book Jacket description:

He is that rare American icon who has never been captured in a biography worthy of him. Now, at last, here is the superbly researched, spellbindingly told story of athlete, showman, philosopher, and boundary breaker Leroy “Satchel” Paige.

Through dogged research and extensive interviews, award-winning author and journalist Larry Tye has tracked down the truth about this majestic and enigmatic pitcher. Here is the stirring account of the child born to a poor Alabama washerwoman, the boy who earned his nickname from his enterprising work as a railroad porter, and the young man who took up baseball on the streets and in reform school before becoming the superstar hurler of the Negro Leagues.

In unprecedented detail, Tye reveals how Paige, hurt and angry when Jackie Robinson beat him in breaking the Majors’ color barrier, emerged at the improbable age of forty-two to help propel the Cleveland Indians to the World Series. (“Age is a case of mind over matter,” he said.  “If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”)

Rewriting our history of baseball’s integration with Paige in the starring role and separating truth from legend, Satchel is a story as large as this larger-than-life man.

Amazon Rating: 4.6 (72 ratings – Canada)/4.7 (111 ratings – US)

Goodreads Rating: 4.03 (2,184 Ratings)

Anything someone might quibble with: The timeline of the story bounces back and forth a little bit, and I got lost on a few occasions as a result. However, that may be a result of me listening on audiobook.

“Velcro quotes” (ideas that are going to stick with me moving forward):

  • “While many dismissed him as a Stepin Fetchit if not an Uncle Tom, this book makes clear that he was something else entirely: a quiet subversive defying Uncle Tom and Jim Crow.”
  • “He barnstormed in the United States and in the Caribbean alongside Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller and other Caucasian champions, winning them over to him and to the notion that negro leaguers could really play ball. He drew the spotlight first to himself, then to his all-black Kansas City Monarchs team, and inevitably to the Monarchs rookie second baseman: Jackie Robinson.”
  • “The truth is that Satchel Paige had been hacking away at Jim Crow decades before the world got to know Jackie Robinson. Satchel laid the groundwork for Jackie the way A. Philip Randolph, W.E.B. DuBois, and other early civil rights leaders did for Martin Luther King Jr. Paige was as much a poster boy for black baseball as Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong was for black music and Paul Robeson was for the black stage. And much as those two became symbols for their art in addition to their race, so Satchel was known not as a great black pitcher, but as a great pitcher. In the process Satchel Paige, more than anyone, opened to blacks the national pastime and forever change his sport and this nation.”

The truth is that Satchel Paige had been hacking away at Jim Crow decades before the world got to know Jackie Robinson.

Total Pages:   434

Total “pulled passages”: 83

Page to Pulled Passage Ratio**: 5.2:1

P2P Ranking within category for 2020: #1 of 3

Overall P2P Ranking for 2020: #5 (tie) of 9

*I break books into one of three categories in order to better compare apples-to-apples.

  • Reflective: Relies on first-person stories or insights
  • Biographical: Tells the story of an individual or organization from a third-person perspective
  • Research-based: The author(s) collect third-party research to support their discussion of a particular topic.

**As I read, I highlight certain passages/insights that really connect with me. Things that make me think “buying this book was worth it for ideas/information like that.” At the end of the book, I go back and “pull” them from the book and copy them all into a single document. P2P Ratio indicates how many pages on average tend to go by between these particularly powerful insights. This book’s 5.2:1 ratio means I felt there was a passage worth pulling out and writing down every 5.2 pages.