Position: Pitcher
Teams:
Chatanooga Black Lookouts; Birmingham Black Barons; Nashville Elite Giants; Cleveland Cubs; Pittsburgh Crawfords; Kansas City Monarchs’ “B” team; Kansas City Monarchs; St. Louis Stars; Philadelphia Stars, 1926-1947, 1950; Cleveland Indians, 1948-1949; St. Louis Browns, 1951-1953; Kansas City Athletics, 1965

Beating the
Major-Leaguers
Long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for major-leaguers, the only opportunity afforded African-American ballplayers to compete with their white major-league counterparts was in exhibition games. No pitcher made quite as dramatic a mark in these games as Satchel Paige.

In two memorable contests played at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field in 1947, Paige outdueled Indians legend, future teammate, and fellow Hall of Famer Bob Feller. Over five innings pitched, Paige struck out 15.

Paige wrote that he beat major-league barnstorming teams in 17 straight games during the 1930s. This string was broken in December 1935 in Oakland, when he lost to a team of Bay area major-leaguers led by then minor-­leaguer Joe DiMaggio, who cracked the game-winning hit. In later years, DiMaggio said that Paige was the toughest pitcher he ever faced.

Sometimes it seems that Satchel Paige was more a mythological being than a flesh-and-blood man. He was the most popular baseball player in the Negro Leagues. After Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby integrated the major leagues, Paige was still baseball’s biggest draw. He was ageless, he could do anything with a baseball, and few who faced him could help but acknowledge his greatness.

Leroy Robert Paige (1906-1982) was born in Mobile, Alabama, one of 11 children. His birthday is recorded as July 7, 1906, but even that is shrouded in the mists of legend. Negro League star Ted “Double-Duty” Radcliffe, who was born in Mobile in 1902, said that he was younger than Paige. Satchel got his nickname because he worked as a porter at the train station when he was a boy. In 1918, at age 12, he was sent to a state reform school, where he learned to pitch.

Released from the reform school in 1923, Paige was signed by the semipro Mobile Tigers in 1924. His reputation spread, and by 1926 he was hurling for the Chattanooga Black Lookouts. He jumped to the Birmingham Black Barons in 1927, all the while pitching exhibition games and in the Caribbean and Mexico in the winter. He stayed with Birmingham until 1930.

Paige had two fastballs that were overpowering: one nicknamed “Long Tommy,” which was supersonic, and the other called “Little Tommy,” which was merely unhittable. He also threw his “bee ball,” named because it would “be where I want it to be.”

Paige gained fame when he joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the early 1930s, with others such as Josh Gibson. Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee would hire Paige out to semipro clubs that needed an attendance boost for a day. When Paige barnstormed around the country or pitched in the Dominican Republic, he was so popular that fans would not come to see his teams unless he pitched, so he would pitch every day. He would promise to fan the first nine men he faced, and often delivered.

He also regularly got the best of the likes of Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller, proving that he could pitch against the best in the major leagues. Paige would walk hitters to get to Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio said Satchel “was the best I ever faced.” Paige was fantastically well paid for the times, earning close to $50,000 a year.

All those innings in all those games gave Satchel a sore arm, and by 1939 the fastballer looked to be through as a dominant hurler. J.L. Wilkinson, the owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, signed Paige primarily as a gate attraction to pitch for the Monarchs’ traveling “B” team. During that year, Satchel developed several off-speed pitches. He also used several hesitation deliveries that were so convincing that hitters were helpless.

Satchel Paige
Satchel Paige had two overpowering fastballs: the supersonic
"Long Tommy" and the unhittable "Little Tommy."

When his arm recovered the next season, he was a better pitcher than he had ever been in the 1930s. Satchel pitched for the Monarchs in the 1940s, but he was more an independent operator than a team member.

Finally, in 1948, Bill Veeck, longing for more talent, signed Paige to a contract. He asked Indians manager Lou Boudreau to take some swings against Paige, and when Boudreau failed to get good wood on the ball, he became enthusiastic. Paige was 6-1, pitching before packed houses, as the Indians won the pennant. Satch was disappointed that he didn’t get a start in the World Series, which Cleveland won, though he did pitch two scoreless innings. Many who cried that Veeck was pulling a publicity stunt were forced to eat their words.

Paige’s last big-league appearance came in 1965 at age 59. He continued to pitch well in the minor leagues for years. He was a colorful speaker and original thinker; his six rules for “How to Stay Young” became famous, the sixth being “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” Paige was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971.

Here are Satchel Paige's negro league statistics*:

W

L

G

CG

IP

H

BB

SO

123

79

279

122

1,584

1,142

241

1,177

Satchel Paige's major league totals:

W

L

ERA

G

CG

IP

H

ER

BB

SO

28

31

3.29

179

7

476.0

429

174

183

290

*Note: Paige's Negro League Statistics are incomplete.

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