Thursday, September 3, 2009

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

If there has been one good thing about the Royals* only being watchable once every five games or so, it has been that I have found myself with slightly more free time on my hands. Past a cursory look at the standings to see where the Royals are in the running for the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes and trying to catch Greinke’s starts, my time devoted to baseball is shrinking to microscopic proportions.

*I think it is obvious that we’re using the plural form of Royal out of politeness here.

Granted, I now work somewhere in the 70 hours per week neighborhood, so the term 'free time' is being applied loosely here, but that luxury would be virtually nonexistent if the product on the field at the Kougar were even remotely entertaining.

What I have spent my last week or so doing is reading the new—we’re talking books here, so a couple months old is still new, right?—Satchel Paige biography by Larry Tye. If for some reason you are not familiar with the man who may well have been the greatest pitcher in the history of the game, here is a link to the book’s author speaking about Paige at Amazon.

Now, I am hardly a man who keeps abreast of what is atop the best-sellers lists. In fact, the only reason I even knew the book had been published was because of NPR. But the instant its existence was illuminated for me was the instant I knew I had to read the book.

When I was a child, my dad—a Kansas City native, whose childhood home is almost entirely responsible for my years of sports-fan-derived misery—found one of my uncle’s old books on Satchel Paige and read it to us at bedtime while staying at my grandparents’ house. Between my uncle—whose rabid baseball fandom—and my dad—whose Royals fandom has since waned as things like real life have taken up the space that a less complicated life used to allow for—my fate as a baseball fan was sealed.

Satchel Paige was a mythic figure to me as a child.

Larry Tye’s new book does nothing to undermine the mythos that I have so long associated with the hazy figure from my childhood memories.

To be able to say that about something from my childhood is refreshing, given that nearly everything I remembered as being awesome from my youth has not held water (i.e., Short Circuit or “MacGyver”).

Larry Tye’s thoroughly researched and obviously passionate account of this larger than life Negro League superstar is at all times captivating. While the facts are painstakingly separated from the legend, the reader is taken on an historian’s voyage through the muddled annals of Negro League history—one rife with hyperbole and unburdened by a need for accuracy in reportage. What those facts elucidate is the life and work of one of the greatest unsung figures of the 20th Century.

The importance of Leroy “Satchel” Paige in terms of what his fame, skill, and persona did to sew fertile seeds in the growing of goodwill between the races is never more aptly drawn up as it is here.

And reading about the man himself with his homespun aphorisms and colorful peccadilloes is a blast for the duration of the 300 pages.

It is a quick read, imbued with love for the subject and his time and imminently worth the effort put into it.

But you don’t have to take my word for it…

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