by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
February 6, 2007
SATCHEL GOT OUR ATTENTION, JACKIE GOT THE BID
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It's only now, 60 years after African-American Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate, that I can see the significance of that day in April, 1947. It was a pivotal day for the civil rights movement at a time when the words were not even in our vocabulary. Later we would learn that Martin Luther King, just a boy, took notice of Robinson and the way he took the jeers and insults and continued to play ball.
My friends and I were all about 15 and enjoying a wonderful
summer. In a year, we'd be getting after-school jobs and have
responsibility for more than just "hanging out" until we had to go
home for dinner.
We'd go to the beach or play 500 Rummy on the driveway. We'd sit in a booth or two at Harry's Ice Cream Parlor, really just a "hole in the wall," as they say, and sip a Coke until Marie, Harry's wife, would say, "Why don't you all take a slow boat to China."
And we'd listen to baseball. Both Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium were a subway ride away, but the radio worked for us. It didn't phase us that a colored man had been given a contract. We wondered if he could hit, run, pitch, and bring New York into the World Series.
This is a very big country but we lived in a small neighborhood, Corona, part of a very big city: New York. We were so used to people coming from other parts of the world that it was a surprise to learn there were objections to a man because of his color. We hadn't even noticed what they were announcing as a color barrier. I was born into a multi-ethnic society and at 15, I was living in a multi-racial society. It was just life as I knew it.
Harlem was also a bus or subway ride away - an hour at the most. Real estate agents were posting signs that alerted residents of that uptown region that "The Garden Spot of New York is Corona." So, soon we were racially integrated at home and school. I don't recall grumblings about it; just grumblings in general during those post war years. (I like to brag about being backyard neighbor to Louis Armstrong in the 1940's - unfortunately, it took two decades for me to realize the black man in the white shirt and black trousers playing the trumpet from his back porch was the inimitable Mr. Armstrong.) It must be true: New Yorkers just don't take notice.
Reports coming in about Robinson's treatment on the road (separate living quarters, riding back of the bus, separate drinking fountains and rest rooms) really rankled us. We could not understand this. The teammates had long since settled any initial bigotry but games out of town and below the Mason-Dixon Line were another thing. Yet, Jackie accepted it all - giving further evidence that Martin Luther King was paying attention.
As the summer weeks passed, we had serious conversations during those long afternoons at Harry's. In between ballgames, the radio would play big bands and Frank Sinatra. Harry and Marie would become exasperated if we danced in the small space between booths and counter but dance we did. And we would laugh.
The name Satchel Paige was becoming more widely known. Long a legend in his own time as star pitcher in the Negro Baseball League, he was also very amusing, not unlike the Yogi Berra lines we toss about today. Whenever Satchel Paige was asked his age, he is quoted as saying "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
The most popular quote that I recall is "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." He never gave his age. In the summer of 1948, a year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, he was given the chance to play with the Cleveland Indians. Perhaps the fact the Joltin' Joe DiMaggio had earlier said Satchel was the fastest and best pitcher he ever faced had something to do with the decision.
In 1947, we laughed with Satchel and cheered for Jackie. Although I never saw Satchel play, I did see Jackie steal home - one of the 19 times he stole home in his decade with the Dodgers. And in 1956, I saw him a number of times in an elevator. I was working on the 19th floor of 71 Broadway. On the 13th floor was Dr. Ryland, an osteopath and the Dodger's doctor.
By this time, Jackie's body was surely feeling the effects of all the hip-and-shoulder slides he took with reckless abandon to bring his team home with the Pennant - which he helped do six times during his 10 years with the team.
We didn't speak, but we smiled and I enjoyed thode moments. He was a very big man, bigger than he looked down on the field. In 1957, he became a businessman; the navy blue cashmere overcoat covering his broad frame was the uniform of the day on Wall Street.
Satchel Paige's legendary prowess on the ballfield surely had Dodger management take notice of the ability of young black athletes. It's fitting they both are counted among the greatest in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and are an integral part of Black History Month.