In recognition of February’s designation as Black History Month, we are focusing our Cover the Bases podcast on books that have been written about the Negro Leagues, and some of the legendary players who had an impact on the game of baseball on and off the diamond. There can be no better place to start than talking about Satchel Paige.
Our guest this episode is Larry Tye, author of the book Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend. The book is published by Random House and is currently available in hardcover or Kindle versions.
One of the immediate challenges Larry faced when writing this book was quantifying the accomplishments of Satchel Paige, especially since record keeping and historical information was not as diligently kept in that era.
He did some painstaking analysis attempting to determine the total number of games that Satchel pitched, so he chose the major league record holder Jesse Orosco as a comparison. Orosco appeared in 1252 games, and as Larry explains, that accomplishment generally occurred between April and October. Satchel pitched “from April to April” and based upon his legendary status was expected to appear in any game that his team was scheduled to play. Based upon his research, Larry has determined Satchel appeared in approximately 2500 games.
Larry also came to the conclusion that the claims that Satchel made regarding wins, shoutouts, no-hitters .. all of the big pitching categories .. would have set or broken major league records, had he not been excluding from playing there until the end of his career.
Satchel understood that the great white players such as Joe DiMaggio for example, received treatment from others that would help propel their star status and legendary accomplishments. He knew if he was going to ensure his own legacy, he would need to do that self promotion himself. In a way, it’s as if Satchel Paige understood in this early era the importance of having a personal brand. He even contributed to discrepancies about his age in order to make his accomplishments more extraordinary. We hear that one of the greatest mysteries of the 30’s and 40’s was the true age of Satchel Paige!
One of the most interesting parts of our conversation revolves around a comparison of Babe Ruth and Satchel Paige, regarding interactions with baseball fans. Larry comes to the brilliant conclusion that although Babe Ruth was a great ambassador for the game and was adored by every fan of the day, Satchel had the daunting task of achieving that same status, while overcoming the incredible prejudices that white America had for black players, and black human beings in general. So without diminishing the following of Ruth, Satchel did something even more extraordinary.
During the time leading up to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier for Branch Rickey, it was Satchel Paige who attracted the attention of the media and fans to the Negro Leagues. He was the one who made the effort to demonstrate the skill of the ballplayers in the league, and he would take credit for getting a backup second baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs in front of Branch Rickey in the first place. Rickey made the choice of Robinson for a number of reasons including personality, age, willingness to play in the minor leagues, and an understanding that he would have to turn the other cheek to the challenges that would be heaped upon him.
We finish the podcast with Larry telling us the great tale about Satchel’s last appearance pitching for the Kansas City A’s, owned by the great Charlie O. Finley. Satchel was 59 years, 2 months and 8 days old at the time. Finley set up a rocking chair near the bullpen and hired a nurse to rub up Satchel’s arm. He came into the game to pitch three innings, and included in this moment is the fact that Carl Yastrzemski was the last to get a hit off of him. It completed the great family accomplishment in which Yaz and his Dad both got a hit off of Paige, as Carl Sr. had played against him in a semi-pro league on Long Island.
Although there might have been some sense of exploitation with this event, Satchel did what he wanted to do, which was get a paycheck from Charlie Finley and play the game that he loved!
We express our sincere gratitude to Larry Tye for sharing his story with us and for taking the time to appear on the Cover the Bases podcast. You can find out more about Larry’s writings and his other endeavors by visiting his web site at LarryTye.com
If you like hearing about the baseball books we profile on Cover the Bases, it might be time for you to pick up a Kindle from Amazon, so that you can take all the best Baseball Books with you no matter which stadiums you visit.
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