I have always been a huge Satchel Paige fan and try to read any baseball book that he’s prominently featured in. I’m also drawn to stories that have a lasting cultural impact, and this is certainly one of them. You’ve got the second black player to integrate baseball, Larry Doby, the legendary Satch, fireballer Feller and an all-time eccentric, Bill Veeck in the mix. It’s a perfect recipe for a classic baseball book. Today we’re lucky to have the author, Luke Epplin, join us for ‘Three Answers’ about what his original idea for the book was, how it changed and the 100-year-old ex-Cleveland Indian he interviewed for the project.
In some ways, I stumbled on this subject by accident. My grandfather worked in an airplane factory in St. Louis during World War II, and after his shifts were over, he’d sometimes hop a streetcar to Sportsman’s to watch the St. Louis Browns. St. Louis had two major-league teams at that time: the Cardinals and the Browns. Even though the Browns left St. Louis in 1953, I grew up hearing stories about that franchise, particularly its last owner, Bill Veeck. Veeck was the most forward-thinking, colorful owner of his era, someone who shot off fireworks, did wild promotions and stunts, and shaped the modern stadium experience as we now know it. So my initial intent was to write a book about Veeck and the Browns. But as I started researching him, I became much more interested in Veeck’s earlier tenure as owner of the Cleveland Indians from 1946 to 1949. Four names kept popping up in my research: Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Satchel Paige, and Bill Veeck. I saw how these four men played off and were in tension with one another, and I started thinking about how each represented a different facet of the integration narrative that was playing out in postwar American baseball. That’s when I knew I had a book in the making.
I didn’t know a lot about these four figures overall, so there’s so much that fascinated me. If I had to choose one story, it’s the way that Larry Doby integrated the American League. In the years after WWII, Doby was a star baseball player for the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues. He was twenty-three years old in 1947 and just tearing up the league. When Bill Veeck chose Doby to integrate the Cleveland Indians, it was a whirlwind affair. Doby was informed that the Indians had signed him on July 2, 1947. Doby then played one more game with the Eagles on July 4th, rushed to the train station in Newark, New Jersey, and caught an overnight train to Chicago, where the Indians would face the White Sox. The very next day, on July 5th, he suited up for the Indians. In other words, Doby traveled literally overnight from the Negro to the Major Leagues. It was such a shock to Doby’s system that his teeth chattered every time he came to bat for the next week or so. It’s an extraordinary integration story, very different from Jackie Robinson’s, but equally as significant and meaningful.
Because my book takes place mainly in the years immediately after the Second World War, so many of the figures in it had already passed away. The only living member of the 1948 Cleveland Indians is Eddie Robinson, who just celebrated his 100th birthday. I was able to spend some time with Robinson in Texas, and he gave me excellent firsthand accounts of the 1948 World Series along with his memories of playing alongside such figures as Larry Doby, Bob Feller, and the great Satchel Paige.
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Jon Finkel is the award-winning author of Hoops Heist, The Life of Dad, Jocks In Chief, The Athlete, Heart Over Height, “Mean” Joe Greene and more. His books have been endorsed by everyone from Mark Cuban and Tony Dungy to Spike Lee, Kevin Durant and Chef Robert Irvine. He has written for GQ, Men’s Health, Yahoo! Sports, The New York Times and has appeared on CBS: This Morning, Good Morning Texas, and hundreds of radio shows, podcasts and streams.