On Sept. 29, 1953, American League owners voted to move the St. Louis Browns franchise to Baltimore. A group headed by Clarence Miles bought the club from Bill Veeck for roughly $2.5 million. Art Ehlers and Jimmy Dykes were brought in from the Philadelphia Athletics as GM and field manager, respectively, and Charm City was back in the big leagues.
Oh, sure, Paige was 46. Or was it 48? Regardless, he had been an American League All-Star for the Browns in 1953. Pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen, he led the team in saves with 11 and sported a 3.53 ERA. He appeared in 57 games, second-most on the club. Satch clearly had something left in the tank, but local fans wouldn't see it.
It's easy to sit back and say: Well, he was an older guy, the Orioles wanted to go with kids, blah, blah, blah. But the average age of the inaugural Orioles was nearly 30, and based upon his recent history, he was still better than the other guys in the bullpen.
The truth is probably closer to this: Satchel was a name, and he knew it. He was colorful and frequently outspoken. Major League Baseball was only seven years into integration — by 1954, there were still a few teams that had never had a black player — and Baltimore’s attitude in those days, racially speaking, bore a strong resemblance to the Deep South. If the Orioles were to have African-American players, management reasoned, it would have to be someone who wouldn't make waves. Paige had to go.
The books show that a tiny (5-foot-7) left-hander named Jay Heard was the first black Oriole, making his debut April 24, 1954, in a game against the White Sox in Chicago. He sat for a month and made his final big league appearance May 28 in a home game against Chicago. He never made another big league appearance, and Oriole fans wouldn't see another African-American player in a Baltimore jersey until that September, when Joe Durham was called up for 10 games.
The ’54 Orioles reprised their dismal 54-100 mark of the previous year. The club's quota system for players of color would last a few years longer, until Lee MacPhail was named GM in November 1958.
I know it's spilled milk. Nonetheless, it would be nice to see “Baltimore” under Paige's name on his plaque in Cooperstown.