Color This Paige Satchel

With the fall of the color line, Satchel Paige finally made it to big leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 at the age 0f 42..

Satchel Paige and the face of Negro League Baseball really comes to life in the 2010 paperback work (2009 Copyright), “Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend” by Larry Tye. It’s one of the best written biographies I’ve read in a very long time, augmenting fact with a three-dimensional picture of how life was in the days of negro league resuscitation under the gangster-leadership of Pittsburgh Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee, who just happened also to be the dual owner of the Crawford Grill and the forgiving sponsor of the imported man-child wunderkind that was the strapping phenomenon known as Satchel Paige.

Upstairs above the Crawford Grill, was a place known as the Club Crawford. The “CC” was place frequented by powerful people from both the white and black communities, a place where politicians, prostitutes, and pimps could, and did, feel quite at home in each other’s company, drinking and sometimes drugging the night away, and listening to the some of the best jazz artists of the day back in 1934.

Cab Callaway played the “CC” – revving things up with his signature piece, “Minnie the Moocher,” and a fellow named Teddy Horne dealt poker hands while his teenage daughter, Lena, flirted her way around the room with those great beguiling eyes and that extra special voice and singing style that were all hers by genetic heritage. Can you picture the very young Lena Horne singing “Stormy Weather” with the rain coming down in sheets outside the Club Crawford?

Among others, and usually near to his reserved stool space next to mentor Gus Greenlee, young Satchel Paige rubbed shoulders and bent elbows at the “CC” with people like Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, former black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, and Mr. Bojangles himself, Bojangles Robinson, the tap dancer extraordinaire and later owner of the New York Black Yankees club, Bojangles Robinson.

What a time it must have been. Satchel Paige wasn’t raised with strong ideas for temperance and self-management, but he managed to survive an environment that could have destroyed more than his money supply. Fortunately for Satchel, he didn’t get drunk that often, and, if things got too bad (too broke) anywhere he happened to be, his main defense seems to have been to run away to another part of the baseball world and let his talents help him find a new ceiling.

On page 68 of the paperback version, author Larry Tye cites a white writer for the Chicago Daily Times named Marvin McCarthy with one of the most beautifully descriptive pieces of baseball action writing I’ve ever read – and I’d like to share it with you here, along with the suggestion that you read this book for yourself. I see it as the best thing I’ve ever read on the man who, with Josh Gibson, stands today as one of the the two major faces of the old Negro Leagues.

With obvious attribution to the great Christy Mathewson, McCarthy responded to Paige’s stellar performance in the 1934 East-West All Star Game at Comiskey Park in Chicago with an article called “Black Matty:”

With measured tread an African giant crosses the line and heads for the pitcher’s box. – ‘It’s Paige! Its Satchel Paige and goodbye ballgame’ whisper the stands. And it is. He must stand six feet six inches in his sox. Gaunt as old Abe Lincoln. He walks with that slow Bert Williams shuffle. Maybe it takes him two minutes to cross the fifty yards to the box. He stoops to toy with the resin bag – picks up the old apple. He mounts the bag, faces third – turns a sorrowful, but burning eye toward the plate, nods a nod that Hitler would give his eye for – turns his gaze back to the runner on second – raises two bony arms high toward the heaven, lets them sink slowly to his chest. Seconds pass like hours. The batter fidgets in his box. Suddenly that long right arm shoots back and forward like the piston on a Century engine doing 90. All you can see is something like a thin line of pipe smoke.There’s an explosion like a gun shot in the catcher’s glove. ‘Strike wun,’ howls the dusky umpire.” 


One Response to “Color This Paige Satchel”

  1. Mark Wernick Says:

    Whew! That’s some writing!

    Thanks Bill. Heading to Amazon now.

    What’s your next book going to be?


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