For his new book Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert, Timothy Gay chose the following subtitle: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson. The text, however, doesn't really support the promise of a "wild saga." Instead, Gay's retrospective on mixed-race baseball games serves more as an amusing scrapbook of a bygone era.
Gay's subject is a series of exhibition games between all-black teams and all-white teams in segregated America. This "barnstorming" was not officially sanctioned by Major League Baseball and was, in fact, often frowned upon. But independent operators across the country found it very appealing to pit Negro League stars against Major League stars. This proved to be not just popular — but profitable. Fans would pay good money to see Joe DiMaggio face Satchel Paige's "drop ball," or Josh Gibson unleash his mighty swing at Dizzy Dean's blazing fastball.
Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert focuses, as the name implies, on a memorable series of exhibitions that pitted Negro League star Satchel Paige (and his team of black players) against a group of white major leaguers headed by star hurler Dizzy Dean and, later, wunderkind pitcher Bob Feller. Feller didn't start barnstorming until the late 30's, but Dean and Paige set the standard with their memorable match-ups of 1933-34.
"Satch" and "Dizzy" weren't just the two best pitchers in baseball — they were the two most famous. This wasn't just due to their baseball skill (which was elite); both men consciously cultivated their public image. The free-spirited Dean, with the help of promoter-manager Ray Doan, made sure all of his kooky escapades were well-documented, making him one of the first sports stars to exploit the sports marketing possibilities that are now an inherent part of the game. Paige, on the other hand, became legendary among African-Americans for the stunts he would pull on the field, such as calling in his outfielders to face an opposing team's best hitter. Fittingly, the two men were just as good at promoting themselves and making money as they were at throwing a sharp curve. And so it was that Dean decided to defy convention (as was his wont) and barnstorm across the country facing off against the ageless Satchel Paige.