Satchel Paige: The World's Greatest Pitcher Part I
Day after day as we move to the end of the century -
there are all kinds of lists, for All Century this, All Century that. It
seems every media outlet, website, publication has gotten into the act.
And this is all well and good for it gets many formerly famous athletes
back into the glare and the glitter of the spotlight.
One man who belongs on all the All-Century selections
is LEROY "SATCHEL" PAIGE. He was a player who had a way with
words and an even more magnificent way on the pitching mound. Paige was a
long-time star in the Negro Leagues - there are estimates that he pitched
for 33 years and won more than 2,000 games. Traveling all over the world
to play baseball - by car, by bus, by train, some day also by horse and
carriage - wherever there was a game the lanky hurler was there. His
nick-name came from the fact that most of those years he lived out of his
"satchel" or suitcase. Paige was proud of his nick-name and even
wore it on his uniform.
A bone-thin 6'3" with size 12 flat feet, he
billed himself as "The World's Greatest Pitcher." Paige claimed
that his real secret of success stemmed from the fact that "even
though I got old, my arm stayed 19." He was vigorously opposed to
exercise. "I believe in training," he joked, "by rising up
and down gently from the bench." Paige's rules for successful living
were: 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 your
juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move. 4-Go very gently on
the vices such as carrying on in society - the social ramble ain't
restful. 5-Avoid running at all times. 6-Don't look back, something might
be gaining on you. Through all the long and difficult years in the Negro
Leagues, Paige Hungered for a shot at the majors. The Cleveland Indians
needed extra pitching and their owner Bill Veeck was interested in Paige.
As the story goes, Veeck wanted to test Paige's control before signing him
to a contract. Allegedly Veeck placed a cigarette on the ground - a
simulation of home plate. Paige took aim. Five fastballs were fired -all
but one sailed directly over the cigarette. Paige got his contract!
On July 9, 1948, Leroy Robert Paige arrived on the
major league baseball scene as a rookie pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.
He gave his official age as "42???" to owner Bill Veeck. His
exact age was always clouded in mystery and rarely did he answer questions
about it. And when he did, he quipped: "Age is a question of mind
over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter But he definitely was
the oldest rookie ever to play in the majors.
On 1948, Satchel won six games lost only one,
compiled a fine 2.48 earned run average and helped pitch the Indians to
the pennant and World Series victory that year. Three years later Veeck
was re-united with Paige this time with the St. Louis Browns. Satchel
passed the time away relaxing in his own personal rocking chair in the
bullpen when he was not pitching. There were appearances in the All-Star
games of 1952 and 1953. And then he was done - for a time.
In 1965, a year that would have made him 59 years old
based on his "official birthday" ( July 7, 1906 Mobile, Alabama)
- he pitched three shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics to become
the oldest man to pitch in a major league game. It was the last time he
took the mound. In 1971, on what he called the proudest day of his life,
Leroy "Satchel" Paige was elected to the National Baseball Hall
of Fame. He was the first player ever elected from the Negro Leagues.
# # #
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Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
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"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
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