Tag Archives: Satchel Paige

“Throw Strikes. Home Plate Don’t Move.”

19 Jan

Satchel Paige told Dave Condon of The Chicago Tribune that early in 1965, with the help of his wife Lahoma, and 17-year-old daughter Pamela he “wrote letters to everyone in baseball just looking for a steady job.  Anything.”

After not one professional team responded, the spring and early summer were like most during his 40-year career as a pitcher—Paige traveled wherever there was a chance for a paycheck.

He had made appearances with the Harlem Globetrotters in the winter and spring and then hit the road; pitching for the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns and whoever else would call.  In May, The Chicago Defender said Abe Saperstein, who was managing Paige’s appearances, took out an ad in The Sporting News:

“(T)he man, who may have been the greatest pitcher of all time, is letting it be known that he has glove and is willing to travel.  All that is necessary to secure his services is to contact Saperstein.”

One night Paige would be at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, in a White Sox uniform, pitching for the Clowns in front of a large crowd, or across town in Wrigley Field where 30,000 fans came out; another night would find him in Hastings, Pennsylvania taking “the mound for the Hastings VFW club,” or Wheatfield, Indiana pitching “for the Band Boosters against the Wheatfield Young Farmers,” in front of a few hundred people.

Paige at Comiskey Park in 1965--Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher.

Paige at Comiskey Park in 1965–Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher.

Things began to look up in late July when the Cleveland Indians inducted Paige into the team’s Hall of Fame between games of a Sunday doubleheader with the Yankees; in front of the team’s largest crowd of the season:  56,634.  According to United Press International:

“Satch tossed examples of his blooper, drooper and hesitation pitches to (former Indians teammate) Jim Hegan, now a Yankee coach and explained his philosophy of pitching thus: ‘Just take the ball and throw it where you want to.  Throw strikes.  Home plate don’t move.”

In August, he accepted an offer to pitch for and manage a team in Anchorage, Alaska called the Earthquakers.  In reality, Paige simply went to Alaska for a short series of exhibition games, and had no intention of staying there—he was already booked to appear at the old-timers game scheduled in September to mark the first season of the Houston Astrodome.  But he did his best to sell it as a possible long-term move.  He told a reporter for The Associated Press:

“Lately, I’ve wanted to leave barnstorming baseball to settle down somewhat to help the sport.  Anchorage seems to be the place to do it.”

In addition to his appearance in a handful of games in Alaska, his arrival in the state also resulted in a chance meeting that was reported in the press.

As a crowd of local residents gathered at the Anchorage airport to greet Paige, another plane arrived for refueling.  It carried former Vice President Richard M. Nixon on his way to Tokyo.  Nixon walked into the terminal while the plane was refueled, and when he asked about the crowd he was told they were waiting for Paige’s arrival.  Nixon joined the line to greet the pitcher.  The man who would be the leader of the free world in a little more than three years told a reporter from The Associated Press:

“I always like to meet celebrities.”

Nixon and Paige meet in Alaska

Nixon and Paige meet in Alaska

His commitment in Alaska over, Paige made it to the Astrodome on September 6.  The two-inning game, featuring a team of “immortals” versus “Texas All-Stars,” was an incredible collection of legends—more than 50 former players participated; twelve were already members of the Hall of Fame.  The Houston Post said of the player introductions:

Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, got a deafening cheer.  So did Satchel Paige, peerless Negro hurler.”

The paper said the only others to receive a reception near that for Paige and DiMaggio were Dizzy Dean and native Texan Monty Stratton.

Paige in the Astrodome

Paige in the Astrodome

Perhaps it was the reception in Houston that caused one of the letters Paige, and his wife and daughter had written months earlier to finally be answered.

Charles Oscar Finley, who made his fortune in the insurance business and bought controlling interest of the Kansas City A’s before the 1961 season, was the one who finally responded.

That the signing of Paige appears to have been a spur of the moment decision for Finley after reading about the reception in Houston, is supported by the fact that it was announced by the marketing savvy Finley at what The Kansas City Times described as a “hastily called news conference,” which Finley, who was in Chicago, did not attend.

He appeared with General Manager Hank Peters and told reporters “I thought they were kidding” when Finley called and offered him a contract.

He said he was ready to pitch and brushed aside questions about his age:

“I think I can still pitch and help this club.  So what difference does it make what my age is if I can?”

Bill Veeck, who had signed Paige with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and the St. Louis Browns in 1951, told The Times he hoped it wasn’t just a publicity stunt by Finley:

“I am hopeful he will be used as he should be—as a pitcher. Leroy should surprise a few people as he has for a long time.”

Veeck and Paige

Veeck and Paige

The controversial Veeck, more than a decade away from his return to the game, told The Kansas City Star he blamed himself for the pitcher’s  long absence:

“When I left Cleveland the first thing the new owners did was get rid of Satch.  When I sold the St. Louis Browns (and the team relocated to Baltimore), the same thing happened.  That’s nothing more than guilt by association.”

