Today we will visit with Leroy Robert Paige, most famously known as Satchel Paige. Paige was a baseball pitcher who made his mark in the Negro Leagues in the 1920’s and 30’s. Known for his vast array of pitches and his quick wit, Paige finally made it into the professional baseball’s Major Leagues, as a 43 year old “rookie” in 1948.
Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige was one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time.
Satchel Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama. Paige began pitching professionally in 1926, and pitched his last major league innings in 1965.
He is known today for his longevity and age. It is true that he was the oldest major league rookie ever, when he joined the Cleveland Indians in 1948, and that he was pitching professionally into his late fifties. What this overlooks is the fact that in his youth, Paige was the pitching star of the Negro Leagues. At a time when African-Americans were barred from the major leagues, Paige drew huge crowds, black and white. His pitching propelled the Pittsburgh Crawfords to the top of the Negro National League in the early 1930s, and then did the same for the Kansas City Monarchs during their four-year skein of Negro American League pennants from 1939 to 1942.
Paige was the biggest drawing card in Negro League baseball. His presence guaranteed large crowds. Paige was often tempted to jump from team to team or league to league, to get a bigger paycheck. In 1937, he led a large group of Negro Leaguers to the Dominican Republic, to play for a team owned by Dominican president Rafael L. Trujillo. The move decimated the Crawfords, from which Paige and most of the players hailed. Later, Paige went to play in the Mexican League.
It was in the Mexican League that Paige’s fabled arm went dead. He could barely lift his arm, much less pitch. Having burned a number of bridges behind him in the States, only one ballclub owner was willing to give Paige a chance to play ball again — J.L. Wilkinson of the Monarchs. Paige’s return to baseball greatness took place without his blazing fastball; Paige now had to rely on control, guile and the occasional trick pitch.
His performance in exhibition games with major league teams led Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller, Joe Dimaggio, and Ted Williams to proclaim Paige the best pitcher in baseball.
After Jackie Robinson was signed to play major league baseball, many thought it was a shame that Paige, now in his forties, never got the same chance. Bill Veeck, the Indians owner, took a chance and signed Paige in midseason 1948. Paige won six games and lost one, and pitched in relief in others, down the stretch. The Indians won their first pennant in 28 years, putting to rest the talk that Veeck had merely signed Paige as a publicity stunt. Of course, the publicity didn’t hurt. Paige drew over 70,000 fans during two of his starts, an attendance record for baseball at the time, and helped the Indians set the season attendance mark that year.
He was elected to the United States Baseball Hall of Fame on (February 9, 1971), the first player so elected by the Negro League Committee.
Paige died in 1982 in Kansas City, Missouri a mere month before his 76th birthday. He is buried on Paige Island in the Forest Hill Memorial Park Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.
Satchel Paige’s Rules for Staying Young
Paige’s rules originally appeared in the June 13, 1953 issue of Collier’s. The version below is taken from his autobiography, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever (as told to David Lipman, 1962):
Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society — the social ramble ain’t restful.
Avoid running at all times.
And don’t look back — something might be gaining on you.
Thanks for your attention.