Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Tip of Satchel Paige's Cap

"Which team's cap did Satchell Paige wear for his Hall of Fame plaque, dad?" asked my 9-year-old son, Micah. He's been discovering major league baseball lore in immersion mode, just as I did at that age - and bringing his 7-year-old brother, Luke, along for the ride. Anna Quindlen got it exactly right when she said recently that being a parent allows you to reexperience your childhood on a much deeper, richer level.

To be sure, there is considerable change amid the continuity of the game. It's all very much digitally enhanced now. We didn't have MLB 2K 2010 on Wii back in the day or constant access to ESPN. Newspapers, radio, and NBC's Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons comprised my introduction to The Show, along with occasional trips to the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington with my dad and brother.

Another difference is that my boys are growing up in a much more racially diverse America than I did. I came of age in a virtually lilly white setting, at a time when all of the MLB teams had finally become integrated. The weight of the historical injustices that kept people of color down and out for so long did not weigh on me.

So when Micah asked his question, I had to stop and think. Though I knew Satchel Paige had been inducted at Cooperstown, I also knew that his real fame was as a Negro Leagues player. He didn't make his MLB debut until age 42, and a check of his lifetime stats there shows an indifferent 28-32 record that is obviously at odds with his legend. Did he enter the hallowed hall as a Kansas City Monarch, perhaps - honoring the Negro League team for which he starred?

Micah went online, to the Hall of Fame website, to find the answer. Satchel Paige's plaque does not even show a team's cap; the cap is tilted off his head jauntily, so that its front remains unseen. A fitting resolution, it seems to me, for the recognition of a man who, along with other pioneers, bridged the gap between segregated America and the new multiracial kaleidoscope of 2010.

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