February 9, 2018:

On February 9, 1971, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that Satchel Paige would be the first black player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, capping perhaps the most remarkable baseball journey of all-time.  Born in Mobile, Alabama on July 7, 1906, Leroy (Satchel) Paige was arrested for shoplifting at the of age of 13 and sentenced to five years at an Alabama Reform School. Baseball coach Moses Davis took the teenager under his wing and taught Paige the high leg kick that became a trademark of his career. Paige observed “You might say I traded five years of freedom to learn how to pitch.”

A Peerless Pitcher
During the 1920s, the lanky 6-foot-3 right-hander with an unhittable fastball became a fan favorite in Negro baseball but bounced from team to team in search of the best paycheck. In 1934 a tournament sponsored by the Denver Post was opened to Negro players and for the first time the white press was exposed to the hard throwing showman. Pitching 28 innings in the tourney, Paige struck out 44 batters and amused the fans with his crowd-pleasing antics including having his fielders sit down when he was convinced he was going to get a strike out.

During the 1930s, Paige spent time with the Negro league’s Pittsburg Crawfords but he also accepted terrific financial offers to pitch in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico. His appearances against white players drew rave reviews including Joe DiMaggio who said that Paige was the best pitcher he had ever faced. The great Bob Feller stated that Paige was “the best he ever saw”. Hall of famer Hack Wilson stated “the ball looked like a marble when it crossed the plate” and thirty game winner, Dizzy Dean observed that Paige’s fastball made his own “look like a changeup” .

In the late 1930s, Paige’s fast ball disappeared, probably due to a torn rotator cuff. This caused Paige to try different deliveries including underhand and sidearm as well as learn a variety of pitches including knuckleballs, screwballs and bloopers (eephus pitch). In the early 1940s, his fastball returned and with his new repertoire, Paige returned to the barnstorming life. His annual income was estimated to be $40,000 which was far greater than the average white major leaguer and only equaled by DiMaggio.

The Majors
Two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the Cleveland Indians signed Satchel to a $40,000 contract. On July 9, 1948, the 42-year-old became the oldest man ever to debut in the majors and the game drew a record,72,000 fans. Besides setting attendance records in every city he pitched, the ageless Paige compiled a 6–1 record with a 2.48 ERA and helped the Indians win the pennant and World Series. After an unremarkable 1949 season, Paige was released by the Indians and eventually signed by the St. Louis Browns. In 1952 Satchel compiled a 12–10 record for a horrible Brown’s team and became the first black pitcher selected to an AL All-Star team. Subsequently, Paige played for several minor league teams. Never one to rest on his laurels, Paige finally mastered the curveball and in 1956 dominated the International League with an 11–4 record, an ERA of 1.86, 79 strikeouts and only 28 walks. 

Paige retired in 1961 at the age of 55 but in 1965 the Kansas City Athletics signed him to pitch one game against the Red Sox. Between innings Paige sat on a rocking chair and was  served tea by a registered nurse.  Except for a Carl Yastrzemski double, the 59-year-old was unhittable in three shutout innings.
Paige enjoyed renewed popularity after his 1971 Hall of Fame induction but aside from a few brief stints as a minor league coach, never obtained steady employment. He died of a heart attack at his Kansas City home on June 8, 1982.

The Philosopher
Aside from the many accolades he received as a player including his ranking as Number 19 on Sporting News’ list of the 100 greatest baseball players, Satchel Page is noted for his wit and wisdom:
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were” 
“Don’t look back- someone might be gaining on you”
“ Ain’t no man can avoid being born average but there ain’t no man got to be common”.
“Baseball has turned Paige from a second-class citizen to a second-class immortal.”
“Age is a question of mind over matter- if you don’t mind it don’t matter.”
“Don’t eat fried food. It angries up the blood.” 

Have a great weekend but lay off those cheese fries.

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Ted Curtin