The signing of the 59-year-old Paige, who joined a team that included five 19 and 20-year-old pitchers who appeared in at least one game that year—Jim “Catfish” Hunter, John “Blue Moon” Odom, Ron Tompkins, Tom Harrison and Don Buschorn—inspired a short poem published in The Star:

“They’re either too

Young or too old,

When Charlie puts ‘em

In A’s Green and Gold.”

Papers across the country carried a photograph of Paige, seated on a chair, with one of Finley’s young pitchers, Catfish Hunter, on his knee.  While the photo was straight from Finley’s marketing plan, the impact of one future Hall of Famer on another, forty years his junior, seems to have been real.

Paige and Hunter

Paige and Hunter

The Star spoke to Paige about his pitching philosophy one afternoon as Hunter stood nearby.  The paper said:

“Hunter listened intently as Satchel expounded his pitching theories.”

Paige was equally impressed with the 19-year-old, telling The Star:

“This young man has shown me a lot of poise.  He has a great future in this game.”

The next two weeks were filled with pictures of, and stories about, Paige in a rocking chair, a nurse seated nearby, watching the A’s play, and while a “Satchel Paige Night” was scheduled, there appeared little chance the pitcher would be used as anything but a prop for publicity.  Then Finley announced that his new pitcher would start on his night, September 25 against the Boston Red Sox.

What took place on the mound on September 25 has been written about many times. With his six children and wife Lahoma—pregnant with number seven—sitting in the owner’s box with Finley, Paige pitched three shutout innings, allowing just one hit—a Carl Yastrzemski double.

The only disappointment was the anemic crowd—just 9,289 Kansas City fans turned out to see a legend, the second largest crowd during that six-game home stand was 2,874.

As Paige took the mound in the fourth inning, A’s Manager Haywood Sullivan, who was not consulted before Paige’s signing or before Finley announced he would pitch that night, came to the mound to remove Paige.  The pitcher walked off to a standing ovation.

Paige walks off the field with Manager Haywood Sullivan while Diego Segui warms up.

Paige walks off the field with Manager Haywood Sullivan while Diego Segui warms up.

Paige returned to the clubhouse.  The Star said:

“In the clubhouse he was down to his long underwear, and talking about helping the A‘s out of the basement when someone rushed in a and screamed, ‘Satch, they want you back on the field.’

“The lights were out.  More than 9,000 matches flickered in the darkness, and on ‘Salute to Satchel Paige Night,’ they sang ‘Rockin’ Chair,’ ‘Darling I am Growing Old,’ and “The Old Gray Mare.”

After returning to the clubhouse, Paige was greeted by Finley, who called him “a real credit to the game.”  Paige “shook the owner’s hand” and said “I want to thank you for bringing me here.”

Whether he truly believed it or not, Paige told reporters he planned to pitch again in 1965.

“Everybody doubted me on the ballclub.  They’ll have more confidence in me now.”

He did not appear in another game but stayed with the club for the remainder of the season.  Two days after his three-inning performance, he was with the team in Baltimore.

A discouraging word had not been uttered by Paige during his time with the A’s.  Perhaps being in Baltimore—where his big league career effectively ended after Veeck sold the Browns—or maybe just the realization that a man capable of throwing three shutout innings at age 59 was not given an opportunity by a major league club the previous 12 seasons, changed that.

Lou Hatter wrote in The Baltimore Sun:

“Satchel Paige, the slender pitching ancient signed 2 ½ weeks ago by Kansas City, bared a deep-rooted wound here last night for the first time.”

Paige said to Hatter:

“You can put it this way.  You can say I resent being overlooked by organized baseball all these years while I threw away most of my best years pitching for a barnstorming club…All they ask me, though, is how old am I.  But nobody asks me why I stayed out of the major leagues for 15 [sic 12] years.  That’s a long time isn’t it?  That’s a lifetime for most professional players.

“Let me ask another question. When Baltimore bought the St. Louis ballclub, why did they turn me loose?

“When I went to the Miami club (again pitching for Bill Veeck with the International League Marlins) and was a top pitcher for three years (11, 10 and 10 win seasons with ERAs of 1.86, 2.42 and 2.95), how come nobody picked me up?…I know the answer, but I won’t tell that neither—like I won’t tell my age.”

Despite Finley telling reporters throughout September that Paige would return to the A’s in 1966, if not as a player, then as a coach, he was released in September. The next time he appeared on the mound at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, it was again as a member of the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns.

Paige back in Kansas City as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1966.

Paige back in Kansas City as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1966.

Satchel Paige Night, 1952

21 Jun

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This cartoon of Satchel Paige  appeared in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 29, 1952; drawn by the paper’s cartoonist Amadee Wohlschlaeger, who celebrated his 101st birthday last December.

Paige was primarily used as a reliever in 1952, but made one of his six starts the evening before against the Washington Senators on “Satchel Paige Night” at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.  The Associated Press said:

“A bearded player in a wheelchair was introduced as Paige’s first battery mate.”

