About the Book
If You Were Only White explores the legacy of one of the most exceptional athletes ever—an entertainer extraordinaire, a daring showman and crowd-pleaser, a wizard with a baseball whose artistry and antics on the mound brought fans out in the thousands to ballparks across the country. Leroy “Satchel” Paige was arguably one of the world’s greatest pitchers and a premier star of Negro Leagues Baseball. But in this biography Donald Spivey reveals Paige to have been much more than just a blazing fastball pitcher.
Spivey follows Paige from his birth in Alabama in 1906 to his death in Kansas City in 1982, detailing the challenges Paige faced battling the color line in America and recounting his tests and triumphs in baseball. He also opens up Paige’s private life during and after his playing days, introducing readers to the man who extended his social, cultural, and political reach beyond the limitations associated with his humble background and upbringing. This other Paige was a gifted public speaker, a talented musician and singer, an excellent cook, and a passionate outdoorsman, among other things.
Paige’s life intertwined with many of the most important issues of the times in U.S. and African American history, including the continuation of the New Negro Movement and the struggle for civil rights. Spivey incorporates interviews with former teammates conducted over twelve years, as well as exclusive interviews with Paige’s son Robert, daughter Pamela, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, and John “Buck” O’Neil to tell the story of a pioneer who helped transform America through the nation’s favorite pastime.
Maintaining an image somewhere between Joe Louis’s public humility and the flamboyant aggression of Jack Johnson, Paige pushed the boundaries of segregation and bridged the racial divide with stellar pitching packaged with slapstick humor. He entertained as he played to win and saw no contradiction in doing so. Game after game, his performance refuted the lie that black baseball was inferior to white baseball. His was a contribution to civil rights of a different kind—his speeches and demonstrations expressed through his performance on the mound.
Donald Spivey is Professor of History at the University of Miami and the author or editor of five books, including Fire from the Soul: A History of the African-American Struggle. He lives in Palmetto Bay, Florida.
“The problem with legendary figures like Satchel Paige is that their accomplishments are often buried under an accumulation of exaggerations and fables. In his biography of Paige, historian Donald Spivey digs through the mythology to present the first scholarly account of the great pitcher’s life. The result of more than a decade of research, ‘If You Were Only White’: The Life of Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige shows that, even without embellishment, Paige’s life was epic, sometimes turbulent, and often humorous” –New Books Network
“Spivey (history, Univ. of Miami) offers an engrossing, exhaustively researched biography of Paige (1906-82), one of baseball’s most memorable personalities. Spivey’s work spans Paige’s lifetime, and he culls information from a variety of sources… As Spivey shows, Paige’s life traced the arc of American race relations not only in baseball but in all of American society.” –Choice
"This is an excellent biography of Satchel Paige. Spivey has crafted a book that provides readers with interesting and significant information about one of the most legendary figures in American sport history. Most importantly, Spivey offers a very balanced view of Paige's life, willing to discuss weaknesses as well as strengths, and likes as well as dislikes."—David K. Wiggins, author of Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White America
“This incisive and important biography of Satchel Paige—one of the true legends of American sports, who was the heart and soul of Negro League Baseball—gives us a vivid picture of "the world's greatest pitcher" and the times that shaped him and were shaped by him. An essential book not only for baseball fans and scholars but for those interested in American Studies and the history of American race relations.”—Gerald Early, author of A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports
“Read this book only if you are interested in sports or history or twentieth century America. Skip it if you don’t like great stories. Certainly don’t bother if you have no interest in charismatic, larger–than–life heroes. But if you’ve ever heard of Satchel Paige, this book is for you. And if you’ve never heard of Satchel Paige, this book is especially for you.”—Elliott Gorn, author of The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America
“My original fears of more recycled stores about the legendary Satchel Paige were unfounded upon reading “If You Were Only White”. Donald Spivey has discovered new information with the most detailed early-day research of Paige’s troubled youth, early professional days and personal life, ever published. The author has closed some serious historical gaps regarding baseball’s most prolific pitcher. A fantastic and comprehensive read with accounts so contagious you will want to turn the pages.”—Larry Lester, Chairman of the Negro Leagues Committee of SABR
The Robert Peterson Recognition Award given by the 15th annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference.