four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
By: 
Larry Tye
user_rating: 
0

The Life and Times of an American Legend

A-SatchelFormer Boston Globe reporter Larry Tye is the author of a biography of Edward L. Bernays and a cultural history of the Pullman porter.

The Topic: Born Leroy Robert Paige in the slums of Mobile, Alabama, in 1906, "Satchel" Paige used his extraordinary athletic skills and talent for showmanship to rise above poverty and bigotry in the Jim Crow South, becoming one of the most captivating baseball players of all time. Having perfected his pitch during a five-year term in juvenile detention for shoplifting, Paige enlisted with the semiprofessional Mobile Tigers in 1924, spending most of his celebrated, 30-year career in the Negro Leagues with select opportunities to play against legends like Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller. Paige, an extraordinarily gifted pitcher and consummate entertainer, laid the groundwork for integration in professional sports and in 1948 became the second African American (after Jackie Robinson) to breach baseball's color barrier in the major leagues.
Random House. 392 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781400066513

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Tye's writing is a pleasure, relaxed but economical, providing a more vivid sense of life in black baseball than any of the several other books on Paige and the Negro Leagues. ... Tye concludes that many of the tales about Paige don't hold up in every regard, but have some basis in fact." Bill Nowlin

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Were his Stepin Fetchit-type antics really 'his way of bucking the system' and 'a brilliantly defiant parody' deliberately concocted to combat racism, as the author suggests? That is a stretch, but Tye makes a very convincing argument for Paige's important and underrecognized role as a trailblazer in race relations and a force for integration." David Conrads

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Satchel makes a cool, clear, tenacious effort to find the real Paige behind all that hyperbole. ... Paige's contribution to baseball history, already enormous, is enhanced by the strong, solid arguments that Mr. Tye has constructed." Janet Maslin

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"It would probably be difficult to write a boring book about Satchel Paige, and Tye certainly has not done so. Through exhaustive research, interviews, and correspondence with more than 350 people, he has surely given us a definitive account of the man and of the player. And probably the closest to the truth we are likely to get." Rob Klugman

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"One of the challenges for [Paige's] biographer ... is to distinguish the actual from the apocryphal-but to give readers enough of the latter for its sheer entertainment value. In this definitive and impressively researched biography, Massachusetts-based journalist and author Larry Tye succeeds in doing precisely that, offering a rich and nuanced portrait of Paige that is as complex as it is thrilling to read." David Takami

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] splendid biography of one of the greatest hurlers in the history of baseball. ... Was Paige a 'linchpin' in a 'subversive bid' to bring down Jim Crow in baseball? Probably not." Glenn C. Altschuler

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While Satchel is definitive, it isn't a sweeping, dramatic narrative in the vein of Richard Ben Cramer's Joe DiMaggio, which is too bad given its subject's complex and colorful life. ... The challenge in crafting a portrait of the 'real' Paige is that Paige himself spent his life avoiding, and then subverting, reality." Stefan Fatsis

Critical Summary

Critics agreed that Tye's greatest challenge was to separate the truth of Paige's life from the fiction, promulgated by the shamelessly self-aggrandizing Paige himself. To this end, Tye researched Paige's life thoroughly, scrutinizing source documents from birth records to FBI files and conducting more than 200 interviews with Paige's family and friends. Tye's fondness for his subject is obvious, but that doesn't prevent him from debunking the myths surrounding Paige's life. However, a couple of critics felt that Tye was still too credulous, and others considered some of his arguments a bit tenuous. Though Tye has unearthed some eye-opening information-for example, Paige was a bigamist-Satchel is no racy, tell-all biography but a balanced examination of a legendary athlete and pioneer.