When I was a child, I remember hearing various myths and stories about the baseball players in the Negro Leagues. James "Cool Papa" Bell was so fast "he could turn out the lights and be in bed before it was dark." Slugger Josh Gibson was believed to be a greater home run hitter than Babe Ruth himself -- his plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame credits him with "almost 800 home runs." And, perhaps truest of all, Leroy "Satchel" Paige was believed to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
Paige features prominently in I Found Someone to Play With, a biography of former Negro Leagues catcher and outfielder Larry LeGrande by M.M Angelo. LeGrande was nearly 40 years younger than Paige, but the Roanoke, Virginia native befriended the legendary pitcher during his years of barnstorming with Satchel Paige's All-Stars.
I Found Someone to Play With is a charming tale of LeGrande's life, which began in rural Virginia during the Great Depression and extended through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Angelo tells LeGrande's incredible story in the first person, making it seem as if you're sitting in an easy chair in LeGrande's living room in the house at Pinkard's Court, listening to him tell his tale in a deep, Southern drawl.
The book focuses primarily on LeGrande's childhood and playing days, including his years in the New York Yankees' farm system. LeGrande played for the Memphis Red Sox, Detroit Stars -- who were renamed the Detroit Clowns for a short period while LeGrande was there -- and Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues, and then spent a few years barnstorming (or traveling throughout the country and Canada) with Satchel Paige and his All-Star team.
The story weaves back and forth, deftly mixing personal anecdotes and entertaining stories in with the action at hand. LeGrande also tells of some of the monumental events of the era, including the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the election and assassination of President John F. Kennedy. There are countless personal tales, both humorous and saddening, including LeGrande and Paige firing a carbine rifle in Paige's basement during a party, or when LeGrande and his team had to use a funeral home as a make-shift locker room.
I Found Someone to Play With is a quick read; I finished most of the book in one night. However, at just over 200 pages, it was a bit shorter than I would have liked. LeGrande has a fascinating story to tell, but there were parts where I still left with unanswered questions. There is a chapter on the difficulties that LeGrande and his teammates faced as African Americans living in a segregated world, but LeGrande only devotes a few pages to his battle with alcoholism and the death of two of his children. While these are dark topics near the end of an otherwise light-hearted story, they felt a bit rushed.
This does not change the fact that I Found Someone to Play With is a beautiful recollection of the life of one of the greatest baseball players in Negro Leagues history. LeGrande's story is worth sharing -- and needs to be told, in my opinion -- and I would recommend the book to anyone with an interest in baseball history.
I Found Someone to Play With is on sale now.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book in order to write this review. This review is my honest opinion.