Book Review: Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert

Timothy Gay is known to those who read extensively about baseball as a good writer, but more importantly, someone who is willing to do the research required to undertake accurate storytelling of some of the most interesting, and important, times in baseball history. In Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert: The wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson, Gay picks up right where he left off from his last work, Tris Speaker: The Rough and Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend”, to again tell a story that many are familiar with, but few know a whole lot about.

Many think of barnstorming baseball as a short lived phenomenon that happened before the integration of baseball as a means for players to make a little extra cash in the off season. While it was certainly there to help the players with their pocket books, it was much more than a flash in the pan as Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller combined to be involved in Barnstorming for over a decade. From 1934-1947 some combination of those three players headlined the interracial tour of All Star caliber players who traveled the country, sometimes playing as many as three games in one day.

All three of the men were pitchers, who have been called by many to be three of the best hurlers of all time. Originally Paige and Dean came up with the idea of traveling the country to allow fans to see what Major League Baseball wouldn’t, the best from both races playing against, and sometimes with, each other.

As Paige continued to pitch with no signs of breaking down (he finally did make his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 42 in 1949), Dean’s body wouldn’t let him continue, which is when Feller stepped in to take the reins. Gay tells the story of how the three worked together on the venture that was successful for both the game, and the players’ wallets. The aforementioned historical information is especially strong during the first half of the book.

The work could have been made much stronger had Gay been able to continue his exceptional writing from the first half of the book into the second half. The latter part of the book would still be interesting to a serious baseball fan, but the emphasis changes from the historical implications and accurate details of the barnstorming days to vague recollections of specific contests.

In the second half, individual games are the main focus of the material. The author does point out that there is very little information, especially specifics, about the barnstorming games, so finding something simple such as the amount of times Feller faced Paige in a pitching match-up is difficult. Since the reader knows the author is aware of this, they may question why the author spent so much time on specific game statistics. At times, it seems unclear if the author even believes the game statistics and box scores he is sharing with his readers.

Overall, readers of this book will come away with a great knowledge about the three players mentioned in the title. In just a few hundred pages, Gay was able to profile these three baseball icons more sufficiently then some have been able to do in entire works dedicated to just one individual. Their stories are also nicely intertwined together by the author with barnstorming baseball as the background to their saga.

This should be a suggested read for anyone who considers themselves a baseball history buff. Serious St. Louis Cardinal and Cleveland Indian fans should beware that if they pick up this book, they will spend some time reading anecdotes about their beloved players that they already know, but getting through that is well worth it for the other knowledge stored in these pages.

Overall Rating: 3.75/5


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