Glory at Half Price
By Larry Tye
Random House, 2009
1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society – the social ramble ain’t restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. And don’t look back – something might be gaining on you.
|The above list has become known as Satchel Paige’s “Rules For Youthful Living.” Leroy “Satchel” Paige began pitching with the Chattanooga White Sox in the Negro minor leagues in 1926 and ended his career pitching three scoreless innings with the Kansas City A’s against the Boston Red Sox in 1965 at the tender age of 59, by far the oldest player to compete at the major league level. I just had to put his rules at the top of this review, because it’s the only listing of note that Larry Tye omits in Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, his wonderful, loving portrait of a gigantic figure that truly deserves to be called legendary.Of course, the prime creator of the Satchel Legend was Paige himself. His “rules,” as he delivered them in his 1963 autobiography, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, exhibited his effortless ability to express himself in a way that was self-effacing and self-promoting at the same time. I remember drinking in the old Black Cat paperback edition, believing every incredible story about his pitching exploits, because there was always enough genuine humility mixed in to make the stories ring true. Compared to the bland bios ballplayers wrote in the 50’s and 60’s, even Paige’s ghost-writer seemed livelier than the competition.||
|It took another eccentric, creative owner to boost Paige into the Major leagues. Bill Veeck invited Paige to “try out” for the Cleveland Indians, and Paige was a key reliever helping Cleveland win the World Series. It’s gratifying that he got to play for the Indians, and in the fifties for the St Louis Browns of the National League, fans got to see flashes of the legendary player of the thirties. He was a reliable bullpen guy in 1948, going 6 – 1 with a gaudy 2.47 ERA as a forty two year–old rookie. Even more remarkably, in 1952 he went 12 – 10 with a 3.07 ERA, mainly as a starter with the lowly St. Louis Browns, also owned by Veeck, the same guy who marked his regime there by officially sending a midget up in an actual game as a pinch hitter. Veeck kept Paige from driving his manager crazy by ignoring all the team rules. By then fans got to see the whole arsenal of pitch deliveries:|
“I got bloopers, loopers, and droopers. I got a jump ball, a be ball, a screwball, a wobbly ball, a whipsy-dipsy-do, a hurry–up ball, a nothin’ ball and a bat dodger. My be ball is a be ball ‘cause it be’ right where I want it, high and inside. It wiggles like a worm.
I throw with my knuckles, some with two fingers. My whipsey–dipsey-do is a special fork ball. I throw underhand and sidearm that slithers and slinks. I keep my thumb off the ball and use three fingers. The middle finger sticks up high, like a bent fork.”
Naming pitches was only one way to establish your credentials. Paige kept his own records over the years and here’s what he came up with:
The Paige almanac had him pitching in more than 2500 games and winning 2000 or so. He professed to have labored for 250 teams and thrown 250 shutouts. His per-game strikeout record was twenty-two, against Major League barnstormers, which would have been an all–time record for all of baseball. Other claims that would have set marks: fifty no-hitters, twenty-nine starts in a month, twenty-one straight wins, sixty-two consecutive scoreless innings, 153 pitching appearances in a year, and three wins the same day.
The most enjoyable part of this remarkable story is how Tye looks into the stunts and tricks that were so much a part of the legend and finds so many verifications of Satchel’s signature moves. On a number of witnessed occasions, Satchel would wave in his outfielders in from their positions and have them sit in the infield (sometimes playing cards!) while Satchel proceeded to strike out the next hitter (sometimes the next three hitters, if Satch was really frustrated):
Generally the prank ended well, but not always. One night in the 1930’s pitching for Bismarck against Jamestown, Satchel stood on the mound, mopping his brow with his pitching hand. His team was ahead by one run with a man on base in the last of the ninth, and he was wiping away perspiration. His outfielders saw something else: their pitcher’s well-honed signal for them to take the rest of the inning off .
“While my outfield was strollin’ off the field behind my back,” Satchel related to Donovan and Collier’s, “I fed the cleanup man a little outcurve which I intended him to hit on the fly to right field. He did. It was sometime before I again visited the city of Bismarck.”
The Satchel Paige who emerges from these pages is a self-motivated man who frustrated every major league manager he ever worked for with his refusal to follow team rules. Even in the 1930s, teammates got irritated by his deliberate stroll to the mound, a manner too “plantation” for some ballplayers. His three distinct relationships with women finally produced a stable third marriage. His children all claimed a share of his attention, and from their accounts he played no favorites, not even with his one (non-ballplaying, alas) son. He had a great ability to not take himself too seriously. More than anything his extraordinary, exceptional, adaptable talent gave him pleasure at every stage of his career, and he passed that love on to spectators instantaneously.
Satchel Paige makes a great flashlight to shine on down the corridors of the never-to-be-known Negro Leagues. His passage through the Pittsburgh Crawfords, a period where his remarkable arm went completely dead, to redemption for the Kansas City Monarchs, the other significant franchise in black baseball history – it all makes the Paige story resonate with virtually all the other legends from that time, from Josh Gibson (The “Black Babe Ruth”) to Cool Papa Bell, a man so fast he could steal two bases on one pitch. Tye gives equal weight to the myths and to what numbers remain. It’s a balanced portrait, and one that should please fans and history buffs, who’ll take away in equal measure one solid truth: Satchel Paige never looked back because he knew no one would be gaining on him.
Brad Jones uses his retail job to fund his career as an obscure jazz saxophonist. He’s performed over 1,000 improv shows as a member of the Proposition Theatre in Inman Square and was a founding member of Boston’s Next Move Theatre.