Satchel Paige was the nearest thing to a legend that ever came out of the Negro Leagues. The tall, lanky right hander parlayed a pea-sized fastball, nimble wit, and a colorful personality into a household name that is recognized by people who know little about baseball itself, and even less about the players who performed in the Jim Crow era of organized baseball. His name has become synonymous with the barnstorming exhibitions played between traveling black teams and their white counterparts.
A mixture of fact and embellishment, Satchel’s stories are legion. From this rich array of folklore come stories of his pulling outfielders to sit behind the mound while he proceeded to strike out the side with the tying run on base; stories of him intentionally walking the bases loaded so that he could pitch to Josh Gibson, the most dangerous hitter in black baseball; stories of him repeatedly striking out the first nine batters he faced in exhibition games; stories of him throwing twenty straight pitches across a chewing gum wrapper that was being used for home plate; stories of him throwing so hard that the ball disappeared before it reached the catcher’s mitt. And the stories go on. They are endless. But the facts are also impressive.
Satchel began his professional career in 1926 and soon thereafter established himself as a gate attraction and began playing the year around. His greatest popularity came when he joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords during the early 1930’s and for whom he compiled marks of 32-7 and 31-4 in 1932-33. His stay there was interrupted with frequent salary disputes during which intervals Satch would barnstorm against all levels of competition.
Ultimately he jumped to the Dominican Republic, and then to Mexico, where he develped a sore arm in 1938. After signing with the Kansas City Monarchs, his arm “came back,” and he also developed a curve and his famous hesitation pitch to add to his “bee-ball,” “jump-ball,” “trouble-ball,” “long-ball” and the other pitches in his repertoire.
Satchel pitched the Monarchs to four consecutive Negro American League Pennants (1939-42), culminating in a clean sweep of the powerful Homestead Grays in the 1942 World Series, with Satchel himself winning three of the games. In 1946 he helped pitch the Monarchs to their fifth pennant during his tenure with the team. Satchel also pitched in five East-West Black All-Star games, being credited with two victories in the mid-season classic.
Bill Veeck finally brought him to the major leagues in 1948 as the oldest rookie ever to play major league baseball. He registered a 6-1 record with a 2.48 ERA to help pitch the Indians to the pennant and World Series victory that year. Veeck and Paige teamed up again, with the St. Louis Browns in 1951, where Satchel relaxed in his own personal rocking chair in the bullpen when not in action. Twelve years after making appearances in the All-Star games of 1952-53, Satch at the dubious age of 59, pitched three innings for the A’s to become the oldest man to pitch in a major league game.
In 1971, on the proudest day of his life, Satchel was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first player elected from the Negro Leagues.
Birmingham Black Barons, Baltimore Black Sox, Cleveland Cubs, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Kansas City Monarchs, New York Black Yankees, Memphis Red Sox, Philadelphia Stars
Bob Feller, Dizzy Dean
For Additional Information:
Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, by LeRoy “Satchel” Paige and David Lipman
Don’t Look Back, by Mark Ribowsky