By Tom Dunkel
Tom Dunkel does a great job painting a vivid picture of the landscape of semipro and town ball in the early 1900's, the racial segregation and bias in baseball present even at the grassroots level, the grave effects of the Great Depression on North Dakota, the advent of the National Baseball Congress World Series (which still occurs every year in Wichita, KS), and the life and exploits of the mythological Leroy "Satchel" Paige.
Any real baseball fan has heard of Satchel Paige. He remains the oldest man to play in a Major League Baseball game, at age 59 (everybody's best guess considering he was a man without a birth certificate), in 1965. Paige was well past his prime when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, in 1947.
Nonetheless, Paige was as fascinating a figure as baseball has ever seen, leaving fans enamored with and opponents mystified by his ability to cut loose a fastball. While this is not a Satchel Paige biography, he is most certainly the main character. Dunkel does give detailed accounts of many others: Neil Churchill, Hap Dumont, Quincy Troupe (Tru-pay...I mispronounced that in my head until the very end), and Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe to name a few. But Paige's significance is clear.
In Neil Churchill's quest to win at all costs, he pioneered racial integration in baseball. While others played vital roles, the story of the forgotten baseball club, from Bismark, North Dakota, would have been impactful, but likely far less interesting, and certainly less entertaining, if it wasn't for Leroy "Satchel" Paige.
The research, by Dunkel's own account in an exchange we had on Twitter and in the acknowledgements section of the book, was a massive undertaking. The result was a captivating story told in a way that made me feel like I was there, experiencing it first-hand. This is a must read for any baseball fan with an appreciation for the history of the game.
Book Review by Dustin Woodward