Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige (July 7, 1906 – June 8, 1982) was a right-handed pitcher in the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball who is widely regarded as one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time. Playing the majority of his career in the Negro Leagues because of racial segregation in the Major Leagues, many of Paige’s career statistics are only estimates. Just one year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Satchel Paige, while in his forties, joined the Cleveland Indians.
While playing in the Negro Leagues from 1921 to 1948, he would jump from team to team as the salary dictated. He pitched in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Venezuela, and joined many barnstorming tours. Easily the greatest pitcher in the history of the Negro Leagues, Paige compiled such feats as 64 consecutive scoreless innings, a stretch of 21 straight wins, and a 31-4 record in 1933.
In 1948, in his forties, he made it to the majors, and in his first year with the Cleveland Indians, he helped them win the world championship. In the Major Leagues, he compiled a 28-31 record with a 3.29 ERA and made the All-Star squads of 1952 and 1953. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971.
His legendary career spans five decades. In 1965, 60 years after Paige’s supposed birthday, he took the mound for the last time, throwing three shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics.
Born Leroy Robert Page, he was supposedly born on July 7, 1906, the seventh child of twelve (including a set of twins) to John Page, a gardener, and Lula Coleman Page, a domestic worker, in a section of Mobile, Alabama known as South Bay. When asked about the year Satchel was born, his mother said, “I can’t rightly recall whether Leroy was first born or my fifteenth.” On a separate occasion, Lula Paige confided to a sportswriter that her son was actually three years older than he thought he was. A few years later, she had another thought—he was, she said, two years older. She knew this because she wrote it down in her Bible.
When Paige wrote his memoirs in 1962, he was not convinced about that version. He wrote, “Seems like Mom’s Bible would know, but she ain’t never shown me the Bible. Anyway, she was in her nineties when she told the reporter that and sometimes she tended to forget things.
Satchel, his siblings, and his mother changed the spelling of their name from Page to Paige sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s, supposedly to distance themselves from anything having to do with John Page.
On July 24, 1918, at age 12, Paige was sent to the Industrial School for Negro Children in Mount Meigs, Alabama, for shoplifting and for truancy from W.C. Council School. There he developed his pitching skills, under the guidance of Edward Byrd. It was Byrd who taught Paige how to kick his front foot high and to release the ball at the last possible instant. After his release, shortly before Christmas of 1923, Paige joined the semi-pro Mobile Tigers where his brother Wilson was already playing. Also on the team were future Negro League stars Ted Radcliffe and Bobby Robinson.
The early years
The industrial school turned out to be just the right place for Paige. Freed from the distractions of his hometown—and under stricter discipline—he received an education and played baseball for the school team. He stayed in Mount Meigs until he was seventeen. After leaving the school, he sought work in professional baseball.
Paige had considerable skills at an early age. His principal pitch was the fastball, but he was also known for inventing the crafty “hesitation pitch.” What set him apart from other pitchers was his control.
Paige began his baseball career in 1923, with the Mobile Tigers, an all-black semi-pro team. He earned a dollar a game. He also picked up spare change by pitching batting practice for the local white minor league team. By 1925, Paige had established himself in the fledgling Negro Leagues as a pitcher with the Chattanooga, Tennessee, Black Lookouts. From $50 a month his first year, he was now earning $200 a month with bonuses.
One of the most amazing aspect of Paige’s career is the fact that he pitched almost every day, all four seasons of the year. It is difficult to chart his career with any sort of precision, because he hopped from team to team in the Negro Leagues and was sent out on “loan” to other clubs by his parent team of the moment. These appearances were augmented by numerous exhibition games and barnstorming trips across country, as well as work with winter leagues in Cuba, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.
In 1927, Paige pitched in Alabama for the Birmingham Black Barons for $275 a month. The following year, he moved to the Nashville Elite Giants and toured in the off-season with a barnstorming group led by Babe Ruth. Barnstorming gave Paige the opportunity to test himself against white baseball players—in fact, the very best in the white major leagues. In a game on the West Coast, against the Babe Ruth All-Stars, Paige struck out twenty-two major-leaguers in one game.
