Josh Willis helped Larry Tye research his new book Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend. Willis was kind enough to answer these questions.
How did you get involved with the author?
I began working for Larry Tye about a year ago--it was quite fortuitous, actually. I had just found out that my summer teaching job had fallen through due to lack of enrollment when Larry, looking for extra help down the stretch, posted a research position on the university job board. I sent him an enthusiastic email and it turned out we had a mutual acquaintance--Tufts University professor Sol Gittleman, author of Reynolds, Raschi and Lopat, a fine book about the '49-'53 Yankees. He sent me an initial assignment: a fact-finding search for Ed Byrd, Satchel's first pitching coach at what was then called the Alabama Reform School for Juvenile Negro Law Breakers. It must have gone well, because he continued to send me assignments, and here I am.
What and where did you research?
By the time I came on, Satchel was near completion, so a lot of the work I did involved getting the book ready for the printers: checking information acquired during first-person interviews for accuracy; finding old photos of Satchel for inclusion in the book; editing and re-editing the notes and bibliography. Now, Larry is beginning work on something new, and my job has changed considerably since this book is in its infancy.
Where does Satchel Paige stand among the great ptitchers?
To me, the discussion of the greatest pitchers of all-time is limited to three names: Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Satchel Paige, with due respect to Seaver, Koufax, Clemens, and others. While Paige's numbers are widely disputed and difficult to pin down, the fact remains that from age 41 to 46, Satchel was an above-average major league pitcher in all but one season. Precious few pitchers in major league history can make a similar claim. Johnson was done by age 39, Grove by 41, and its entirely likely--given the nature of the barnstorming teams Paige played on--that he threw as many innings as Grove, if not Johnson. While Satchel might not be the greatest pitcher that ever lived, it is evident that he belongs in the conversation.
What do you do when you’re not turning microfilm?
Aside from doing research, I enjoy reading, writing, hiking, and sports of all kinds. Alas, I could neither hit nor field, so I was never much of a baseball player, but I found my niche playing ultimate frisbee in college, a wonderful game that is among the fastest growing sports in the world. A terrific book on the history of the sport is Ultimate--The First Four Decades.
Briefly describe you baseball fandom.
I owe my allegiance to the Red Sox to my parents. My mother is from Worcester, and while my Dad is originally from St. Louis, he went to school in Boston and the Sox won him over. They moved to Rochester, NY before I was born, which is really a baseball no-man's land: Yankees fans, Mets fans, Blue Jays fans, Red Sox fans, and Indians fans all coexist together in relative harmony. I saw my first game at Fenway Park in 1990--Roger Clemens beat the Brewers, back when they were still in the AL and wore blue and yellow--and I was hooked for life.