Monday, May 24, 2010

Satchel Paige

"Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."

-Satchel Paige.

Leroy "Satchel" Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama to John and Lula Page, possibly on July 7, 1906. The date of his birth is subject to speculation due to a lack of a birth certificate and Paige's own reluctance to directly answer any questions on the subject. His mother would change the spelling of the families last name from Page to Paige after John Page deserted the family when Satchel was young.

There are two stories as to how the young Leroy Paige earned the nickname "Satchel". His childhood friend Wilbur Hines says he gave the nickname to Paige when the two would go down to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad station and carry people's bags for money. Hines stated that Paige got caught trying to steal one of the bags and that's why he gave him the nickname Satchel. Paige's version is very different. He claims that he earned the nickname because he could carry more bags and made more tips than anyone else.

Satchel learned to pitch while at the Industrial School for Negro Children by Edward Byrd, who helped him refine his raw talent by teaching him the mechanics of pitching. After his release, he joined the semi pro Mobile Tigers in 1923.

In 1926 Paige was signed to a $50 a week contract by the Chattanooga Black Lookouts. Though he played sparingly in 1926, he was given $200 a month and a Ford model A by the Black Lookouts in 1927. A few games into the season he left the Lookouts, and signed with the Birmingham Black Barons for $276 a month.

For almost twenty years, Satchel was the most dominate pitcher in the Negro Leagues. In 1933 alone, he threw, 64 consecutive scoreless innings, had twenty-one straight wins, and finished the season with a 31-4 record. Yet, despite all his success, his ultimate goal was to pitch in the Majors.
From 1926 -1947 Satchel Paige would pitch for fourteen different teams in the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. His life in baseball one lead Paige to quip, "I ain't ever had a job, I just always played baseball."
"The only change is that baseball has turned Paige from a second class citizen to a second class immortal." Major League Baseball had been segregated during the entire modern era and that wouldn't change until 1947 when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier. Though Satchel Paige was deeply hurt that he wasn't selected to be the first African American to play in the majors, he took it in stride. Then in 1948 he would get his chance to play in the big show, against players he'd been barnstorming and playing in charity games with for over a decade.

In 1948 Satchel Paige would become the oldest rookie in Major League baseball history when he pitched for the Cleveland Indians at the age of 41. In his first year, he helped Cleveland win the pennant. In 1952 and 1953 he would represent the St. Louis Browns at the All Star game. Satchel would go on to pitch in the big leagues until 1965. In his last game he tossed three shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics. He finished his time in the Majors with a 28-31 record and a 3.29 ERA. Satchel would be elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1971. He died on June 8, 1982.

Paige was one of the most talented and interesting players in the history of baseball. He once famously said, "Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching."

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