on April 2, 2010
For many baseball players during the early part of the 20th century, the regular season's wages paid such a paltry sum, they had to work during the off-season, as well, just to make ends meet. For these guys, there were no big endorsement deals; no long-term contracts that paid them huge sums of money. The "big name" players would usually hit the road after the regular season had drawn to a conclusion, and take their acts to places that rarely had the chance to watch major league action; towns like Des Moines, Omaha, Kankakee, or Fargo. These folks who normally wouldn't get the chance to see the likes of Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig, now had the chance to see these legends perform up close, in a very informal environment; barnstorming filled a void for thousands of fans, from coast to coast, and the players became even bigger legends with the masses.
With that scenario as a backdrop, Timothy M Gay has compiled a wonderful story of how three of the game's most colorful, and talented performers - Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller - got together during an off-season to create some magic for a nation in the throes of the Great Depression; and give fans a preview of interracial baseball, long before Jackie Robinson officially broke the color barrier in 1947.
The performances of the players were never recorded in the official archives of major league baseball; but for the fans who witnessed the action - on and off the field - this was as good as it gets; and the memories lasted a lifetime.
Any subject is in good hands with author Tim Gay, a splendid writer and meticulous researcher. In Satch, Dizzy and Rapid Robert, Gay does an excellent job of chronicling the interracial baseball exhibitions before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller are the main characters in these barnstorming exhibition games which started in 1934 and continued through 1947. Barnstorming was a way for entrepreneurial baseball players to try to earn some extra money. These interracial exhibition games "combing back roads, were part of the last gasp before television, mass marketing and interstate highways forever dulled our culture."
Gay writes that the interracial exhibition games "helped puncture baseball apartheid. They went a long way toward making the game the national pastime."
Satch and Dizzy first battled each other in 1934 at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles in front of 17,000. They both pitched 13 innings and Dizzy struck out 13 and gave up one run, while Satch struck out 17 and hurled a shutout. While the fabled match up has been recounted by Bill Veeck and others, no record of the game has been found.
Feller first met Satch in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1936 as a 17-year-old. The last time they faced each other was Nov. 2, 1947, in Los Angeles. By 1947, baseball integration had taken away the novelty of interracial barnstorming and the days of baseball's two fastest pitchers matching skills against each other were virtually over.
Feller's 1946 barnstorming tour was called "the most successful in baseball history." His teams played 22 games, including 19 against the Satchel Paige Negro All-Stars. Feller's squad went 17-5 and drew 250,000 fans. On that historic tour, Feller introduced plane travel to the majors, brought big-time baseball to the West Coast and gave sorely needed exposure to black stars. To Feller, barnstorming was strictly a commercial, money-maker. He didn't see it as a societal undertaking.
In all, Satch, who Joe DiMaggio and Dizzy Dean both called "the greatest pitcher I ever saw," faced Dean in two dozen exhibitions and twice that many against Feller.
Satch made his major league debut on July 9, 1948, at age 42 with the Cleveland Indians. Satch drew 210,000 fans in the first three games in pitched in the majors. The veteran hurler won six games for the Indians, helping to get them to the World Series.
Gay paints interesting portraits of Satch, Dizzy and Rapid Robert while giving you a real sense of what barnstorming was like. He also covers the feud between Feller and Jackie Robinson.
This book is well-written, thoroughly researched and well documented. It brings together all the elements that make an exceptional book.
on April 18, 2010
In "Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert", Timothy M. Gay brings to life the largely forgotten story of the interracial barnstorming games of the 1930s and 1940s. Despite the opposition of Commissioner Landis, these games thrived in the offseason because the players needed the money and the public, especially in smaller towns and the then-Major-League-deprived West Coast wanted to see the stars, white and black. And the biggest star on the barnstorming circuit was the ageless Satchel Paige. Gay begins in the thirties and the exploits of Paige and Dizzy Dean who, fresh off his Cardinals' World Series Sweep of the Tigers, had replaced Babe Ruth as the pre-eminent Major Leaguer. Gay aptly compares Diz and Satch as fastball throwing versions of Huck Finn and Jim, and his recounting of the games in their barnstorming tours beginning in 1934 flows like a journey down the Mississippi. He punctuates the flow of these games - painstakingly recounted from the limited press coverage - with fascinating vignettes of the other characters in Satch's show. These include future Hall of Famers from the Negro Leagues, such as Oscar Charleston, as well as the impresarios of the Negro Leagues and the major leaguers who joined Diz on tour. Above all this, are the continuing stories of the three principals - Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean, and Bob Feller. Feller, who approached the tours as both player and promoter, reflected the often conflicted racial views of that era. Gay recounts how Feller, a friend and advocate for Paige, continually belittled the abilities and accomplishments of Jackie Robinson. Ultimately, it was Robinson and the others who integrated the major leagues that spelled the end for the Negro Leagues. Soon, television and better pay for big leaguers put an end to barnstorming. Fortunately for us, Timothy Gay did not heed Satchel Paige's advice - "Don't look back" - and has given us a marvellous look back at a fascinating chapter in the history of our National Pastime.
