A Historian’s Book on Satchel Paige on the Road to Hollywood


History professor Donald Spivey spent 12 years researching and writing “If You Were Only White: The Life of Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige. Today, Apple Studios acquired the text rights to a drama series on Negro Leagues Baseball, using Paige’s life as a backdrop.

Hollywood director Ron Shelton had long aspired to read a definitive biography on Leroy “Satchel” Paige, a biography that did not simply recycle old information from an encyclopedia, but a complete and accurate work that includes new details about the life of the legendary negro. Baseball star of the leagues.

Then one day the Oscar nominee of fame “Bull Durham” read the book by University of Miami history professor Donald Spivey, “If You Were Only White: The Life of Leroy ‘Satchel ‘Paige’ and called the researcher.

“He expressed his joy with the book and that he had been waiting for years for a work worthy of Paige’s legacy,” Spivey recalled.

Now, the historian’s exhaustive non-fiction work is heading to Hollywood. Apple Studios has secured the rights to the book for dramatic development for a series that will explore the epic history of Negro Leagues Baseball using Paige’s life as a backdrop. “It’s exciting,” beamed Spivey, professor emeritus at the College of Arts and Sciences.

Kansas City Monarchs pitcher Leroy Satchel Paige warms up at Yankee Stadium in New York City before a Negro League game between the Monarchs and the New York Cuban Stars on August 2, 1942. Photo: The Associated Press

Paige has been a star of the Negro Leagues for over two decades and arguably one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He was as much an artist as he was an athlete, traveling the country and showcasing his throwing prowess in now legendary feats. Sometimes, for example, he would have his infielders sit behind him and then hit the side, sending the message that black baseball players, who were not allowed to play in the major leagues. , were just as talented as their white counterparts. In 1948, at the age of 42, he made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians.

Spivey spent 12 years researching and writing the book, interviewing many Black League greats, and visiting cities such as Birmingham, Pittsburgh and Chicago, where Paige performed. His research also took him abroad, to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico, where Paige also pitched.

“Initially, I thought that doing a definitive biography of Satchel Paige would take me two years, three peaks. I was wrong, really wrong, ”Spivey said. “For history to be correct, the historian must be intimately familiar with events, problems and places. I once joked with Satchel’s son Paige that I started to hate his dad over the years because his travels forced me to read so many more stories and travel all over the place.

Although Spivey continued to work on the book, another biography of Paige was published in 2006 before her own. “I wasn’t finished at the time and was totally determined to do more than just rehash familiar stories,” Spivey explained. “I was committed to developing a complete and precise portrait, to telling the story well. It was too important to me as an African American, historian and sports expert. I took the time and got it right.

And that’s one of the reasons Spivey thinks his book was picked by Apple Studios, which is co-producing the series with Kapital Entertainment, based in West Hollywood, California. Shelton, who also directed “White Men Can’t Jump” and whose daughter, Valentina, is a senior at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, and Hall of Fame member Earvin “Magic” Johnson. the NBA, are executive producers. The project is also supported by Peter Guber of Mandalay Entertainment, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Major League Baseball.

Spivey will serve as a consultant but will have no veto power. “If something isn’t a documentary, you’ll always have a challenge in portraying it accurately. And that’s why I’m thrilled to have Magic Johnson and Ron Shelton at the helm, ”said Spivey, noting that both are familiar with baseball Paige and Negro Leagues and appreciate the research Spivey has put into his book.

“I hope this series will help everyone appreciate the obstacles and triumphs of these black leagues and better understand the legacy of systemic racism that plagues the United States and around the world,” said the historian, who serves also special adviser to President Julio Frenk on racial justice. Spivey credits the “superb leadership” of the University for contributing to the “forward momentum” of the project.

The history of the black leagues is not limited to baseball. It’s also about the civil rights struggle that went on concurrently around that time, Spivey said.

“Too often, the Negro Leaguers have been seen as mere ball players,” he lamented. “They were black in America, and they knew it. Players like Paige; Buck O’Neil; and great dancer, artist and black team owner Bill “Bojangles” Robinson supported the anti-lynching crusade, black youth development and the civil rights movement.

Spivey has said he intends to encourage producers to pass these facts on on the show.

It’s long overdue, according to Spivey. “These great black league baseball players have been thrown into the shadows because of the horrible color line that existed in America,” he said. “Superbly talented and superior players in every position, however, they were the wrong color.”

Black athletes weren’t allowed to compete in the Majors until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke through the color barrier, entering Ebbets Field to start on first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But Robinson, who played in the Majors for 10 years helping the Dodgers win the 1955 World Series, was just one of many Negro Leaguers who, had they had the chance, would not only have started. , but would also have excelled in the Majors, Spivey is noted.

“Satchel Paige was one of them,” he said. “He had his moment in 1948 when he was signed by Cleveland at the age of 42, well past his prime but still able to shine.”

Spivey noted something else that was long overdue: putting the Negro Leaguers’ stats into the record books.

Baseball-Reference, a website that compiles baseball statistics for every player in Major League Baseball history, incorporates data from the Black League era from 1920 to 1948 in its record book. And the MLB, which elevated the Black Leagues to major league status, is doing the same, correcting a long-standing oversight.

But statistics alone “will never come close to righting the monumental harm done to so many people over so many years,” Spivey said. “Hopefully the show will.”

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