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Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend

Satchel Paige: the biography of an ace pitcher and racial trailblazer.

By David Conrads / June 29, 2009

It’s about time somebody wrote a good biography of Satchel Paige, the great baseball pitcher, personality, showman, and entrepreneur. In Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, journalist Larry Tye has done just that.

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Paige spent most of his long career playing in the relative obscurity of the Negro Leagues, where records were kept haphazardly and statistics are notoriously sketchy. Paige also worked overtime carefully tending to and embellishing his own legend. Tye interviewed more than 200 former ballplayers, associates, and family members, and combed through the voluminous written record on Paige, to piece together the best (and nearly the only) thorough account to date of one of baseball’s most fascinating and important figures.

He was born Leroy Robert Paige, a poor boy in the post-Reconstruction South. He earned his famous sobriquet working as a porter at the L&N Railroad station in his hometown of Mobile, Ala., carrying (and occasionally stealing) suitcases, or satchels. He learned to love baseball as a young boy. His long arms and legs were perfect for hurling a baseball from the mound to home plate, which he learned to do with astonishing speed.

After honing his pitching skills during a five-year stint in reform school, he played for several semipro teams in Mobile. In 1926, at the age of 20, he joined the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Black Lookouts, of the Negro Southern Leagues. He was still at it almost 40 years later when, at the age of 59, he pitched three scoreless innings for the Kansas City Athletics.

In between were stints with the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Kansas City Monarchs, two of the most storied teams in the Negro Leagues, as well as turns in Mexico and the Caribbean, barnstorming the back roads with and taking innumerable turns for any team owner willing to rent his services for a few innings to fill the stands.

Paige’s blazing speed and pinpoint accuracy baffled his opponents and delighted his fans. Then there were his antics, like showing up late, shuffling slowly out to the mound and (occasionally) having his fielders sit down while he struck out the side. Off the field he became known for his outsized personality, homespun aphorisms (“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”), contract jumping, womanizing, and all-around large living.


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