June 14, 2017

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige (1906-1982) is considered one of the greatest pitchers in history — despite the fact that he only played for teams in the major leagues for about five years. 

Paige actually had a very long career in baseball that started in 1926.

But from the mid-1920s to the late 1940s he was limited to playing for teams in “The Negro League,” due to the strict racial segregation that continued to be imposed in America during the first half of the 20th century.

In 1947, Paige’s former Negro League teammate Jackie Robinson finally broke baseball’s color barrier.

The following year, at age 42, Paige was recruited as a pitcher by the Cleveland Indians.

That simultaneously made him both the first Negro pitcher in the American League and the oldest major league “rookie” ever.

In 1951, Paige moved to Missouri to play for the St. Louis Browns. (I once owned a Topps baseball card showing him in his Browns uniform, with his name misspelled as “Satchell.” Looking at the prices that card fetches now on eBay, I wish I still had it.)

In 1953, a magazine story about Paige included what became a famous quote that’s included in many books about quotations and baseball:

      “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” [Sometimes given as “…may be gaining...”]

This the best known of the six rules attributed to Paige in that article, which was written by sports journalist Richard Donovan and published in the June 13, 1953 issue of Collier’s.

The six rules, (variously known as Satchel Paige’s “Six Rules for a Long Life” and “Rules for Staying Young”) were featured in a sidebar of the article and recorded as follows:

      “1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
       2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
       3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
       4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social rumble ain’t restful.
       5. Avoid running at all times.
       6. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

The Collier’s article made Paige’s rules famous.

Paige enhanced awareness of them by reciting the rules to fans and reporters throughout the rest of his life. He even had them printed on the back of his business cards.

However, over the years, questions arose about whether Satchel’s rules had actually been created by him or by Richard Donovan.

The truth seems to be somewhere in between.

In Paige’s 1962 memoir, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, he said he did have a system of personal rules that helped him be one of the best — and eventually oldest — pitchers in baseball.

“Some sports guy on the East Coast heard me talking about them once and then he went and turned them into a bunch of rules for me to stay young,” Paige recalled.

Regarding the most-quoted rule about not looking back, Paige said: “That last one that fellow wrote was my real rule. When you look back, you know how long you’ve been going and that just might stop you from going any farther...So I didn’t.”

In the excellent biography SATCHEL: The Life and Times of an American Legend, author Larry Tye concludes that the rules were based on things Paige said to Donovan during hours of interviews, but the exact wording was probably Donovan’s.

Paige retired from major league baseball not long after Collier’s published his “six rules” in 1953. But he remained a popular celebrity until his death from a heart attack in 1982.

His heart problem may have had something to do with the fact that — by his own admission — Satchel regularly violated Rule #1.

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Further reading and viewing about Satchel Paige and the Negro Leagues

June 01, 2017

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

I have measured out my life with coffeespoons WM2 
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by the American-born British poet T.S. Eliot (Thomas Stearns Eliot), is one of the most famous poems of the 20th Century.

It was first published in the June 1915 issue of Poetry magazine, an influential Chicago-based journal read by literary luminaries and poetry buffs in both America and Europe.

Although critical reception of the poem was mixed, it launched Eliot’s career as a poet and gave him initial visibility that grew to worldwide fame with publication of his other early masterpieces of modernist verse: “Gerontion” (1920), “The Waste Land” (1922) and “The Hollow Men” (1925).

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was included in Eliot’s first book of collected verse, Prufrock and Other Observations (1917).

It remains one of his best-known poems and contains several passages found in many books of quotations.

One of those oft-quoted passages comes from the beginning of the poem:

       “Let us go then, you and I,
       When the evening is spread out against the sky
       Like a patient etherized upon a table.”

In literal terms, an evening spread out like an anaesthetized patient makes no sense.

But, like much of the verse Eliot wrote, it evokes an image that works memorably as poetry.

As the poem proceeds, it becomes apparent that the character speaking is an old man who seems disillusioned, lonely, bored and unhappy.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” he says in one of the poem’s most famous lines. (Sometimes misquoted as “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.”)

Other passages express the old man’s haunting feeling that life and love have passed him by and that he may have let them pass, by settling into a humdrum existence.

In another oft-quoted part of the poem he says:

       “I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
       I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
       Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

The poem ends, gloomily, with these final famous lines:

       “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
       By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
       Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”

Eliot’s poetic trip inside an old man’s mind in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was not based on his personal experience.

He was only 22 years old when he began composing the poem in 1910.

I suspect that, in part, the poem reflects the sense of dread many young people feel when they realize they might reach old age without having pursued their dreams, without ever having found true love, without escaping the sometimes soul-crushing limitations imposed by society and the need to make a living.

As Eliot reached middle age and beyond, his work became less gloomy.

His even wrote comedic plays and a book of whimsical poems about cats titled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (the basis for the hit Broadway musical Cats).

Eliot’s last well-known poem, published in 1959, suggests that, after an unhappy first marriage, he found happiness with his second wife, Esmé Valerie Fletcher.

It’s a romantic, almost sappy bit of verse titled “A Dedication to My Wife” that has become a popular wedding poem.

Apparently, Esmé helped Eliot escape the lonely fate of his character J. Alfred Prufrock.

When they wed in 1957, she was 32. He was 68.

To which I say: good for you, old man.

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Comments? Corrections? Questions? Email me or post them on my Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Related reading and listening

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