on May 25, 2010
Tim Gay's second book is a detailed, entertaining account of an under-reported period in baseball history: the integrated barnstorming tours between major league and Negro League stars that took place during the Great Depression and World War II. The author presents a well-balanced look at two unlikely racial pioneers: Hall of Fame pitchers Dizzy Dean, the gregarious son of the South with a language all his own, and Bob Feller, the fireballing phenom who grew up to be a shrewd businessman. While their not-quite-enlightened attitudes on integration were a product of their times, their actions spoke much louder -- on the baseball field, they gave a fair opportunity to Cool Papa Bell, Hilton Smith and many other stars, providing an opportunity for fans of all ethnic backgrounds to learn about them and, more important, to see them play. Satchel Paige, of course, was already the biggest draw in black baseball -- and he lived up to his reputation in these exhibition games against major league stars. Gay provides compelling recaps of Paige's most dominant performances, including an extra-innings "Lost Classic" against Dizzy Dean in November 1934. These games, which proved without a doubt that black players could keep up with (and often beat) white players, set the stage for Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier a decade later. It behooves any baseball fan to read this book and learn more about this fascinating period in American history.
on October 13, 2011
I love baseball history and this seems like prime territory to goldmine--the old barnstorming off-season baseball tours when blacks and whites would play against and even with each other unlike in Major League Baseball until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
The problem is too much of this book is repetitive. The tours themselves are loose and often slightly disorganized. They may have been but it doesn't make for great stories to be told as they are basically about making money not about striving towards some lofty goal of integrating MLB.
Throw in when you cut through the comedy that both Dizzy Dean and Satchel Paige seem like complete idiots. Dean plays up this country bumpkin persona but a lot of it is basically true. He spoke like a lovable rube and was nothing more than a hot dog. This is fine if you're Babe Ruth and are larger than life but Dizzy just comes across as Babe Ruth Lite. Gashouse Gang and all the whole Dean thing smacked of LCD cornball humor. I just did not get the appeal of him at all now over 70 years after the fact.
Satch is someone who seems more interested in money, fast cars and women. Now that should make for a rollicking tale of adventure but it just sounds so sad after awhile. Great pitcher but showboating aside we never really learn what the man was really like. Was it just the cash that made him tick? What were his thoughts on being excluded from MLB for all of his prime?
Only Bob Feller comes across as a real man. The guy was trying to get MLB to wake up to the fact the Negro League players he competed against should have been on big league rosters. It also shows once Feller retired he pushed the Baseball Hall of Fame Committee members to recognize and induct these stars of the Negro League for their contribution to baseball.
It was a valiant effort to tackle this subject but the writing, or the fact not much happened beyond these glorified exhibition games, may have contributed to just not engaging this reader.
on September 29, 2010
The sub-title is somewhat misleading as I did not find the book to be very wild. Nevertheless I believe most readers would consider this book a good introduction into the lives of Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean, and Bob Feller, and to interracial baseball in the 1930s and 1940s. I was already pretty familiar with Satchel Paige and Dizzy Dean, but I knew very little about Bob Feller. After reading this book, I am going to do some more reading about Bob Feller.
If you are unfamiliar with one or more of these men you will certainly be tempted to read more about them. You should at least read the last paragraph of page 277 and the first three paragraphs of page 278. I was laughing out loud after I did. And readers should also appreciate Satchel's rules for staying young found on page 280. I thought there were too many stories about individual games. (It was like reading 50 pages of box scores at times. Interesting at first, but after a while it just seems too repetitive.) But if you read the book a few pages at a time you will get a lot out of it.
on August 2, 2010
I was really disappointed with this book. I was hoping to learn more about Paige, Dean, and Feller than this book tells. About 90 percent of the book is just dreary accounts of games played, who played in them, and runs scored. I'm sure this sort of thing could be made exciting, but page after page of it grows tiresome.
on October 14, 2011
"Satch, Dizzy, and Rapid Robert" makes wonderful history. Despite my age, the 1930s games between MLB and NL stars had never reached my eyes and ears. Bringing Jackie into MLB really wasn't the surprise that some of us may have thought it was. Ballplayers who good athletes when they play with and against them,and the black and white guys had respect for each other long before the "big leagues" discovered how easy it was to integrate the teams! -- Al Oickle
on April 26, 2010
This book brought back many fond memories. I found it to be an excellent read.
Growing up in St. Louis, I saw a lot of the Brown's baseball games at old Sportsman's Park. My cousin lived 4 blocks away. and I'd visit him for a week at a time, and we'd use our "Knothole Passes" to get free admission and sit high in the second deck of the left field stands.
The Browns were the doormat of the American League. Attendance was dismal. Bill Veeck tried many promotional stunts to lure fans into the stands before they were eventually sold and moved to Baltimore in 1953. There was Satch and Pete Gray, the one-armed left fielder, in the lineup, and even the midget, Eddie Gadell. Lots of fun at the old ball park!
on May 29, 2010
Summoning the same engrossing prose with which he penned his seminal 2007 biography of Tris Speaker, Tim Gay once again fills in an otherwise headshaking gap in the literary history of baseball. SATCH, DIZZY AND RAPID ROBERT is a captivating study of an era which most of us either never knew existed, or pretended as if we did. For this reader, SATCH, DIZZY AND RAPID ROBERT was vividly tranformative to the 1930s and 40s in the same way SEABISCUIT and CRAZY GOOD were -- but using human beings rather than horses. And what human beings. The book rests comfortably on the broad shoulders of its three title characters, singular personalities who were both larger-than-life and bigger than society's racial taboos. You cannot call yourself a knowledgable baseball fan if you don't read this book. Everything else is just conversation.