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Gay takes reader on a delightful barnstorming trip
on May 22, 2010
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.