- Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend
Biography is an art form intended to provide the reader with an understanding of the various interconnected factors responsible for influencing the unfolding of a life. Writers of biography have the daunting task of gathering information from documents, stories, artifacts and other relevant materials necessary to represent fully the breadth and depth of their chosen subject. Indeed, from a mountain of materials is crafted a portrait of a life that is both meaningful and resolute in its representation of the act of being human.
In Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, Larry Tye maintains that black baseball's ultimate superstar did in fact live a full life. Arguably the most successful as well as the most colorful player in black baseball from 1926 to 1950, Paige pursued a career in athletics on his own terms. Born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1906, Paige was a product of not only the segregated South and its traditions; he was also a sign of the hopes and dreams of the African-American community that sought deliverance from the neo-slavery of sharecropping and the terrorist machinations of the Ku Klux Klan. From Tye's account, we learn of Paige's simple upbringing and his transformation from a boy named Leroy into the signifying towering figure called "Satchel."
According to Tye, there are several narratives that explain the beginnings of this transformation. One version claims that the young Paige worked at the L&N Railroad Station in Mobile carrying the bags of whoever would pay him to transport their luggage to its final destination. However, wanting to carry more bags in an effort to earn more money Paige created a contraption that allowed him to satisfy the needs of his customers, as well as his need for additional income. The sight of the skinny kid with bags or satchels hanging from his frame, prompted his peers to tease him by calling him a "walking satchel tree" (p. 9). Most importantly, Paige's invention worked. His most frequent clientele became the wealthy whites who needed help getting their belongings to and from Mobile's elegant Battle House hotel. Still, like most black youth in Mobile and throughout the South, Paige's ability to raise income was important to his family's bottom line. This need, along with a degree of poverty that can only be imagined, is the origin of another version of how Satchel achieved his name. After stealing a bag from an unsuspecting railroad patron, Paige was chased and caught by the owner of the bag he had swiped. Angry at the youth's thievery, the man "gave Leroy a hard slap across the face" (p. 10). The witness to this was Paige's friend Wilber Hines, who was present when the scene unfolded and he responded by calling Leroy "Satchel" as a way of memorializing the moment in their memories. Whether or not his moniker was achieved through teasing or contempt, one thing is clear: Leroy "Satchel" Paige was determined to shape his own destiny through whatever means necessary to ensure his survival in the often brutal South.
Tye maintains that Paige had a genuine dislike of school and after numerous runins with truant officers and the law for his petty crimes, he was sent to the Alabama Reform School for Juvenile Negro Law-Breakers near Montgomery. From 1918 to 1923 under [End Page 493] the guidance of the Mount Meigs staff and supervisors, he learned basic academics, how to farm and build, and of course how to play the game of baseball. Under the tutelage of Edward Byrd, Paige discovered his unique ability to throw a baseball better, harder, and faster than most. Moreover, after his release from the reform school he returned to Mobile and there began to create a name for himself as a dominant pitcher for the all black Mobile Tigers, a semi-professional baseball team composed of local talent.