He was the oldest rookie. The oldest player. And one of the greatest pitchers.
Last month, the Cleveland Indians lost the 2016 World Series to the Chicago Cubs in seven games. The Indians had last won a World Series in 1948. During the summer of that season, owner Bill Veeck (pronounced “Veck”) had signed a rookie to Cleveland’s star-filled roster to help the club battle for the pennant. The hurler went 6-1 and helped his team clinch the pennant by one game over the Boston Braves.
The pitcher was Leroy Robert Page—better known as Satchel Paige. Here are some interesting facts about the man some say may have been the greatest pitcher ever.
Satchel Paige became a Major League rookie at the age of 42.
He was signed by Veeck on July 7, 1948, on his 42nd birthday. He’d make his Major League debut for Cleveland two days later and later went on to pitch for six seasons. Seventeen years later he became the oldest person ever to play in the Majors.
Satchel Paige pitched in more games than probably anyone else.
He was limber, loose, athletic, energetic and loved the game. He started pitching when he was 26 years old for a Minors team in the Negro Leagues, one of dozens (or hundreds) of teams he’d pitch for. He pitched in the United States, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico and in hundreds of exhibition games. He claims to have pitched in 2,500 games in all. As one writer put it, “It has been said that Paige threw more pitches in more stadiums in front of more people and in more years than anyone in professional baseball history.”
Satchel Paige was “the first” in many things.
He was the first African-American to pitch in the Major Leagues, to pitch in the World Series, to pitch in Wrigley Field (in exhibition games) and to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. And he was one of the first players from the Negro Leagues to play in the World Series, along with his Cleveland teammate Larry Doby.
Satchel Paige had an unusual pitching style.
He’d kick his leg high in the air to “block out the sun” as well as to confuse the hitters, who’d never seen anything like that. He’d also hold his right arm—his pitching arm—straight down, and then swing it forward quickly and release the ball as late as he could, so it would almost look as if “his hand was in the batter’s face.”
Satchel Paige was extremely quotable.
He was one of the most quotable athletes ever, along the lines of Yogi Berra and Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali. He was colorful in life, colorful on the mound and had a keen view of life. Here are some of his best quotes:
• “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”
• “I ain’t ever had a job. I just always played baseball.”
• “Work like you don’t need the work. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”
• “Don’t look back; something might be gaining on you.”
• “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”
He gave each of his pitches a name.
We’re not talking “cutter” or “split-fingered.” We’re talking about fun names that showed Satchel loved the game. Most of the pitches were fastballs.
• the bat dodger
• the midnight express
• the midnight crawler
• the trouble ball
• the nothing ball
• the whipsy-dipsy-do
One of his pitches was banned.
Paige developed a “hesitation pitch” early in his career in the Negro Leagues, but it was banned by American League President Will Harridge in 1948 after Major League batters complained about it. Here’s how Paige described it:
“The idea came to me in a game, when the guy at bat was all tighted up waiting for my fastball. I knew he’d swing as soon as I just barely moved. So when I stretched, I paused just a little longer with my arms above my head. Then I threw my left foot forward but I didn’t come around with my arm right away. I put that foot of mine down, stopping for a second, before the ball left my hand. When my foot hit the ground, that boy started swinging, so by the time I came around with the whip, he was way off stride and couldn’t get anywhere near the ball. I had me a strikeout.”
Satchel Paige pitched his last game when he was 59.
As a promotional stunt, the owner of the Oakland A’s hired Satchel Paige to pitch the first three innings of a game on September 25, 1965. He faced the Boston Red Sox, a good-hitting team that year. Paige tossed three shutout innings against the Red Sox. Only one batter, Carl Yastrzemski, got a hit—a double.
Satchel Paige, at the age of 59, needed only 28 pitches to retire nine Boston batters. He even brushed off his hesitation pitch for the crowd that night. He got the batter to pop up for an out.
How great was Satchel Paige?
He ended his short career in the Majors with a 28-31 record and a 3.29 ERA. But there was no way anyone could record Satchel Paige’s 22 professional seasons, during which he had pitched anywhere, everywhere, and often every day, before his 1948 MLB debut. According to his own accounting, he pitched for 250 teams and threw 250 shutouts. He claimed to have hurled 50 no-hitters, had 29 starts in a month, collected 21 straight wins, tossed 62 consecutive scoreless innings, made 153 pitching appearances in one year and had three wins in one day.
Many white Major League players faced Satchel Paige before he entered the Majors in 1948, in exhibition games and barnstorming tours. Joe DiMaggio would say that Paige was the best he ever faced. Bob Feller, who was Paige’s teammate on the Indians, said Paige was the best he ever saw. The great Hack Wilson exclaimed that the ball “looked like a marble when it crossed the plate.” And Dizzy Dean was quoted as saying Paige’s fastball made his own look like a changeup.