SportsCentury biography of Satchel Paige
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
The Ageless One
By Fred W. Kiger
Special to ESPN.com
August 3, 1948 -- Former Negro Leagues star Satchel Paige succeeded in his first start in the American League. Before 72,434 fans - the largest crowd to attend a night game in Cleveland - the lanky Indians righthander defeated the Washington Senators, 5-3.
Paige started off uncommonly wild. Not having walked anybody unintentionally in his 18 innings as a reliever, he walked two Senators in the first before giving up a two-run triple. But then he settled down, allowing just one more run to gain his second victory in three decisions.
The 42-year-old rookie scattered seven hits, walked four and struck out six in seven innings. When asked if he was ready to go every four days, Ol' Satch replied, "I used to start every second day and then do relief in between. Why that every four days would be a vacation."
Odds 'N' Ends
Seventeen days after beating the Senators, Paige shut out the Chicago White Sox in Cleveland before 78,382 fans, the largest night crowd in history.
Responding to the countless questions about his age, Paige once remarked, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?"
Though certainly not a militant for civil rights, Paige would, indeed, refuse to pitch in those locales where he was denied lodging or meals.
As quotable as he was colorful, Satchel Paige responded in this fashion as to why he called one of his pitches the "bee ball," "because it always be where I want it to be."
Long and lean, Paige wore size-12 shoes.
On his being named to the baseball Hall of Fame's wing dedicated to old-time Negro players, Paige commented, "The only change is that baseball has turned Paige from a second-class citizen to a second-class immortal."
His nickname became so well known that even after playing professionally for four years there were times when he appeared in the box scores simply as "Satchel."
Paige first played for money in the spring of 1924 with a black semipro team called the Mobile Tigers. His pay was $1 when the gate was good and a keg of lemonade when it wasn't.
When Paige was asked by Cleveland Indian club owner Bill Veeck if he was married, he quipped, "No, sir, but I'm in great demand."
With Paige leading the way the Kansas City Monarchs won the Negro American League pennant from 1939 through 1942.
In 1942 he won 3 of 4 games leading the Monarchs over the Homestead Grays to help capture the first Negro World Series played since 1927.
Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez once poked fun at the ageless one when heasked, "Say, Satch, tell me, was Abraham Lincoln a crouch hitter?"
In 1967 Paige toured with the Indianapolis Clowns for reportedly $1,000 a month.
Around this time his off-seasons were spent at his home in Kansas City sometimes working as a deputy for the sheriff's office.
Responding again to a reporter's question as to how old he really was, Paige answered, "I don't know how old I am because the goat ate the Bible that had my birth certificate in it. The goat lived to be 27."
In 1968 Paige was an unsuccessful candidate for the Missouri legislature.
Cardinal great Dizzy Dean called Paige "the best pitcher I ever see." He also said, "If Satch and I were pitching on the same team, we'd clinch the pennant by July 4 and go fishing until the World Series."
Paige's "hesitation" pitch was so devastating that the American League banned it the first year he pitched in the majors.
He pitched for about 250 teams. Many of those were on a one-game basis.
By his own estimate Paige stated that by 1961 he had pitched in more than 2,500 games and won about 2,000.
Paige played baseball year-round from 1929 through 1958. He claimed that in one year he pitched 153 games.
Paige stated that he pitched 100 no-hit, no run games. Those feats came against Negro-league and semipro teams.
On his love of life and the game, Paige said, "I ain't ever had a job. I just always played baseball."
Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories