As he walked through the city, Satchel shook his head and blinked at what he didn’t see: beggars, trash, vagrants, or barefooters. Streets were mostly paved. They were immaculately clean. Calle El Conde, the artery of the tony shopping district, was crowded with jewelers, clothiers, restaurants, and cafés. The calle clattered with motorcars and every variety of horse-drawn contraption.
He found, without a doubt, that the most beautiful spot in the city was the palm-lined esplanade, which followed the contours of the Caribbean. Called by locals El Malecón (the Breakwater), it was skirted by Avenida George Washington, which was spotted with benches and meticulously manicured parks filled with well-dressed children. The avenida led to a freshly installed white marble obelisk, which was a one-quarter-size replica of the Washington Monument.
Time to Get a Job
Seven thousand fanáticos impatiently waited for the 3 o’clock first pitch at the four year old stadium called the “Campo Deportivo Municipal.” Satchel was used to the Negro League stadiums with their gently curved stands studded with seats that slanted up a steep slope. It was odd he thought, this diamond “looked something like a bull ring.” Especially once he realized “there are no bull fights down there.”
Show Me the Money
Rapidly, news spread that the day before, black Mississippians Roosevelt Townes and Robert McDaniels, had been seized by a white mob while passing through the Grenada County jail yard on their way to be arraigned in court. Sheriff E. E. White had released his two black prisoners to the mob as he belly laughed, “You have overpowered me boys.”
Later that dark week, a short man with sharp features, wearing a white linen suit and dark banded fedora stopped Satchel on the sidewalk near the team’s hotel. He introduced himself in proper English, flavored with a strong Spanish accent, “I’m Dr. José Enrique Aybar,” he proclaimed, “I direct the baseball team in Ciudad Trujillo.” Satchel stopped short. He looked quizzically at the little man. “I’d heard of sick clubs and ballplayers that looked pretty sick,” he thought, “but I never knew there was one so sick it needed a doctor to manage it.”
“What can I do for you Doc?” he asked.
The officer summarily sentenced Satchel to live out his adolescence at the Alabama Reform School for Juvenile Negro Law-Breakers in Mount Meigs. The Mount Meigs institution had been built seven years earlier to tighten the grip of Alabama’s apartheid state.
Without notice the Marines marched on Santiago, which was then the political and economic power base of the country. On that same day the marines hoisted the U.S. flag over the old Spanish Fort Ozama in the capital. By capturing the two principal cities, the Americans had seized control of the country.
Finally, on November 29, 1916, a little over a month after Rafael turned twenty-five, U.S. Marine captain Harry S. Knapp issued a “proclamation of occupation” from the flagship Olympia, pronouncing an American military dictatorship.
Free elections were at last held in 1924, and sixty-three-year-old former president Horacio Vásquez was elected in a landslide. The chore of keeping order in the new democracy was turned over to the American-trained and recruited but fully Dominican Guardia Nacional. Chapter 5, The Americans
Trujillo’s regiment stood at attention in full formation, as President Vásquez announced his military appointments.
A Long, Lanky Black Boy by the Name of Satchell
Satchel became an immediate sensation. The local paper raved about “the airtight pitching of a long, lanky black boy by the name of Satchell.” They reported that the powerful Barons “were held down at the bat by the mysterious curves of Pitcher Satchell. Darris, at short for the Barons, was the only Alabamian who could solve the long Satchell.”
Trujillo Es El Jefe
Earlier that week, Trujillo had holed up in his military command center at Fortaleza Ozama – a castle-like fortress built on the west bank of the Ozama River by the Spanish in 1505. President Vásquez anxiously flooded Trujillo with entreaties to meet.
Without warning a calm descended upon the city as the eye of the Hurricane passed over. Air pressure plummeted. People’s ears felt ready to burst. It became almost too easy to take a breath. Ten minutes later the storm regained its fury – only this time with the winds savagely blowing the opposite direction. Suddenly the water mains burst flooding the already drenched city. Destruction was near total. Just 400 of the city’s 10,000 buildings were left standing – these were all in the colonial section. There were 8,000 casualties with 2,000 dead, and 6,000 injured.
Opening Day Away
Towards the end of the trip they came to the wide Higuamo River – they marveled as they crossed the newly built Ramfis suspension bridge. In just a few more minutes their bus came to a stop in the country’s sugar capital.
Two decades earlier San Pedro de Macorís had been the Caribbean boomtown floating on the enormous rise in sugar prices after World War I.
