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Review: Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend

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Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend is a book written by Larry Tye, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at yesterday's book signing at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse located in The Landmark Cast Iron Building in Union Square. Though I'm very busy and rarely have time to attend a book signing, I think of these book signings at the Baseball Clubhouse as a party, thus I make time 'cause we all need to party once in a while.

The fact is that the times that I have attended an event at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, it does feel like a party at a mini stadium with bleachers, Cracker Jacks and beer, except that these concessions are free.

Yesterday's guest, author Larry Tye, was a real baseball treat. He was just as good as a competitive game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. If Larry had one fault in the eyes of some of the fans present, it was that he is an avid Red Sox fans. He took the liberty of reminding us about his Red Sox every chance he got. I personally thought that took guts seven subway stops from Yankee Stadium. However, being a prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, what else could you expect? The fact was that his presentation on the legendary Negro League star, Leroy "Satchel" Paige, was worth anything Larry wanted to say.

I love history. That's why my first job out of college was a social studies teacher in the South Bronx. Thus when I personally learn history from any presenter, I become a student and take in their knowledge. Yesterday Larry shared some very interesting anecdotes on the life and times of this American Legend that were indeed quite interesting. The fact that Satchel started to play baseball straight out of the Alabama Juvenile Reform School in 1926, the same year that marked the beginning of Jim Crow laws segregating blacks, and pitched his last game in 1965, practically at the end of Jim Crow, helps us understand the dynamics of this great legendary pitcher.

As Dusty Baker wrote praising the book, "Having known Satchel when I was a young player, I'm reminded of the man who took over the game with both his superior pitching and his dynamic personality."

The book also lays a strong argument for the many who believe that Satchel Paige, not Jackie Robinson, should have been the first African-American to have broken the color barrier in 1947. Contrary to the belief that Jackie was chosen because he was the only black player that had the discipline to remain quiet to the racial attacks, Satchel could have also handled himself because he had been dealing with those same attacks throughout his Negro League days as well. Satchel would not have been quiet, but was a smooth diplomat that also entertained with his wit and charm.

Satchel reminded me of Victor Pellot a.k.a. "Vic Power," whom the Yankees refused to bring up from the minors though he was tearing up the minors with his bat and his one-hand fancy catching at first base. On one occasion, a group of reporters asked Pellot why did he think the Yankees kept ignoring him in the minors? He replied, "Perhaps they don't like that I go out with white woman?" He went on, "I don't know why they would have a problem with me going out with white woman and they don't have a problem with Billy Martin (a Yankee star at the time) for going out with black women?" The reporters all jumped on that and pressed Pellot, asking him, "How do you know that Billy Martin goes out with colored women?" Pellot calmly replied, "Because I traded my blacks for one of his whites."1 The reporters would die laughing and life moved on. Eventually, Pellot was released because the Yankees' owners at the time, Del Webb and Dan Topping, felt that his playing style and personality was not the right mix for the conservative style that they wanted a "black" player to represent as a member of the club.2

Many blacks and Puerto Ricans protested in front of Yankee Stadium in response to what was believed to have been a racially-motivated decision. In the end, it was the Yankees that lost out on a huge number of Puerto Rican fans and making Latino history in the USA .

I highly recommend the book to both baseball and non-baseball fans.

1 Joaquín Monserrate Matienzo (1999). El Nuevo Dia: Víctor Pellot Power La mejor primera base del universo.
2 Bjarkman, Peter C. (2005). Diamonds Around The Globe: The Encyclopedia Of International Baseball. Greenwood Publishing group. ISBN 0-313-32268-6.

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