Before Jackie Robinson integrated major-league baseball in 1947, black and white ballplayers had been playing against one another for decades – even, on rare occasions, playing on the same team. Interracial contests took place during the off-season, when major leaguers and Negro leaguers alike fattened their wallets by playing exhibitions in cities and towns across America. These barnstorming tours reached new heights, however, when Satchel Paige and other African-American stars took on white teams headlined by the irrepressible Dizzy Dean. After arm troubles sidelined Dean, a new pitching phenomenon, Bob “Rapid Robert” Feller, assembled his own teams to face Paige and other black ballplayers. By the time Paige became Feller’s teammate on the Cleveland Indians in 1948 – a rookie at age 42 – Satch and Feller had barnstormed against each other for more than a decade.
Historian Timothy M. Gay tells the stories of these pioneering escapades in his new book, “Satch, Dizzy and Rapid Robert: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson (Simon and Schuster, 2010). Gay will discuss and sign his book in a program on Wednesday, May 19, at 11:30 a.m. in Dining Room A, on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E. The event, sponsored by the Center for the Book as part of its Books & Beyond author series, is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.
Gay has also unearthed long-forgotten exhibition games in which Paige and Dean dueled. Long before they ever heard of Jackie Robinson or Larry Doby, baseball fans from Brooklyn to Enid, Okla., watched black and white players battle on the same diamond. With such Hall of Fame teammates as Josh Gibson, Turkey Stearnes, Mule Suttles, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell and Bullet Joe Rogan, Paige often had the upper hand against Diz. These often-obscure contests helped hasten the end of Jim Crow baseball, paving the way for the game’s integration. Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller never set out to make social history, but that’s precisely what happened.
Timothy Gay’s book is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The new Books & Beyond Book Club is available at www.facebook.com/booksandbeyond/. Here readers can discuss books, the authors of which have appeared or will appear in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard in those webcasts.
The Center for the Book (www.loc.gov/cfbook/) was established by Congress in 1977 “to use the resources and prestige of the Library of Congress to promote books, reading, literacy and libraries.” With its many educational programs that reach readers of all ages, through its support of the National Book Festival and through its dynamic state centers in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Center for the Book has developed a nationwide network of organizational partners dedicated to promoting the wonders and benefits of reading. The center also oversees the new Read.gov website, with its exclusive “Exquisite Corpse Adventure” serialized story.