Part III – Along came Satchel Paige
By Jim Halloran
Although the National Negro league grew tremendously during the 1920s it still had to go through a long drought during the depression years. Possibly the greatest contributor to it emerging from the depression was the appearance of a young pitcher, Leroy Satchel Paige. Satchel Paige was born in 1906 in Mobile Alabama. As a child his mother claimed “he would rather play ball than eat.”
He made his professional baseball debut with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts of the Southern Negro League in 1926. At the time the Southern Negro League was comprised of eight teams – the Birmingham Black Barons, the Chattanooga Black Lookouts, Knoxville, Pensacola, the Jacksonville Stars, New Orleans, the Montgomery Grey Sox and the Atlanta Black Crackers.
It was initially considered a minor league to the National Negro League. Partially due to the excitement and attention that Satchel brought to the Southern League it was adopted into the Negro National League in 1932. Satchel became the ultimate showman of the Negro Leagues.
Although he was primarily associated with the Kansas City Monarchs, Paige jumped from team to team to whomever held out the most money. He became a household name as he roamed the country on barnstorming teams during the off seasons. Some years he would pitch in over 100 games. At one point he threw 64 consecutive shutout innings and won 21 consecutive games. His character was depicted in movies. In 1981 the movie Don’t Look Back staring Louis Gossett, Jr was based on Paige’s autobiography Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever.
Another popular movie The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars & Motor Kings in 1976 depicted the lifestyle that Satchel and his teammates on the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns enjoyed during this era. The Clowns were a baseball team that performed in an entertaining manner similar to the Harlem Globetrotters Basketball Team. Satchel was so confident of his fast ball that at times he would call out to his outfielders and tell them to sit down as he struck out the next batter. He once struck out 21 batters in an exhibition game versus Major League All Stars. In 1948 at the age of 42 Satchel’s lifelong dream became a reality when team owner Bill Veeck signed him to a Major League contract to pitch for the Cleveland Indians.
He helped the Indians win the pennant that year and was the first black pitcher to pitch in a World Series game. His major league career ended in 1953 at the age of 48. He continued barnstorming after his Major League career ended. As a pitcher for the St Louis Browns he was named to the National League All Star team in 1952 and 1953. He resurfaced for one last major league game in 1965 with the Kansas City Athletics of the American League at the age of 59. In this final game the team had him sit in a rocking chair in the bullpen. He threw three shutout innings. He was hired as a coach for the Atlanta Braves in 1968. Satchel was inducted into the National Hall of Fame in 1971. Joe Dimaggio called Paige “the best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced’.
In addition to his fame as a pitcher Satchel will always be remembered for his numerous humorous and philosophical quotes.