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Connections faculty and staff newsletter
 April 2010

"Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood"

History professor Michael Polley searches for the real Satchel Paige.

History professor Michael Polley, resplendent in a St. Louis Browns jacket (legendary pitcher Satchel Paige pitched for the club from 1951-53), addressed the life, times, contradictions and two autobiographies of arguably the greatest pitcher to ever throw a fastball, Leroy "Satchel" Paige. Polley gave the presentation in Dorsey Chapel in March.

Paige is probably best known for his breakout rookie year with the 1948 Cleveland Indians – at age 42.

"I was leery of tackling baseball," said Polley, a notorious baseball fan. "It's such a big topic!" But it's also one that reflects trends in American society, he said.

Paige began pitching professionally in the early 1920s and was a firmly established Negro Leagues star by the mid-1920s. At the beginning of the 1940s, Paige was reported to be earning in the neighborhood of $500 per game pitched, a phenomenal sum at the time.

Much of Paige's legend was based on hyperbole in African American papers, like the "writing of a precocious 8th grader," said Polley, full of drama, multisyllabic words and very low on content.

But Paige could pitch; in his prime, Polley said, he had a blistering, 100-mph-plus fastball but relied on a "hesitation" and other crafty pitches as he aged.

Polley said that Paige's two autobiographies, the breezy, 96-page 1948 Satchel Paige's Own Story: Pitchin' Man and 1962's Maybe I'll Pitch Forever are a study in contrasts. The first is light and crammed with pictures, Polley said, an effort to persuade a recently integrated baseball Paige was a heckuva nice guy of major league caliber.

It worked: Bill Veeck, owner of the Indians, hired him in 1948 and Paige propelled the Indians to a World Series crown. Veeck is perhaps best known for throwing a dwarf into the batting order; Polley said he wouldn't rule out that Veeck had hired Paige as a publicity stunt.

His 1962 autobiography is more bitter, Polley said. Paige had been out of the majors for almost 10 years, back to pitching in the now-obsolete Negro Leagues and felt that baseball had deserted him. Polley said he attacked the Indians, Browns and Jackie Robinson, arguing he was the more talented and more deserving candidate to break baseball's color barrier.

This, said Polley, was unique: no one attacked Robinson.

And Paige continued to hammer at injustice, such as the lack of African American managers.

If Paige were alive today, said Polley, he might say, where are the African American fans? "Go to Busch [the St. Louis Cardinals' stadium], or Kauffman [Kansas City Royals], and look around," said Polley. "Where are the African Americans? Why is baseball a sport of white fans only?"

The article title, by the way, is one of Paige's rules for living. Here are some others:

• "If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts."

• "Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move."

• "Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society—the social ramble ain't restful."

• "Avoid running at all times."

• "And don't look back—something might be gaining on you."