At first Generalissimo Doctor Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, Honorable President of the Republic, Benefactor of the Fatherland was content collecting titles. As titles alone proved inadequate, he began naming places after himself. He created a Trujillo province making his birthplace, San Cristóbal, its capital. Next, he had the capital city Santo Domingo renamed Ciudad Trujillo. Almost as an afterthought, the highest mountain was rechristened Pico Trujillo. Nearly every postage stamp issued by the nation that decade bore his image or his family’s name.
Obsessively, Trujillo adored young Ramfis. At three he made Ramfis a Colonel in the army.
That fall, Lina Lovatón happened to be in the thick of the competition to be crowned Queen of the upcoming carnival. Trujillo instantly signed up to be her volunteer campaign manager. So it was no accident, when in the final days of December 1936 Lina was crowned Queen Lina I by the administrative council of Santo Domingo.
The Stars Arrive
Everything was building toward a mass event in support of his reelection. It required each party boss to gather citizens from his turf and produce them at a massive fall rally in the capital imploring the president to seek reelection.
That day everyone in Ciudad Trujillo saw the headline of the sports section in Listín Diario, about the rival Águilas from Santiago. It read, “THE FAMOUS MARTÍN DIHIGO TO PLAY FOR SANTIAGO.”
Finally, they neared the capital city. Patches of palms and tiny farms replaced the fields of cane. Coming into view was a white bridge and old Spanish fort rimmed with medieval turrets.
Después de la Victoria
It was a magnificent, sunny April afternoon … ululaba cheers in the stands and throughout the grandstand, a perfect picture of a cosmopolitan audience, cheering for the same exciting event with a vertigo of fever and madness …
Standing at home plate Satchel and Cy looked out over the right field fence, past the palms, into the Caribbean. There it sat – a blend of grey, black and rusty, 500-foot denuded warship sitting, solid as a rock on the rocks. Its sheer bulk was swelled by four giant smoke stacks overtopped by a conning tower. An odd effect was created by waves crashing over the deck and rhythmically spilling down the island side like a waterfall facing the stadium.
Black Babe Ruth
Landing Josh turned out to be trickier than bagging Satchel. Yes, Gibson wanted lots of money. But he wasn’t willing to leave the Pittsburgh Homestead Grays until he had received proper clearance from his team’s owner. A week of nervous waiting ensued. Finally word came that Josh would take $2,200 for the remaining seven weeks of the series.
On game day a large banner ad was splashed across the front page of Listín heralding the debut of Gibson. Even more prominently it featured the most naked pitch yet for Trujillo’s reelection:
campeonato nacional de baseball
“reelección presidente trujillo”
único juego de la semana
ciudad trujillo vs. estrellas de oriente
(National Baseball Championship for the “Reelection of President Trujillo” only game of the week Trujillo City vs. Eastern Stars.)
Fiesta de la Chapita
The very next day the little dentist held a closing press conference aimed at the American press. Aybar, whom Satchel described as “one of those fellows who never stops once he starts talking,” opined, “It is the general opinion here that all the imported players in this city are the best in the world. It is my personal opinion that if our team which won the championship met any white league team, our team would win.”
The Fall of Trujillo
Suddenly their rear windshield exploded. Blood gushed from under the dictator’s left armpit. “Coño [cunt],” Trujillo snarled. “I’ve been hit.”
Joy swept the populace:
Ay, Maria, Maria, Maria
Sing and don’t cry
Because singing you make
Honey, the heart happy
They’ve killed Chapita
On the highway
They’ve killed Chapita
On the highway
In this way
They’ve killed Chapita
And won’t let me see
Dominican merengue from December 1961
With Trujillo dead in 1961, Bosch returned to the Dominican Republic to establish a new constitution. When free elections were finally called in 1962, Bosch ran for president of the republic.
Thirty-seven years after the assassinations of the Mirabal sisters, a crowd gathered at the Trujillo Obelisk. Its white surface had been painted over with colorful larger-than-life images of the three sisters.
The Persevering Paige
Gus’s publicity arm talked the Afro-American newspaper into running a cartoon under the title “the prodigal son returns” picturing Gus smiling as he paternalistically embraces Josh and Satchel.
Averell “Ace” Smith
About The Author
Averell “Ace” Smith is a political consultant and lifelong baseball fanatic. He is a thirty-year veteran of state and national politics and has directed winning campaigns from district attorney to president of the United States. He has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times, the New Republic, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Smith spent over a decade researching this book including travelling to the Dominican Republic. He lives in Kentfield, California with his wife Laura Talmus.