Unless we’re baseball historians, most of us have the notion that interracial baseball simply did not happen before Jackie Robinson’s momentous year when Branch Rickey made the decision to integrate baseball. Gay’s book, Satch, Dizzy and Rapid Robert documents in detail how blacks and whites played the game of baseball throughout the 20th century, mostly manifesting itself in barnstorming sessions after the American and National Leagues had finished their seasons.
Gay covers in detail the careers of Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller (hence the name of the book) even above and beyond the interracial baseball angle. We get a quite thorough bio of each of their lives. That said, I think Gay uses the three as a vehicle to discuss the issue of barnstorming baseball between whites and blacks and how it affected both Negro Leagues and “white” baseball. Gay talks about Negro Leaguers Oscar Charleston, Turkey Stearns, Cool Papa Bell as well as white ballplayers such as Mickey Vernon, Leo Durocher.
I have just finished the chapter on Bob Feller which I found fascinating mostly because I’m surprised how little I knew about him. His media-perceived arrogance, his financial shrewdness, and his opposition of the reserve clause, for example. Our family passed by his hometown of Van Meter, Iowa last year and didn’t have time to stop. We’ll be going by there again this summer. This time, I’ll insist.
Timothy Gay’s book, Satch, Dizzy and Rapid Robert: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson is published by Simon and Schuster. It’s definitely worth a look for anyone who is interested in baseball history or even race politics.