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Satchel Paige
#70 | Pitcher | Negro Leagues


     Paige pitched with many teams and wore many different uniform numbers, but wore #70 with the St. Louis Browns in the American League.

Leroy Robert Paige: "Satchmo," "Satchel"

     Flashy and outspoken, Paige fashioned a legendary career in the Negro Leagues between 1925 and 1948 in the Negro Leagues.  Although he possessed a wild, windmill delivery, he had excellent control - his distinctive pitches included: the "two-hump blooper," a moving changeup; "Little Tom," a medium fastball; "Long Tom," his hard fastball (also called his "bee ball"); and the "hesitation pitch," for which he momentarily stopped his delivery halfway through before continuing.

     He first threw the controversial hesitation pitch in 1943, after seventeen years of being a fastball pitcher - he began throwing curve balls and other slow balls for the first time in his life to destroy hitters' timing and to save his arm.  Here is how Paige himself describes his hesitation pitch in his autobiography, Maybe I'll Pitch Forever: "When the guy at bat was all tightened up waiting for my fastball, I knew he'd swing as soon as I just barely moved.  So when I stretched, I paused just a little longer with my arms above my head.  Then I'd throw my left foot forward but I didn't come around with my arm right away.  I put that foot of mine down, stopping for a second, before the ball left my hand."  p. 151.  In 1948, the American League banned the pitch, forcing pitchers to throw in one continuous motion.

 

     The charismatic hurler gained a reputation which made him the Negro Leagues' preeminent gate attraction.  His frequent successful outings against such barnstorming major leaguers as Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Bob Feller helped boost the credibility of black baseball and lent support to those who called him the greatest pitcher of all time.

   On July 21, 1942, at Forbes Field, Paige performed one of his legendary feats while pitching for the Monarchs.  Years earlier, Paige had told Josh Gibson that one day he would strike him out with the bases loaded.  With a man on, two outs, and Gibson third up, Paige walked the next two Grays to bring Gibson up.  Satchel told the crowd what was going to happen.  "Three fastballs, Josh," Paige said, then proceeds to strike him out.

 

     Paige's status as a folk hero had its roots both in his durability and in the confusion about his date of birth.  The seventh of 11 children, he was born in Mobile, Alabama, at a time when accurate records were not always kept.  Although no one is entirely sure, Paige seems to have been born in 1906 - at least, a birth certificate bearing what is now the generally accepted date, July 7, 1906, exists.  He was questioned about it for years because the family name was spelled "Page" - in his book, he says that his family later added an "i" to their name.  The uncertainly became part of his persona.  As he pitched on, he joked about his age, told fanciful stories about his youth, and titled his autobiography Maybe I'll Pitch Forever.  After Paige's death, Mobile-born Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe maintained that Paige was born in 1900: "Satchel was two years older than I was.  I know that because we started playing together when he was 17, and I was 15."  The truth may never be known.

 

     His nickname comes from his youth, when he used to tote suitcases at the Mobile train depot for money.  He rigged a pole and some rope to carry three or four bags at once, prompting others to call him Satchel.

 

     In 1918, an episode of shoplifting and truancy sent him to the state Industrial School for Negro Children, where he was able to hone his pitching skills until his 1923 release.  The following summer, Paige won a job with a local semi-pro team.  Two years later he advanced to the Chattanooga Black Lookouts of the Negro Southern League.  For two decades he pitched whenever the opportunity arose.  In the summers he hurled for the Birmingham Black Barons, Nashville Elite Giants, Cleveland Cubs, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and Kansas City Monarchs.  Between league games and in the off-season, he barnstormed, often opposing the best major league players.  When the money was right, he journeyed to Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic.  He drew huge crowds everywhere and was able to earn an annual income near $40,000, higher than most major leaguers.

 

     He compiled an impressive record in the Negro Leagues, especially when he teamed with Josh Gibson on the Pittsburgh Crawfords, but it was his exhibition performances that made him a legend.  On more than one occasion, he called in his outfielders before an inning and struck out the side.  After the 1934 season, he toured with Dizzy Dean and won four of the six games they pitched against each other.  The following year, he defeated Dick Bartell's All-Stars, whose centerfielder, Joe DiMaggio, called Paige "the best I've ever faced and the fastest."

 

     In 1947, when the color barrier in baseball was cracked, Paige was over 40 years old, and Cleveland's Bill Veeck went with Larry Doby as the first black ballplayer in the AL.  Veeck signed him to a contract on July 7, 1948, making him the first black pitcher in the AL.  He proved to be much more than a drawing card - manager Lou Boudreau first used him exclusively in relief, but on August 3, Paige started and beat Washington 5-3 before 72,434 fans.  He later shut out the White Sox twice, and finished 6-1 (2.48 ERA) to help Cleveland to the pennant.  He worked in 31 games in 1949 but was released after the season when Veeck sold the Indians, only to be signed by Veeck again for the 1951 St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles).  He pitched for three more years, in 1952 going 12-10 with ten saves and a league-high eight relief wins.

 

     In 1954, now approaching the age of 50, Paige was released again, and resumed barnstorming.  He played another year for the Monarchs and three for Veeck's International League Miami Marlins.  He continued to pitch into the 1960s and finished his career with a farewell, three-inning stint as a starter for Charley Finley's Kansas City Athletic's on September 25, 1965.  He was given a job as an Atlanta Braves coach in 1968-69 to help him gain his pension.  In retirement, he embellished his legend through frequent interviews and public appearances.

 

     He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues in 1971. 

 

"Don't look back - something might be gaining on you."

Satchel Paige

 

"The best I've ever faced and the fastest."

Joe DiMaggio

 

"Paige was the best pitcher I ever saw." 

Bob Feller

 

"Satch was the greatest pitcher in baseball." 

Ted Williams

 

"My pitching philosophy is simple - keep the ball way from the bat."

Satchel Paige

 

"He's a better pitcher then I ever hope to be." 

Dizzy Dean

 

"When Paige wound up to pitch, he looked like a cross between Ichabod Crane and Rip Van Winkle.  

He was easy to imitate and funny to watch, unless you were the batter trying to hit against him." 

Al Hirshberg

 

"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?"

Satchel Paige

 

 

"A bunch of the fellows get in a barber session the other day and they start to arguefy about the best pitcher they ever see.  

Some say Lefty Grove and Lefty Gomez and Walter Johnson and old Pete Alexander and Dazzy Vance.  And they mention

Lonnie Werneke and Van Mungo and Carl Hubbell and Johnny Corriden tells us about Matty [Christy Mathewson and

he sure must have been great and some of the boys even say Old Diz is the best they ever see.

     But I see all them fellows except Matty and Johnson and I know who's the best pitcher I ever see and it's old Satchel Paige,

 that big lanky colored boy.  Say Old Diz is pretty fast in 1933 and 1934, and you know my fast ball looks like a change of pace alongside that little pistol bullet old Satch shoots up to the plate.  And I really know something about it because for four, five years I tour around the end of the season with all-star teams and I see plenty of old Satch.

     He sure is a pistol.  It's too bad these colored boys don't play in the big leagues because they sure got some great ballplayers.  Anyway, that skinny old Satchel Paige with those long arms is my idea of the pitcher with the greatest stuff I ever saw."

Dizzy Dean

 

 

 


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