The baseball career of flamboyant pitcher Satchel Paige stretched from 1926 and his days in the Negro leagues to 1965 with the Kansas City Athletics. Author Averell “Ace” Smith has chosen to focus on one little-known, bizarre chapter in this never-dull baseball life: Paige’s 1937 decision to skip out on spring training with the Pittsburgh Crawfords to make some easy money playing in a baseball tournament in the Dominican Republic. This was long before first Dominican (Ozzie Virgil Sr.) suited up in the American major leagues in 1956. What made this trip to play alongside other Negro League greats Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell for the Ciudad Trujillo all-star team especially unusual was that the the tournament was supportive of Rafael Trujillo, who had a reputation as one of the Caribbean’s cruelest dictators.
Here’s an excerpt from The Pitcher and the Dictator:
“As Satchel and [catcher] Cy [Perkins] walked onto the airplane and headed for the Dominican Republic, Satchel nervously queried José Aybar to find out if they needed passports for the trip. Flashing a no-worries-just-relax-my-friend smile, the little dentist assured him that everything had been handled. During the winter of 1929-30, Satchel had played in Cuba on the Leopardos de Santa Clara, so he had a feel for the Caribbean flavor of baseball. He wasn’t worried about the baseball part of things; it was just like the Negro Leagues – fast, aggressive, and showy.
“When the trio reached the Dominican Republic, Satchel and Cy marveled that they ‘weren’t put out no place to let other passengers on. No sir.’ Satchel recalled, ‘We had the right of way. And what’s more, we didn’t even have passports. Not having passports kind of made me uneasy anyway but that president he fixed it up someways.’ ”