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Satchel Paige

"I ain't ever had a job,
I just always played baseball."

Professional baseball in the U.S. was segregated until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the major leagues. In the years prior, there were several very successful Negro leagues. Satchel Paige was probably their most popular player and was considered the greatest pitcher, but he was known as much for his charisma and longevity as for his legendary pitching skills. Satchel was a colorful and engaging character who had a great talent for entertaining the crowds with his own version of a vaudeville act from the mound. 

Satchel Paige --  Negro League Pitcher
 
Leroy "Satchel" Paige was born in Alabama, the sixth of twelve children to John, a gardener and Lula Coleman, a domestic. His actual birth date is unknown because of poor record-keeping in those days. His birth certificate said July 7, 1904, but it didn’t have his name spelled correctly. He often joked about his age, "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter." 

As a boy, he earned money carrying suitcases at the Mobile train depot. He was paid by the number of bags he moved, so he rigged a pole and some rope to carry three or four additional bags. His friends thought he looked like a "walking satchel tree" so they called him Satchel. 

At the age of 12, he was sent to reform school for shoplifting and truancy. While he was there, he developed his pitching skills and after his release he joined the semi-pro baseball team, the Mobile Tigers. 

In 1926, Satchel Paige made his debut in professional baseball with the Negro Southern League, pitching Chattanooga to a 5–4 win over Birmingham. His greatest popularity came when he joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords during the early 1930's. He played baseball year round, playing in the U.S. in the summer and in South America during the winters. He often pitched two games a day in two different cities. When he wasn’t playing league games, he barnstormed around the country playing against all levels of competition. 

He was popular not only for his amazing talents, but his showmanship and style. Satchel made a habit of striking out the first nine batters he faced in exhibition games and on several occasions he sent the infield to the dugout or called the outfield in to sit behind the mound while he faced the best hitters in the opposition lineup. As Satchel’s popularity grew he became very famous and was able to attract many white patrons to the Negro league games. 

Satchel gave nicknames to all of his pitches, like the "bee-ball," the "barber," the "two-hump blooper," the "jump-ball," the "trouble-ball," the "long-ball," the "bat dodger" and his fastball, which he called "Long Tom." His most unusual throw was called the "hesitation pitch," because he stopped his arm for a second right before he released the ball to throw the batter’s timing off. 

He once told a sportswriter, "I use my single windup, my double windup, my triple windup, my hesitation windup, my no windup. I also use my step-n-pitch-it, my submariner, and my sidearmer. Man's got to do what he's got to do." 

Satchel pitched for the Kansas City Monarchs and took them to four consecutive Negro American League Pennants (1939-42). In 1946 he helped pitch the Monarchs to their fifth pennant. During the thirties and forties, he was baseball's greatest gate attraction. It is estimated that he pitched in more than 2000 baseball games in the Negro leagues. He had a string of 64 consecutive scoreless innings, and a stretch of 21 straight wins. 

In 1948, the Cleveland Indians provided his first entry into the major leagues. In his first year, he registered a 6-1 record with a 2.48 ERA to help pitch the Indians to the pennant and World Series victory. He joined the St. Louis Browns in 1951, as a full-time reliever and routinely arrived for games around the fifth inning. He would sneak drinks into the bullpen and relax between innings in a plush rocking chair provided by the coach. New York manager Casey Stengel once remarked, "If the Yanks don’t get ahead in the first six innings, the Browns bring in that damned old man and then we’re sunk." 

1948 Life Magazine article on Satchel Paige
1948 Life Magazine article

Twelve years after playing in the All-Star games of 1952-53, and at the age of 59, Satchel pitched three innings for the Kansas City Athletics to become the oldest man to pitch in a major league game. When his two-month contract for $4,000 expired, he retired from baseball. In 1968, he was signed as a coach by the Atlanta Braves because he needed 158 days on a major league payroll to qualify for a pension. 

Satchel was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, becoming the first player elected from the Negro Leagues. He remarked, "The only change is that baseball has turned Paige from a second class citizen to a second class immortal." 

Satchel Paige cover on the 40th anniversary of the Hall of Fame

In 1982, Satchel Paige, suffering from advanced emphysema made his last public appearance at the dedication of a renovated ballpark in Kansas City, Missouri that was called the Satchel Paige Memorial Stadium. He died three days later. 

Satchel’s Wit and Wisdom 

  • Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching. 
  • Mother always told me, if you tell a lie, always rehearse it. If it don't sound good to you, it won't sound good to no one else. 
  • I don't generally like running. I believe in training by rising gently up and down from the bench. 
  • When a batter swings and I see his knees move, I can tell just what his weaknesses are then I just put the ball where I know he can't hit it. 
  • Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common. 
  • 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. 
  • Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you. 
  • Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines. 
  • How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are? 
  • Money and women. They're two of the strongest things in the world. The things you do for a woman you wouldn't do for anything else. Same with money. 
  • You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them. 
  • My pitching philosophy is simple; you gotta keep the ball off the fat part of the bat. 
 

 

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