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Satchel Paige: The World's Greatest Pitcher Part 2 

Satchel Paige passed away on June 8, 1982 in Kansas City, Missouri. But stories of what he said and did have grown through the years, as the man has become both a myth and a legend. It is like the big fish story - the size of the fish caught grows bigger each time the teller of the tale speaks.

Nevertheless, Paige had the right stuff, hyperbole notwithstanding.

Satchel reportedly began his professional career in 1926 and was an immediate gate attraction with his dazzling variety of pitches, and words for every occasion. He played baseball year round, often pitching two games a day in two different cities in the Negro Leagues.

Joining the Pittsburgh Crawfords during the early 1930's, Satch was 32-7 and 31-4 in 1932 and 1933, respectively. But his time with the team was always interrupted by salary disputes. In those instances, Paige would go on barnstorming gigs for more money and compete against all levels of competition including top major league players.

He played in the Dominican Republic and then Mexico, where he developed a sore arm. In 1938, he signed with the Kansas City Monarchs and his arm was better than ever.

With the Monarchs, Paige had his complete pitching arsenal on display. He had a wide breaking curve ball, and his famous "hesitation pitch" that came out of a windup that looked like slow motion. He also had a "bee-ball," a "jump-ball," a "trouble-ball," a "long-ball" and other pitches without names that he made up as he went along.

Satchel pitched the Monarchs to four-straight Negro American League pennants (1939-42), accentuated by a clean sweep of the powerful Homestead Grays in the 1942 Negro League World Series. Satchel won three of the games in that series. In 1946, he helped pitch the Monarchs to their fifth pennant during his time with the team. Satchel also pitched in five East-West Black All-Star games.

In his time he graced, and dressed up, the rosters of the Birmingham Black Barons, the Baltimore Black Sox, the Cleveland Cubs, the Pittsburgh Crawfords, the Kansas City Monarchs, the New York Black Yankees, the Memphis Red Sox, and the Philadelphia Stars.

His career spanned five decades. In his time he was acknowledged as the greatest pitcher in the history of the Negro Leagues. It was a time when he had a string of 64 consecutive scoreless innings, and a stretch of 21 straight wins.

It was also a time when some saw Paige bring his outfielders in and have them sit behind the mound while he proceeded to strike out the side, and when some commented on how he intentionally walked the bases loaded so that he could pitch to Josh Gibson, black baseball's best hitter.

It was a time when there were the "out-of-thin-air-you-had-to-be-there-" stories: Paige and his habit of striking out the first nine batters he faced in exhibition games; Paige and his firing twenty straight pitches across a chewing gum wrapper - a very mini-home plate; Paige throwing so hard that the ball disappeared before it reached the catcher's mitt.

The man they called "World's Greatest Pitcher" had a lot to say about his craft.

"I never threw an illegal pitch. The trouble is, once in a while I would toss one that ain't never been seen by this generation. Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don't move."

"They said I was the greatest pitcher they ever saw...I couldn't understand why they couldn't give me no justice."

Joe DiMaggio called him "the best and fastest pitcher I've ever faced."  

And there were hundreds of others - major league and Negro League stars - that shared the Yankee Clipper's point of view.

 

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "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 acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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