The Pitcher and the Dictator
Soon after Leroy “Satchel” Paige arrived at spring training in 1937 to pitch for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, he and five of his teammates, including Josh Gibson and James “Cool Papa” Bell, were lured to the Dominican Republic with the promise of easy money to play in a baseball tournament in support of the country’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo. But the money wasn’t so easy. Paige and his friends soon found themselves under the thumb of Trujillo, known by Dominicans for murdering those who disappointed him.
At first the Ciudad Trujillo all-star team floundered—Paige and his friends spent their nights carousing and their days dropping close games. Desperate to restore discipline, Trujillo tapped the leader of his death squads to become part of the team management. Afraid they might be shot, Paige and his teammates rallied to win. This barely registered with Trujillo, who just months later ordered the killings of 15,000 Haitians at the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
When Paige and his teammates returned home, they were banished from the Negro leagues. Despite this, they continued to play baseball, barnstorming across America as the “Trujillo All-Stars” team.
Author Averell “Ace” Smith tells an extraordinary story of race and politics and of some of the greatest baseball players ever as they played high-stakes baseball for one of the Caribbean’s cruelest dictators.
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