Such accomplishments assured Paige a national audience of both races for his talents. In the early 1930s, he joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords, one of the top Negro League teams, for a salary of $750 per month. In 1934, he served one season at top salary with an all-white independent league team out of Bismarck, North Dakota. It was with the Bismarck team that Paige set a never-to-be-duplicated record of pitching 29 games in a single month. After one year in North Dakota, Paige returned to the Crawfords. He left them again in 1937, to play in the Dominican Republic for the princely wage of $30,000—a salary on par with the best white major leaguers of the time.
In Mexico, in 1938, he developed a sore arm. After signing with the Kansas City Monarchs, his arm “came back,” and he also developed a curve ball and his famous “hesitation pitch” to add to his “bee-ball,” “jump-ball,” “trouble-ball,” “long-ball,” and the other pitches in his repertoire.
Paige pitched the Monarchs to four consecutive Negro American League Pennants (1939-42), culminating in a clean sweep of the powerful Homestead Grays in the 1942 World Series, with Satchel himself winning three of the games. In 1946, he helped pitch the Monarchs to their fifth pennant during his tenure with the team. Satchel also pitched in five East-West Black All-Star games, being credited with two victories in the mid-season classic.
At the beginning of the 1940s, Paige was reported to be earning in the neighborhood of $500 per game pitched. During the off-season the pitcher again toured the exhibition game circuit, facing everyone from Dizzy Dean to Joe DiMaggio. Smith wrote: “The Monarchs hung on to old Satch until the call came for him to try out with the Cleveland club in the American League. Satch pitched Sundays for the Monarchs and weekdays almost anywhere the dollars beckoned. He kept count one year and said he pitched in 134 games.”
Baseball’s “color barrier” was broken in 1946, when Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Within a short time, most of the other major league clubs had recruited black players as well. Paige was in his 40s when baseball was integrated. Most owners considered him too old to be a force in the big leagues. During the 1948 season, however, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck approached Paige at mid-year about playing for the Indians. The team was in the midst of a pennant race, and Veeck thought Paige might help clinch a pennant.
On August 13, 1948, Satchel Paige became the seventh black player recruited into the major leagues when he pitched a 5-0 shutout for Cleveland over the Chicago White Sox. Veeck and Paige combined their talents as entertainers to enliven Paige’s appearance in the American League. In a well-orchestrated plot, the two men told reporters that Paige was uncertain of his age and might be as old as fifty. Paige concocted a story about a goat eating the family Bible that held his birth certificate. Age notwithstanding, Paige pitched to a 4-1 record for the 1948 Indians with a 2.47 earned run average. In the World Series that year, he pitched two-thirds of an inning and did not allow a hit.
Paige was back with the Indians the following year, but his record in 1949, fell to 4-7, and he was released at season’s end. He returned to barnstorming until 1951, then signed a contract with the lackluster St. Louis Browns. He stayed with St. Louis, pitching mostly in relief situations, until the team left town in 1954.
Hall of Fame
Paige’s last hurrah as a pitcher occurred in 1965. He had applied for a pension from Major League Baseball that year and discovered that he lacked only three innings of work to qualify for the pension. Paige was granted the chance to work his last three innings with the Kansas City Athletics, owned by Charlie Finley. In his late 50s or early 60s he took the mound and shut out the Boston Red Sox through the required three innings. As he left the field, the lights went out and the crowd lit 9000 matches and sang songs to him. It was a fitting epilogue to a long and varied career.
Subsequent years found Paige serving as a batting coach with the Atlanta Braves and as an executive for the minor league Tulsa Oilers baseball team. He settled down in Kansas City, Kansas, with his second wife and eight children, completing an autobiography called Don’t Look Back and adding his recollections to historical accounts of the Negro Leagues.
Satchel Paige was the first of the Negro League players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.
He died of emphysema on June 5, 1982.
At his death Paige was as well known for his “Satchel’s Rules for Staying Young” as he was for his sports achievements. The last of them even has made it into Bartlett’s Quotations. Paige’s rules originally appeared in the June 13, 1953, issue of Collier’s magazine. They also appeared in his autobiography.
“Rules for Staying Young”
- Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
- If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
- Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
- Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society—the social ramble ain’t restful.
- Avoid running at all times.
- And don’t look back—something might be gaining on you.
On July 28, 2006, a statue of Satchel Paige was unveiled in Cooper Park, Cooperstown, New York, commemorating the contributions of the Negro Leagues to baseball.