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on June 9, 2009
With impeccable scholarship and a meticulous understanding of American history, author Larry Tye delivers a definitive exploration of Satchel Paige in Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend (June 2009, Random House).

Delving into the myths, legend and actual facts surrounding arguably the greatest professional pitcher ever, Tye paints an incredible portrait that began on July 7, 1906, when Leroy Robert Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama, and will forever be a part of pop/sports culture, though he passed away on June 8, 1982, after battling emphysema for a number of years.

"I ain't ever had a job. I just always played baseball," says Paige, which adeptly summarizes an amazing career on the diamond at a time when the only ball was white, through the re-integration of Major League Baseball to 1968, when the Atlanta Braves took a major step to right a wrong that would have left the superstar who gave so much without a pension.

But before Paige became the iconic ace on the mound, he had early brushes with truancy, which did not destroy the care and concern from his mother, Lula Paige. Mentors like Edward Byrd, Alex Herman, Big Bill Gatewood brought him an understanding in the art of pitching. Paige went from being released from reform school (1923), to playing semi-pro ball in Mobile (1924) to signing his first pro contract in 1926.

And it was then that Paige's cunning strategy on the field, quick wit and unique charm disarmed racists and made him one of the greats in the various manifestations of the Negro Leagues and barnstorming tours with MLB (white) players. The tours with Dizzy Dean became huge draws and fueled the growing fascination of the right-hander who was already larger-than-life.

"Satchel actually had been challenging Jim Crow ever since he took his pitching on the road," writes Tye, "and he did that from the beginning. They called freelance play like that barnstorming, to distinguish it from formal league games."

Paige was the ultimate free agent, with his services being "rented out" by his team to other clubs and playing winter ball in the Caribbean. He was also accused of skipping out on contracts when better offers came his way.

Before he was the "Yankee Clipper," Joe DiMaggio - the Pacific Coast League's Most Valuable Player - proved he belonged in MLB in February 1936 after facing Paige, who was asked to pitch in the exhibition game by the New York Yankees. "DIMAGGIO ALL WE HOPED HE'D BE. HIT SATCH ONE FOR FOUR," is the post-game report from a Yankee scout to management.

Tye places particular emphasis on the 1930s, which was a decade of great triumphs and a hideously hard fall from the summit of sports. Franchise owner Neil Churchill brought Paige to Bismarck, North Dakota, in 1933 and 1935 to play on his integrated club. In one of the greatest pro games ever, more than 27,000 fans in Yankee Stadium in 1934 watched a spectacular duel between Paige and Stuart "Slim" Jones. And owner J.L. Wilkinson of the Kansas City Monarchs removed Paige from the scrap heap in 1938 and 1939 when arm woes appeared to have destroyed his career.

The 1945 re-integration of MLB by Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Paige's July 7, 1948, signing with the Cleveland Indians and stints with the St. Louis Browns and - in 1965 - Kansas City A's are packaged well with the 1971 induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum. And upon reflection in the twilight years, Paige tackled numerous issues surrounding the hateful treatment of NLB players, racism and the slights he personally felt in any number of venues.

"It happens to lots of leading men as they fade into supporting roles. Loneliness sets in, along with sadness," Tye writes. "There is more time to remember all you have achieved and to wonder why others have forgotten. There are endless hours to tally who stood by you, and who failed to. Satchel had suffered enough real indignities to keep anyone thinking for a long time."

The victories and defeats on the field of play by Paige are chronicled in four pages of pitching statistics. But what Tye proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is the biggest win of them all came when Jim Crow couldn't get the bat off its shoulder when Paige fired three blazing fastballs for called strikes.
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on May 8, 2011
There is very little here that anyone who's studied the Negro Leagues won't already know. Satchel was, like many gifted athletes, selfish, mercurial, and opportunistic. He also comes across as somewhat bloodless in this treatment. There are also some strange errors: there's a reference to a 1949 article in "Sports Illustrated", but SI wasn't published until 1954. In one season in the early Thirties, Satchel was said to have pitched in "every state in the Union, except Maine and Boston." There are several of these little mistakes, which belie an editorial laziness. The unabridged audio version is a mess: the narrator mispronounces names (Bill Veeck is called "Bill Veek", all the more aggravating when you consider that the title of Veeck's legendary memoir is a pronunciation guide for his surname: "Veeck, As In Wreck") and proper nouns ("caliph" is rendered "ka-leef"); and when he reads the chapter on Satchel's time playing for Dominican strongman Raphael Trujillo's ball club, well, he takes Spanish to places it's never been before.

