Wednesday, January 04, 2012

"Satch, Dizzy, & Rapid Robert": A Review

Before Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers integrated Major League Baseball in 1946, white and black professional ballplayers competed against one another in barnstorming tours in the fall and winter of each year. In "Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert," historian Timothy M. Gay provides a history of that era, capturing both the prejudice and discrimination characterizing those times and the hopeful events of these tours.

While numerous other stars, both white and black, are covered, Mr. Gay focuses on the contributions of the three players named in the title. Lanky in physique, and mercurial in personality, Satchel Paige would certainly have been universally regarded as one of the greatest players of his time if he had been permitted to play in the white leagues earlier in his career. Past age 40 when he was finally allowed to pitch in the Majors, he nonetheless put together some solid years in the big leagues.

Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller are neither lionized nor demonized in the book. While they are praised for participating in tours that helped open the door to integrating baseball -- at a time when many white players refused to compete against black players and MLB frowned on the inter-racial off season games -- it is also noted that Messrs. Dean and Feller primarily engaged in these events for money making purposes, not for social ones.

Modern baseball fans will be surprised at the number of innings pitched, working almost daily at times, during these tours. While the strain of barnstorming probably contributed to the early retirement of Mr. Dean (though he ultimately hurt his arm by changing his motion after a line drive broke his toe), it did not seem to affect either Mr. Paige or Mr. Feller.

While the book covers much interesting ground about a world that is thankfully foreign to the modern reader, it sometimes suffer from a travel log type style, with repetitive recounting of cities, crowd sizes, and numbers of hits and strikeouts by various players. Nonetheless, the descriptions of the various personalities involved, as well as anecdotes from the various tours, make this book a recommended read for any baseball fan.

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