A single ray of light illuminates a 35-year-old Satchel Paige playing pool in New York City in 1941. He appears bright against the darkness of the pool hall; the light on him and the light within him attract the viewer. The low camera angle gives the viewer a feeling of bowing before this baseball legend.
Paige is dressed as a stereotype found in Negro Leagues literature. The new suit, the new shoes, the hat: he would have valued these items and purchased them for himself as soon as possible with his meager earnings from the Negro Leagues. They would have given him status within his community, and more importantly, inside his own head. But in 1941, he would have only been allowed in “colored” pool halls. Pool halls were typically places for gambling, and even though the viewer is unable to see Paige’s adversary, the viewer is aware Paige is winning because of his confident stance.
Pitchers reach their peak in their thirties. In 1941, Paige would have been 35. The popularity of the Negro Leagues was also at its height, which is partly why the Major Leagues allowed Jackie Robinson to cross the color-line. Across The Sports Show gallery another photograph portrays the white manager of the Montreal Royals congratulating Jackie Robinson in 1942.
Most people assume that when Robinson crossed over, the players in the Negro Leagues rejoiced. The vast majority of Negro League players, however, no matter how good they were, would never make it to the MLB. 1943 was the last season for the Negro Leagues, and many players never had the chance to play the game of their dreams again. Paige didn’t play in the majors until he was 42, and he still remains the oldest rookie in the Major League. But, at 42, he was long past his prime.
In this picture Satchel Paige had to have known the Negro Leagues was nearing its end, but his iconic, immortal status remains.
About the author: Becky Billings is the Director of the Writing Center at Hennepin Technical College (HTC) in Eden Prairie as well as an adjunct philosophy instructor at HTC in Brooklyn Park.
Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to katie(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)