Cover To Cover…‘Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert’

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Much to your spouse’s chagrin, you can’t remember your anniversary.

When asked, you can rattle off your phone number if you think about it first. Your birthdate is an easy one, but your kids’? Not so much.

Now, your favorite baseball player’s batting average, you know that. And your team’s league standing? Piece of cake.

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If you’re a diehard baseball fan, you probably barely notice what your player looks like, focusing instead on what he can do with a bat, ball, or glove. In “Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert” by Timothy M. Gay, you’ll read about men whose careers proved that stats speak louder than skin.

Although Jackie Robinson is usually credited for breaking baseball’s color barrier, the fact is that Black ballplayers and White ballplayers shared the field for years before Robinson’s time. Traveling around the country to various communities, all-Black “barnstormers” challenged all-White teams and drew crowds that were often bigger than series attendance. And three headliners drew the biggest crowds of all.

Leroy “Satchel” Paige, one of the best (and perhaps best-known) pitchers of the Negro Leagues, was born into poverty. Because his family needed the income, Satch didn’t go far in school; instead, he took a job that exposed him to baseball. Intrigued, and too poor to afford a ball, Satch practiced by lobbing rocks.

When he was 12 years old, Satch was nabbed for petty theft and sent to the Industrial School for Negro Children at Mount Miegs, Ala. The discipline he learned there changed his life. The coaching he got there made his career.

Satch’s foe and friend, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean, also came from lean roots.

Born of sharecroppers, Diz was too poor to afford shoes as a boy, and learned to pitch on the pitcher’s mound, barefoot. But once his talent was discovered, he never had to worry about shoes again. Dizzy Dean became a star, although not a humble one. He was known for driving his car around town, offering autographs.

But as Dizzy and Satch aged, there was a newcomer on the horizon.

Bobby Feller was apple-cheeked and perfect, every mother’s dream. He was a baseball manager’s dream, too, because Feller could pitch a ball so fast it almost sizzled. A life of baseball was what Feller had wanted since he was young. Signed to play while he was still in high school, “Rapid Robert” couldn’t wait to start barnstorming.

Does summer equal baseball in your mind? And If you’re root-root-rooting for something good to read, catch “Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert.”

For baseball fans, this is a book to remember.

(“Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert” by Timothy M. Gay, c.2010, Simon & Schuster, $26/$34, Canada, 349 pages.)

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