Monday, May 16, 2011

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso

Legendary Negro League baseball player Satchel Paige was born about one hundred years ago. No one is exactly sure when because the state of Alabama was not really concerned with keeping accurate records of African Americans at the time. It was the era of Jim Crow laws, and Paige had few options in life other than picking cotton or playing baseball. Neither offered an easy life, but baseball payed the few players who could withstand the rigors of barnstorming better than working in the cotton fields. Among the tough players, Paige, with a smoking fastball and wicked curve, excelled.

In the graphic novel Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, author-illustrators James Sturm and Rich Tommaso, who are affiliated with The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, recreated pre-civil rights Alabama with its share-cropper shacks, dusty roads, smoky trains, and segregated baseball fields, where whites got the shaded grandstands and blacks stood in the sun beyond the outfield. Only on the field of play did the black players get any recognition. Even the whites knew and repeated stories about Satchel Paige's unbelievable talent. Some over-confident whites wanting to prove racial superiority even arranged to play baseball against him and his teams.

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow is a fictional work, not a biography. The authors have taken some familiar stories about Paige and created a visit by him to fictional Tuckwilla, Alabama, the home of men whose dreams have failed. One is a young black man who made the Negro Leagues only to suffer an early career ending injury. He has to work in the fields belonging to the Jennings twins, brothers who played two years of minor league baseball before being released by the St. Louis Cardinals. Having formed a strong local team, the brothers challenge Paige's team to a game.

Aiming to sell their graphic novel to an educational market, Sturm and Tommaso included four pages of historical notes to explain their illustrations and story. While I am obviously beyond elementary and secondary school, I enjoyed the well-written, quick read. The proud, impudent Satchel Paige is a great character who will appeal to anyone who likes to see bullies brought to justice. For school and public libraries, it would also make a good gift to young readers.

James Sturm and Rich Tommaso. Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow. Hyperion, 2007. ISBN 9780786839001.

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