Friday, October 21, 2011

Satchel Paige: The One and Only

Written by: Dick Burnon,

Paige (1906-1982) was an American baseball player whose pitching in several different Negro Leagues and in Major League Baseball made him a legend in his own lifetime. A right-handed pitcher, Paige colorful professional baseball playing career lasted from the mid-1920s until 1965. He appeared in the Major League All-Star Games in both 1952 and 1953 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, in 1971.

He played for a dozen Negro League teams; teams in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Mexico; and three Major League teams -- Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles), and the Kansas City Athletics (now the Oakland A’s). As best that can be determined, his overall record was 180 wins and 96 losses. Unfortunately, the Negro Leagues didn’t keep accurate records, so there’s no way to determine how many more games Paige had actually won. He once claimed that he won over 2,000 games and lost only 200 during his lengthy career.

“According to legend, Paige got the nickname ‘Satchel’ from Wilber Hines, a friend and next-door neighbor,” said Burnon, Head of Adult Programming and Public Relations at the Englewood Public Library. “The two would go down to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad station and carry bags for the passengers for money. Hines supposedly gave Paige the nickname after he was caught trying to steal one of the bags that he was carrying.”

On February 7, 1936, Joe DiMaggio was making his last stop as a minor leaguer before joining the New York Yankees, and he was going to face one of baseball’s best pitchers: Satchel Paige. DiMaggio ended up going 1-4 with a game-winning RBI in the

bottom of the 10th. A Yankee scout watching the game wired the big club that day a report which read: “DiMAGGIO EVERYTHING WE’D HOPED HE’D BE: HIT SATCH ONE FOR FOUR.” DiMaggio himself said he now could make it in the big leagues “because I hit off of Satch.”

Finally, on July, 1948, with his Cleveland Indians in a pennant race and in desperate need of pitching, Indians owner Bill Veeck brought Paige in to try out with Indians player/manager Lou Boudreau. On that same day, his 42nd birthday, Paige signed his first Major League contract for $40,000 for the three months remaining in the season, becoming the first Negro pitcher in the American league and the seventh Negro Big Leaguer overall. Two days later, he became the oldest man ever to debut in the Major Leagues, at the age of 42 years and two days. Paige ended the 1948 season with a 6-1 record with a 2.48 ERA, two shutouts, 43 strikeouts, 22 walks, and 61 base hits allowed in 72 2/3 innings.

Paige joined the St. Louis Browns in 1951. The following year, he finished with a 12-10 record for a team which lost 90 games. The team eventually became the Baltimore Orioles. He was in and out of baseball, pitching sporadically, over the next decade.

On May 31, 1981, a made-for-television movie, titled Don’t Look Back, starred Louis Gossett, Jr., as Paige. Paige was paid $10,000 for his story and technical advice.

During a power failure on June 8, 1982, Paige died of a heart attack at his home in Kansas City, a month before his 76th birthday. He is buried on Paige Island in the Forest

Hill Memorial Park Cemetery in Kansas City.

In the 1996 made-for-cable film Soul of the Game, in addition to Delroy Lindo as Paige, the film also starred Mykelti Williamson as Josh Gibson, Blair Underwood as Jackie Robinson, Edward Hermann as Branch Rickey, and Jerry Hardin as Commissioner Happy Chandler”

In 1999, he ranked Number 19 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century team.

Paige stated in the book Pitchin’ Man by Hal Lebovitz - - as well as numerous articles, that one of his greatest disappointments was, “I never pitched to Babe Ruth.” The Babe Ruth All-Stars did play exhibition games against Negro Leaguers, but Paige and Ruth never faced off against each other.

On July 28, 2006, a statue of Satchel Paige was unveiled in Cooper Park, Cooperstown, NY, commemorating the contributions of the Negro Leagues to baseball.

1 comment:

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