BOOKWORM: Favorite baseball memories come down to performance

“Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert” by Timothy M. Gay, c. 2010, Simon & Schuster, $26, 349 pages.

Much to your spouse’s chagrin, you can’t remember your anniversary.

When asked, you can rattle off your phone number if you think about it first. Your birthdate is an easy one, but your kids’? Not so much.

Now, your favorite baseball player’s batting average, you know that. And your team’s league standing? Piece of cake.

If you’re a die-hard baseball fan, you probably barely notice what your player looks like, focusing instead on what he can do with a bat, ball or glove. In “Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert” by Timothy M. Gay, you’ll read about men whose careers proved that statistics speak louder than skin.

Although Jackie Robinson is usually credited for breaking baseball’s color barrier, the fact is that black ballplayers and white ballplayers shared the field for years before Robinson’s time. Traveling around the country to various communities, all-black “barnstormers” challenged all-white teams and drew crowds that were often bigger than World Series attendance. And three headliners drew the biggest crowds of all.

Leroy “Satchel” Paige, one of the best (and perhaps best-known) pitchers of the Negro Leagues, was born into poverty. Because his family needed the income, Satch didn’t go far in school; instead, he took a job that exposed him to baseball. Intrigued, and too poor to afford a ball, Satch practiced by lobbing rocks.

When he was 12 years old, Satch was nabbed for petty theft and sent to the Industrial School for Negro Children at Mount Miegs, Ala. The discipline he learned there changed his life. The coaching he got there made his career.

Satch’s foe and friend Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean also came from lean roots.

Born of sharecroppers, Diz was too poor to afford shoes as a boy, and learned to perch on the pitcher’s mound barefoot. But once his talent was discovered, he never had to worry about shoes again. Dizzy Dean became a star, although not a humble one: he was known for driving his car around town, offering autographs.

But as Dizzy and Satch aged, there was a newcomer on the horizon.

Bobby Feller was apple-cheeked and perfect, every mother’s dream. He was a baseball manager’s dream, too, because Feller could pitch a ball so fast it almost sizzled. A life of baseball was what Feller had wanted since he was young. Signed to play while he was still in high school, “Rapid Robert” couldn’t wait to start barnstorming.

Does summer equal baseball in your mind? Then “Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert” will be a big home run for you.

With a fans-eye view, fast-play excitement and a casual 1930s feel, Gay puts readers in the bleachers with this well-researched book. What I particularly liked is that Gay told the story of his three subjects, but he didn’t ignore those of other key people of the era. That information sometimes goes missing in books of this genre, but not here.

If you’re root-root-rooting for something good to read, catch “Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert.” For baseball fans, this is a book to remember.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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