Alabama’s own Satchel Paige’s story, well-told by Larry Tye, reminds one of a time not so long ago when the racial divide in this country was more obvious and ugly.
Yet black players like Paige were treated as equals when they ventured afield to play winter ball in the Caribbean. In fact, one stop on the peripatetic pitcher’s itinerary was a 1933 season in Venezuela (he also starred in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Mexico) . Tye borrowed his telling from a magazine article published years later.
“The same magnetism that won over beefy cops and hard-hearted judges saved the day, and perhaps his life, in the jungles of Venezuela in 1933. His adversaries this time were short, swarthy natives dressed in G-strings who shot poisoned darts at oil workers and liked to watch baseball. ‘I was on a jackass ridin’ around in the jungle sight-seein’,’ Satchel told Collier’s. ‘I was wearin’ some cream-colored pants, a sport short and two-tone shoes, as I recollect. When I come to a clearin’ in the forest I thought I’d get off and rest.
‘But the clearin’ was jammed with these fans, sittin’ around in front of a big grass house and eatin’ pig and roots and bugs and all that mess they eat. When they see me, they grabbed up their blowguns and aimed right at my new Stetson hat.’
At first it was a standoff… Then one dashed into his hut, bringing back a baseball and pointing to it, then to Satchel. Blowguns were lowered. He joined the natives in a meal of pork, bugs, and roots, and gifts were exchanged: his autograph for their blow-tube. ‘I could have been a big man in that outfit if I’d stayed on but I had to get back to the States, where I also had some fans,’ said Paige.” ( Satchel, the Life and Times of an American Legend).
I wonder, by the description, where Satchel played–perhaps Maracaibo, near the oil fields? It was prior to the formation of the Venezuelan pro league, so we don’t know.
Few among our current crop of Venezuelan stars have made the MLB grade in Paige’s day–players like Pablo Sandoval, Alcides Escobar, Francisco Rodriguez and others are simply too dark to have passed the color barrier back then.
As Ben Harper once sang, “How I miss the good old days, but I’m sure glad they’re gone.”