I think Satchel himself would prefer "Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" to this slightly dessicated retelling of his life.
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on June 22, 2009
Larry Tye delivers a wonderful story of the legendary Satchel Paige, perhaps the greatest pitcher of all-time, who was denied national adulation for the bulk of his professional career; toiling in relative obsurity in the Negro Leagues, before finally getting called up to the Big Leagues, with Cleveland in 1948. He was 42.

It's difficult to imagine how many games Paige might've won had he been allowed to pitch in the Major Leagues during the peak of his physical abilities, with a good or bad team. It wouldn't have mattered. Just like Steve Carlton won 27 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1972---an otherwise moribund team---Paige may have done as well or better. The sad reality is he never had the chance.

However, this was a man who didn't mourn his unfulfilled potential in the spotlight. His charismatic personality was infectious, and radiated a charm that made him a national icon during his brief Major League career. His "rookie" season, he won 6 out of 7 starts, with a 2.48 earned run average for the World Champion Cleveland Indians. It's doubtful they would've made it to the Series without Satchell Paige.

Perhaps even more remarkable was the year Paige put together for the old St Louis Browns (a horrible team) in 1952, when he posted a 12 and 10 record with an e.r.a. slightly over three; at the tender age of 46. Just to prove how amazing this man was, he even pitched three innings of shut-out ball for the Kansas City A's, in 1965. He was only 59. I'll never forget reading that story in the newspaper as a youngster, thinking that anyone over 40 was half-dead; but 59? I became an instant fan of this gregarious celebrity.

Throughout the rest of his life, Paige always displayed a charisma and effervesence rarely seen by anyone, in any walk of life. His stories about the Negro Leagues, with players such as Josh Gibson, Buck O'Neal, Cool Papa Bell, among others, brought them to life for me. It also reminded me of the injustice these greats had to endure because this country was too narrow-minded to accept the African American into the game, until it was too late to make a difference to Paige and other players of his era.

This book is destined for greatness; Tye brings to life a wonderful story of one of baseball's legendary athletes; who was perhaps born a quarter century too soon to achieve greater fame and glory. Hopefully, this book will educate an entire generation of baseball fans about the bittersweet life story of Satchell Paige; an American legend.
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If you ignore this book simply because you were NOT a sports lover or like me had never heard of Satchel Paige before, you are doing yourself and those around you a great disservice. SATCHEL is the result of a skillful writer who is able to take the life of someone great and give it to readers in a way that inclues something for everyone.

Who couldn't relate to a man who can from nothing, wasn't supposed to become anything and was able to build a brand name for himself that would appeal and inspire so many. That is what Satchel Paige did, and that is what his story will continue to do. I learned from this biography that success is not just what you have achieved for yourself, but what you have been able to give to others through your life.

We see a man who inspite of all of his accomplishments, was still plagued by the ghosts of his past. Who couldn't relate to that?

Kudos to Larry Tye for taking us inside the man and not just inside the sport. I think everyone who picks up this book and really digest it will be a better man or woman because of it.
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on June 8, 2015
I highly recommend this book. I like how the author talks about the late 20's when satchel starting pitching thru the 30's and eventually getting to the early 80's when he died. very interesting how he talks about the negro league, and barnstorming . the price could not be beat also
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on December 28, 2015
Wow! What a well done book very well researched and documented and gives a reading experience worth your time.. So sad that we will never know how great some of the other black ballplayers who only played in the negro leagues and barnstorming teams.
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on August 12, 2015
It is sad that Satchel wasn't chosen to integrate baseball because no one deserved more. In 1963 I played for a semi-pro team against the Kansas City Monarchs and batted twice against Satchel Paige; What a memory###
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on April 26, 2012
How can one pretend to know the history of baseball, or for that matter, United States history and race relations without knowing everything possible about Jackie Robinson? And the more I learned about the amazing story and details about Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson (who played barely a half-season with the great post-WWII Kansas City Monarchs), the more I wanted to know about the peculiar, separate/segregated world of Negro League baseball.
And while I was somewhat familiar with Josh Gibson (maybe the greatest ball player of all time!?), Bullet Joe Rogan, Rube & Willie Foster, Pop Lloyd, Willie Wells and others, NegroLeague baseball truly did revolve around one of the greatest pitchers and tied for (with Babe Ruth) the greatest baseball attraction of all time. It wasn't just because he was good (and he was!), he was a great showman, a charismatic personality, and he played professional baseball for a long, long time.
Tye's well-researched biography begins with plenty of details about Leroy Robert Page/Paige's early life in Mobile, including speculation about how he got his nickname, his formative years in a reform school because his parents couldn't watch over him effectively (sound familiar?) where he learned to become a talented pitcher. Paige's early maturity in the 1920's corresponded with Rube Foster's formation of the first organized league of African-American professional baseball teams.

