Mixed feelings about Satch and the nature of journo-research

I was laying in bed last night, and I realized that I was probably a bit too harsh on Satchel Paige yesterday in my post about his connection to New Orleans Black Pelicans.

So I adjusted some … terminology in the post to make it more, well, professional. I apologize about that.

But Satchel Paige stirs major feelings in me. Also while I was in bed last night, the gerbil on the wheel in my head started running a lot, and I also realized that my post yesterday was fairly harsh on a guy whose famous quote I used to name this very blog. So maybe I was being a bit of a hypocrite.

And yes, I probably was. But conversely, the fact that on one hand I honor him and on the other hand I snarkily criticize him perfectly symbolizes the extreme mixed feelings I have about him.

It’s impossible to ignore not only the notion that he is probably the greatest pitcher in all of baseball history, but also his many good character traits — his charisma, his sense of humor, his confidence, his honesty, his laid back and philosophical attitude toward life …

But in my mind it’s also hard not to see him as an egocentric mercenary whose primary concern was always himself and his payday, not the welfare of the teams and teammates for and with whom he pitched. He was a narcissist who was only looking out for himself.

However, that’s at least somewhat true of so many players today and, whether we like to acknowledge it or not, more than a few of the stars — both black and white — of yesterday that we research and write about.

As a journalist of 20 years, I’ve met, talked to, gotten to know and written about hundreds, if not thousands of people, and there’s a handful of lessons about human nature I’ve learned, one of which is this — the vast majority of people, including athletes, are very complex, sometimes self-contradicting characters. There’s very little black and white when it comes to the human soul and psyche.

My belief in that fundamental theory has only deepened as my career as a historical researcher has blossomed. People, athletes included, have always been complicated and not easily painted with one or two brush strokes.

And that’s what mesmerizes us, fascinates us, intrigues us about them, and part of the fun of being an historical researcher — and a journalist, for that matter — is unraveling all the layers to the people we place under a microscope. The thrilling challenge is simply finding out who these people were, and are.

So how do I truly feel about Satchel Paige? I couldn’t give you a clear, concise answer beyond one word: conflicted. And, to be honest, that’s fine with me.


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