Friday, May 16, 2014

Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs Rookie Joe DiMaggio by Robert Skead

Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs Rookie Joe DiMaggio by Robert Skead, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Rating: 4 stars

Most of this book flew over my children's heads like one of Satchel Paige's fast balls.  They just aren't old enough.  They are still learning America's history.  They are still learning what prejudice is, let alone how deep racial prejudices once were--and still are, in many ways.  They are only beginning to understand the concept of "proving something," though I sure hope that they are mostly proving that something to themselves.  But let's face it, it'll be more than themselves at some point in their lives.

Satchel Paige was a sensational black pitcher in the 1930s.  Some say that he was the best pitcher that was around during that heyday of American baseball, and still others say he was the best there ever was--then and now.  He pitched in the Negro League, but he was known to anyone who knew anything about baseball.

That included a young, rookie Joe DiMaggio, who was just getting started in his baseball career.  We turn our heads at the name now, but in the late 1930s he was still being watched, still trying to prove his greatness to agents and team managers and other players and, of course, to himself.

"Now I know I can make it with the Yankees. I finally
got a hit off Ol' Satch," he said.  Satch overheard.
Something to Prove chronicles one game in the life of these two men, when their two lives and two careers crossed paths.  New York Yankees general manager Ed Barrow wanted to see how good DiMaggio was, so he wanted DiMaggio to "face the best."  He called Paige.  He was the best, but "because of the color of his skin, he was not permitted to play in the major leagues."

When they do meet--a black team against a white team (the illustrations by Cooper are beautiful works of art)--it's memorable.  Their meeting is eye-opening; the great DiMaggio fares well, but he shows a deep reverence for the greatness he sees and experiences in the awesome pitches that fly his way.  He hits one of four, and is completely proud of that record because, as DiMaggio himself said throughout his career, Satchel Paige was "the best and fastest pitcher I ever faced."

What happens after this one game is sad and unfair, and hard for kids today to really comprehend (in a good way--they don't yet realize that some things are impossible): DiMaggio goes on to become Great, and Satchel Paige returns to the Negro League to be great.  After Jackie Robinson becomes the first black man to play for the major leagues, Paige finally plays for the major leagues for a brief time--at 42!--for the St. Louis Browns.  It is a book that my kids could walk away from, but the sad and unfair aspects to the story are still with me, weeks after I first read it.  That's how you know a good book from a just-fine one: it gets under your skin.

There's so much to be learned in baseball.  So many conversations with our kids to be had about all of this important history, and while Something to Prove is really a book for second and third graders, I'm still grateful it exists to push us to start talking with our kids, and keep talking with them.

P.S.  For more books by Robert Skead, click HERE.

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