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Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend by Larry Tye

May 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Book Review, Your Turn

Dave White, a Books on Baseball friend, has been kind enough to review one of his favorite baseball books, Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend by Larry Tye.  Your Turn is a regular feature of Books on Baseball that spotlights our BoB friends as guest book reviewers.  Thanks Dave!

Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige (July 7, 1906 – June 8, 1982) was an American baseball player whose pitching in the Negro leagues and in Major League Baseball made him a legend in his own lifetime. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, the first player to be inducted from the Negro leagues.

Paige was a right-handed pitcher and was the oldest rookie to play Major League Baseball at the age of 42. He played with Bill Veeck’s St. Louis Browns until age 47 and represented them in the Major League All-Star Game in both 1952 and 1953. His professional playing career lasted from 1926 until 1966.

According to Paige, his nickname originated from childhood work toting bags at the train station. He said he wasn’t making enough money at a dime a bag, so he used a pole and rope to build a contraption that allowed him to cart two to four bags at once. Another kid supposedly yelled, “You look like a walking satchel tree.  Source: Wikipedia

Dave’s Review

Satchel is larger than life. (I say is because he still is larger than life, decades after his death.) Some of his claims (of winning more than 2,000 games out of the slightly more than 2,500 he pitched and throwing 250 shutouts) throw up red flags to serious students of the game, but his outrageous claims have been verified just often enough that one wonders where the truth lies. The book Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend by Larry Tye makes a serious attempt to shine a light on many of those curious details, and details are one thing the book has in abundance.

Satchel made a living being himself, as this wonderfully detailed and well-written book makes clear. The writer doesn’t shy away from this fact, unflattering though it might appear to some observers. In the end, Paige was interested mostly in himself. (Truth be told, most people would admit to the same thing if really pressed.) But one thing that Satchel was also really good at was helping others – specifically, other Black players get a leg up. Satchel would sometimes refuse to appear unless other Black players got the same treatment as he did (meaning, not having to go round to the back door of the restaurant to get some dinner). Satchel would often give away gifts that he got or spend some of his high salary on other players. 

Anecdotes like those fill the book, which is an amazing testament to the writer’s determination to tell as much of the whole story as could possibly be told. Satchel’s life is examined in a high level of detail, featuring a high number of first-person accounts from the people who knew him, saw him pitch, or tried to hit what he pitched. Although other books have told Satchel’s story, this is the definitive biography.

The one thing that shines through all of the witty Satchel-isms (“It got so I could nip frosting off a cake with my fast ball.”) and all the varnish of Satchel’s embellishments (and there were many, leading to the many debates about the accuracy of the stats) is that in his day (and Satchel’s day stretched for decades), Satchel Paige was a bigger draw, on average, than any of the most famous of the major-league stars. No one had more talent, raw ability, determination, and panache than Leroy “Satchel” Paige.

Tye’s book has achieved critical acclaim.  In 2009, it won the CASEY Award from Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine for best baseball book of the  year.   The Casey Award was inaugurated in 1983 and has been awarded to some notable baseball authors as Peter Golenbeck, Roger Kahn, Bill James, Tom Stanton, Jonathan Eig, and Leigh Montville.
Reader Ratings
  • Amazon 4.47 stars (32 ratings)
  • GoodReads 3.85 (45 ratings)
  • Barnes and Noble 4.0 (15 ratings)
Below is a link with Larry Tye talking about Paige

Satchel’s beautiful, effortless  pitching motion


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