On this day in 1982, the forever youthful Leroy Satchel Paige died at the age of 75.
For most of his career, Paige was devoted to making the Negro Leagues as much of an attraction and high quality entertainment event as the Major Leagues. MLB didnt allow players of color to participate when Paige was in his pitching prime, living the life of a celebrity, setting records and creating apocryphal stories that would add to his legend as one of the games greatest players, pioneers and characters.
Paige, who was born July 7, 1906 in Mobile, Ala., began his professional career in the Negro leagues in the 1920’s after being discharged from reform school. The lanky, 6-foot-3 right-hander with the lightning fastball, exquisite poise and plate command had a personality big enough to light up Broadway in New York City. He quickly became the biggest drawing card in Negro baseball as people came in droves from miles around to whatever city Paige was pitching in on the barnstorming circuit.
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Photograph of Satchel Paige taken on July 31, 1971 at Old-Timers’ Day, Shea Stadium. Just over a week later, on August 9, Paige would be the first Negro Leaguer to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photo by Ed Clarity for the New York Daily News)
According to baseballhall.org, Paige, a showman at heart, bounced from team-to-team in search of the best paycheck often pitching hundreds of games a year between regular league assignments and barnstorming opportunities. During the 1930s, Paiges stints with Negro National League powerhouse Pittsburgh Crawfords were split with teams in North Dakota and the Dominican Republic.
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Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” — Satchel Paige (July 7, 1906 – June 8, 1982) #GOAT #NLB #MLB #HOF #KCMonarchs @royals @nlbmprez @baseballhall
In the late 1930’s, Paige developed arm problems for the first time, but as he aged he learned to control his pitches better and it became is primary weapon as a pitcher.
He could throw the ball right by your knees all day, said Cool Papa Bell.
Despite not being allowed entry into pro ball, Paige played for teams all over the country, from California to Maryland to North Dakota and even outside its borders, in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
Without the hype of social media, Paige built quite a following through barnstorming tours, which consisted of exhibition games against other professionals for extra scratch. In one such game, he led the “Satchel Paige All-Stars” and ended up pitching to New York Yankees great Joe DiMaggio, who called him “the best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced.”
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Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move.” – Satchel Paige
Paige also beat St. Louis Cardinals Ace Dizzy Dean four times in exhibition matchups. He was every bit as good as any major leaguer who met the race criteria for playing major league baseball, but he had to wait until Jackie Robinson opened the floodgates.
By then, Paige was 42 and after hundreds of starts and thousands of innings pitched, he finally made it to the major leagues when esoteric Indians owner Bill Veeck signed him to a contract on July 7, 1948. Two days later, Paige made his debut for a Cleveland team in the middle of an historic American League pennant race.
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Cleveland Municipal Stadium, July 9, 1948 – 42-year old rookie Satchel Paige making his MLB debut for the Indians in the 5th inning vs St Louis Browns. If I ever did a Top 10 list of greatest baseball photos, this one would make it.
That summer and fall, Paige went 6-1 with three complete games and a 2.47 earned-run average to help Cleveland win the AL pennant in a one-game playoff against Boston, then captured the World Series title in six games against the Braves.
Paige became the first African-American pitcher to pitch in the World Series when he worked two-thirds of an inning in Game 5. The lit journey of Satchel Paige continued after his successful debut with the Indians.
Despite being well into his 40s (maybe he was 50) Paige pitched for the Indians again in 1949, then spent three seasons with the St. Louis Browns from 1951-53, earning two All-Star Game selections.
After his MLB career was over, Paige returned to the essence of his baseball existence as a showman in the minors and barnstorming. Remarkably, at the age of 59, he returned for one day to the Oakland A’s and pitched three innings of shutout ball.
Jackie Robinson gets all of the credit for integrating the game, but guys like Satchel Paige were the Negro league titans who keep the spirit and game of baseball alive for people of color who were trapped on the outside of equal opportunity.
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June 8, 1982 – Leroy “Satchel” Paige died at the age of 75. He is recognized as one of the greatest pitchers ever, though segregation kept him out of the majors until he was over 40.
Paige was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971 as the first electee of the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues. He passed away on June 8, 1982.
Age is a question of mind over matter, Paige said. If you dont mind, it doesnt matter.
Paige set the standard for black pitching excellence as well and inspired the greatest generation of black pitching excellence in the 60,70s and 80s, that followed his exit from pro ball.
Rest In Peace to Satchel Paige. The man. The myth. The miracle. The undisputed father of black baseball.