The book provides a good background on the circumstances and history of both Negro League baseball, including the competitive ownerships of Pittsburgh's Crawford's (owned by Gus Greenlee) and the Homestead Gray's (owned by Cum Posey). Satchel Paige, Tye point out, was essentially the first baseball "free agent" rarely adhering to team or league contractual agreements and regularly working wherever and with whatever team was willing to pay him to promote their game or event.

Paige made a lot of money . . . more than almost any professional athlete of his era (except for Babe Ruth). His barn-storming stints with Dizzy Dean's all-stars and then with Bob Feller served as evidence to hundreds of thousands that the best black ballplayers could play just as well as the best white ballplayers. Despite this grudging acceptance on the ballfield, traveling from city-to-city meant dealing with Jim Crow laws and an exhausting barrage of racism and second-class treatment at hotels, transportation services, restaurants and gas stations. It was a tough life that the biography provides a good flavor of how Paige dealt with this life as best as anyone could.

Paige's set himself apart from other professional ballplayers because he was so good for so long, and brought so much exuberance to the game that his fan-base grew and appreciated over many decades. Tye treats the dialectic that the best Negro League players felt about Jackie Robinson's signing with a nice touch. It was the beginning of the long-awaited integration of Major League Baseball (and Tye notes correctly that African-American's played at the top levels of professional baseball before "the gentleman's/racist's agreement" of 1887) via an unlikely candidate who wasn't considered one of the best black ballplayers and who many others ("there were lots of Satchel Paige's") felt jealous of.

Paige did finally make it into the Major Leagues in 1948, thanks to the irrepressible Bill Veeck and star Shortstop/Manager Lou Boudreau of the Cleveland Indians, who won their pennant by one game thanks in part to Paige's 6-1 record, including 2 shutouts . . . at 42 years old!

It's a story of triumph by a great American with immense talent, who started life with many disadvantages but never gave up. After being inducted into the Hall-of-Fame in 1971 and learning that his plaque would be segregated in a separate Negro League section, Paige dropped his playfulness and expressed the justifiable anger that had built up over decades of second-class treatment. It is this congruency of Paige and other NLeague ballplayers' excellence, triumph and shameful treatment that makes this book worth reading. While Buck O'Neill expressed joy that he was, "right on time," Paige's memorial service reminded his mourners not to be sad for him, but for all their fathers and grandfathers who never got to see the best ballplayers play against one another.
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on November 18, 2015
I thought the book was well written and well researched. The author really gave you insight and a feeling for the times that Satchel Paige not only grew up in but what he experienced in his long career. So many of the great Negro players did not make it to the Major Leagues but the book pointed out who they were and what their accomplishments were like. The really were playing for the love of the game.
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VINE VOICEon March 23, 2013
Part of Satchel Paige's notoriety comes from the mystery and misinformation that surrounds his legacy. Most of the notoriety is a result of his pitching. Despite spending much of his prime out of the major leagues, Satchel is widely regarded as one of the greatest pitchers ever. Larry Tye debunks myths and tells a wild and entertaining story in his biography of Leroy "Satchel" Paige.

Even Satchel's exact date of birth remains in question to some. Yet the conditions of his youth are without question, as he grew up in the Jim Crow south. It was at Mount Miegs that Satchel seemed to find his sense of direction, baseball. Sandlot leagues, barnstorming, Latin America and eventually the negro leagues allowed Satchel to build his legacy. Yet it was on these paths that his wildly entertaining story is told. Though at times it is to surreal to be true, much of his career still parallels the outrageous. Some the legacy is myth and even more is undocumented.

For some, making the major leagues is a zenith to their career. For a past-his-prime Satchel Paige, it seems almost anti-climatic in the scope a legacy already cemented. Perhaps this book is the most revealing. As Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, those left in the negro leagues were embittered in ways that some might find unexpected. Yet as the picture of the former negro leaguers later in late develops, one might better understand the bitterness. Those that should have been revered were often forgotten.

Tye's biography is a page-turning reading that baseball fans will treasure as an accurate source on the life of Satchel Paige and the negro leagues. "Satchel" spreads the story to a new generation.
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