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Satchel Paige: The World's Greatest Pitcher Part I

Day after day as we move to the end of the century - there are all kinds of lists, for All Century this, All Century that. It seems every media outlet, website, publication has gotten into the act. And this is all well and good for it gets many formerly famous athletes back into the glare and the glitter of the spotlight.

One man who belongs on all the All-Century selections is LEROY "SATCHEL" PAIGE. He was a player who had a way with words and an even more magnificent way on the pitching mound. Paige was a long-time star in the Negro Leagues - there are estimates that he pitched for 33 years and won more than 2,000 games. Traveling all over the world to play baseball - by car, by bus, by train, some day also by horse and carriage - wherever there was a game the lanky hurler was there. His nick-name came from the fact that most of those years he lived out of his "satchel" or suitcase. Paige was proud of his nick-name and even wore it on his uniform.

A bone-thin 6'3" with size 12 flat feet, he billed himself as "The World's Greatest Pitcher." Paige claimed that his real secret of success stemmed from the fact that "even though I got old, my arm stayed 19." He was vigorously opposed to exercise. "I believe in training," he joked, "by rising up and down gently from the bench." Paige's rules for successful living were: 1-Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood. 2-If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts. 3-Keep your juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move. 4-Go very gently on the vices such as carrying on in society - the social ramble ain't restful. 5-Avoid running at all times. 6-Don't look back, something might be gaining on you. Through all the long and difficult years in the Negro Leagues, Paige Hungered for a shot at the majors. The Cleveland Indians needed extra pitching and their owner Bill Veeck was interested in Paige. As the story goes, Veeck wanted to test Paige's control before signing him to a contract. Allegedly Veeck placed a cigarette on the ground - a simulation of home plate. Paige took aim. Five fastballs were fired -all but one sailed directly over the cigarette. Paige got his contract!

On July 9, 1948, Leroy Robert Paige arrived on the major league baseball scene as a rookie pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. He gave his official age as "42???" to owner Bill Veeck. His exact age was always clouded in mystery and rarely did he answer questions about it. And when he did, he quipped: "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter But he definitely was the oldest rookie ever to play in the majors.

On 1948, Satchel won six games lost only one, compiled a fine 2.48 earned run average and helped pitch the Indians to the pennant and World Series victory that year. Three years later Veeck was re-united with Paige this time with the St. Louis Browns. Satchel passed the time away relaxing in his own personal rocking chair in the bullpen when he was not pitching. There were appearances in the All-Star games of 1952 and 1953. And then he was done - for a time.

In 1965, a year that would have made him 59 years old based on his "official birthday" ( July 7, 1906 Mobile, Alabama) - he pitched three shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics to become the oldest man to pitch in a major league game. It was the last time he took the mound. In 1971, on what he called the proudest day of his life, Leroy "Satchel" Paige was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was the first player ever elected from the Negro Leagues.

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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