“Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.” Satchel Paige
Satchel Paige on the Kansas City Monarchs
Negro League and Cleveland Indian’s Hall of Fame legend Satchel Paige was one of the most remarkable men who ever played the game of baseball. He came along after Jackie Robinson and others had broken the color barrier having played 22 years in the Negro Leagues as well as in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the Puerto Rican League, where in the winter of 1939 he went 19-3 with a 1.93 ERA. While with the Kansas City Monarchs Paige helped lead the team to four consecutive Negro League World Series titles from 1939-1942 and again in 1946. During his time in the Negro Leagues played in numerous exhibition games against major league stars and future stars including Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio who went 1-4 against Paige. During this time he would pitch in the summer with the Negro League team and winters in the various Winter Leagues. It could be said that Satchel Paige not only played baseball but lived it. In the Negro Leagues Paige often pitched twice a day, sometimes in two different cities. Record keeping in these leagues was almost universally lax so the feats of men like Paige, Jackie Robinson, Cool Papa Bell and Buck O’Neil will never be fully appreciated by modern statistically absorbed fans.
When he was signed by Bill Veeck, the owner of the Cleveland Indians he was either 42 or 44 years old depending on what documents you use…talk about a birth certificate controversy. Paige pitched 5 seasons in the Majors with Cleveland and the St. Louis Browns mainly in a relief role and pitched in the 1948 World Series and the 1953 All-Star Game after having been chosen for the 1952 game but not getting the chance play. He was signed by the Kansas City Athletics for a one game contract in 1965. He pitched his last game at the age of 59 or 61 on August 25th 1965 throwing three shutout innings against the Boston Red Sox, the only hit coming from Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski who doubled. Paige set the next 7 batters down in order. In between his years in the majors Paige continued to pitch in the minors. He played his last game of organized baseball in 1966 for the Peninsula Pilots of the Carolina League in Hampton Virginia. The Pilots, now of the Independent Coastal Plain League, still play in Hampton’s War Memorial Stadium in which the legendary great pitched his last game.
Paige was recognized by many as perhaps the best pitcher to ever play the game. Bob Feller called him “the best pitcher I ever saw.” Ted Williams said “Satch (Paige) was the greatest pitcher in baseball.” Joe DiMaggio called him “The best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced” while Bill Veeck who brought Paige to the majors said he was “The best right hander baseball has ever known.”
The biggest thing in my mind about Paige was his love for the game and his determination to play as long as he could. In the Negro Leagues he pretty much played year round for 22 years. After his major league career was over he continued to play the game that he loved. He did all of this in a segregated and “Jim Crow” America. It was due primarily to Paige and others like him that black players got the chance to come to the Major Leagues. Most expected that Paige would be the first black player called up but this honor went to Jackie Robinson. In 1971 in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech he said “The only change is that baseball has turned Paige from a second class citizen to a second class immortal.”
I like Paige a lot. I remember reading Bob Feller’s book in grade school and his comments about Paige, especially the time he switched a bar of soap for the ice cream in a an ice cream sandwich. When Paige took a bit his false teeth came out with the sandwich. Now that I am 49 years old I like him even more. He took 22 years to get in the big leagues and didn’t quit and even after his major league career continued to play. He endured Spartan living conditions on low pay in a segregated and often hostile America did not deter him. Neither did his age, many men in their 40s would have quit before realizing their dream. That is the lesson of Satchel Paige for me. He was the oldest “rookie” ever to play Major League ball. I kind of understand what Paige went through. I started my Navy career after nearly a full Army career. In fact I was within 2 ½ years of Reserve retirement when I got the chance to serve in the Navy in February 1989.
Satchel Paige was an example to me that if you have the heart and talent you can achieve your dream even if it takes a long time. My advice for people who still dream dreams is to be persistent and don’t give up. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes by hanging in there, making the sacrifices to achieve the dream it comes true. After a very difficult 5 years following leaving the Army to go to seminary which included long term sickness to Judy, losing almost everything that we owned, and having to work menial jobs for unappreciative people to get through seminary, Additionally there were times when I was sure that it was over, that my best efforts had failed, something would break my way and I would be able to continue. It was remarkable. While I give appropriate credit to God I do not fail to give credit to all the people that believed in me and wouldn’t let me fail. The way that I figure is if you don’t try or you quit too soon you will always wonder if you could have made it. There will always be doubt and often regret. My Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, Dr. Steve Ivy at Parkland Memorial Hospital told me once, “Steve, you make your own future, stop living in the pain of the past.” That was an “Wow I could have had a V-8 moment” for me. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been great. His advice was on target.
Satchel once said: “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” The comment is way too true, but for me even more important is this: “You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them.”
I think the Deity Herself would agree with both statements and I’m sure that Satchel is still pitching for the New Jerusalem Saints of the Pearly Gates League.