Owner Bill Veeck gave him a boat called “Ole Satch 1,” a television, and a camera; his teammates presented him with a rod and reel.

Paige pitched 6 2/3 innings and was credited with the win in a 6-3 victory against the Washington Senators.

Later that month Senators manager Bucky Harris said in The Washington Afro-American:

“I swear to God, we would be in first place if we had Satchel Paige.”

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A Thousand Words–Satch and Diz

15 Mar

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Ted Williams called for the recognition of Negro League players in his 1966 Hall of Fame induction speech:

“The other day Willie Mays hit his five hundred and twenty second home run. He has gone past me, and he’s pushing, and I say to him, “Go get ’em, Willie.” Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better  This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.”

After Williams’ speech, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean became one of Paige’s most vocal supporters.In 1968 Dean said:

“I think that he was one of the most outstanding pitchers I ever saw throw a ball and too bad he couldn’t have broken in in his prime when he could really fire that ball.”

Dean encouraged fans to write letters to members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to tell then “The venerable Leroy Robert Paige has proved he belongs in Cooperstown.”

Dean said he had “played more baseball against Satchel Paige,” than any other Major League player:

“I certainly think that if anybody belongs in the Hall of Fame, Satchel Paige deserves it as much as anyone else.  I think he was one of the outstanding pitchers of all times, and a guy who has given his life to baseball.”

Paige was the first player inducted to the Hall of Fame by The Special Committee on the Negro Leagues in 1971.

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Veeck and Paige–a third time?

27 Feb

In 1959, when Bill Veeck purchased the White Sox rumors swirled in Chicago that the Sox owner was planning on having Satchel Paige start on Opening Day. Later, as the Sox were making a run for their first American League Pennant in 40 years the rumors resurfaced that the ageless Paige would join the White Sox for the Pennant run.

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Bill Veeck and Satchel Paige, 1959

Paige, who had played for Veeck with the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns, had spent 1956-59 with the Miami Marlins in the International League, winning 31 games. He had returned to barnstorming with the Cuban Giants and Indianapolis Clowns in 1959, but it was reported he was looking for another chance in the Major Leagues, and in June it began to be reported again that Paige would be joining the Sox.

A United Press International story in July said that Veeck had “sent Paige two new Chicago White Sox uniforms,” and quoted Paige:

 “If they want me they’d have to pay me big money.  I’m not going back for nothing.”

Whether it was ever a serious discussion, or simply two famous showmen milking rumors for the maximum publicity will never be known, but Veeck and Paige let the rumors swirl well into August before Veeck finally put them to rest, telling Jet Magazine:

“We’re not giving any thought to hiring him.  I’m very fond of LeRoy and I see him whenever he’s in town.  I gave him the uniforms because we’re old friend and for no other reason.”

And with that White Sox fans missed the chance to see the pitcher who Veeck called “The best righthander baseball has ever known,” pitch for the 1959 Pennant winners.

A Thousand Words–Satchel Paige, Chicago White Sox

6 Feb

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What if?  Satchel Paige in a White Sox uniform.  From 1938-1947 the Sox never finished better than 3rd, add Satchel Paige to those teams, which already had some good pitching including Ted Lyons, Eddie LopatThornton Lee, Monty Stratton and Orval Grove, and Sox fans might have had something to cheer about.  But of course, by the time Paige had a chance to play in the Major Leagues he was at least 42-years-old.  Paige would have helped at the box office as well.  For example, on July 18, 1942 the Sox drew slightly better than 24,000 for a doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers, across town at Wrigley Field a nearly identical amount came out to watch Paige pitch the first five innings for the Memphis Red Sox against the New York Cuban Stars.

Instead, all White Sox fans have is this rare photo taken in 1965 when Paige appeared with the Indianapolis Clowns at Comiskey Park (Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher in the picture).

——-

in 1935, Gene Coughlin, a sports writer for The Los Angeles Evening Post-Record wrote a column that went largely ignored, calling on organized baseball to break the color barrier which “not only makes (baseball) look ridiculous but is at the same time passing up increased business.”  Coughlin predicted that if a Pacific Coast League team were to sign Paige, it “would be good for an extra 10.000 in attendance every time he goes to the mound.  And he became good despite the inane prejudice that drives the colored baseball player to the sandlots and keeps him there.”

Coughlin’s column concluded:

“When you come right down to it, that baseball doesn’t give a darn whether it is pitched or caught by a white hand or a black one.  It is a symbol of game, a sport, and not a symbol of class distinction or color.”

Twelve years later organized baseball finally agreed.

Dero Austin

10 Jan

 

dero

Dero Austin Jr. was one of the few Negro League “players” who was born too late; he was added to the Indianapolis Clowns in 1964 to try to recreate the fame of one of his predecessors, Spec Bebop, who had top billing with the team well into the 1950s.

Spec Bebop, circa 1952

Spec Bebop, circa 1952

Austin quickly joined  James “Nature Boy” Williams as one of the most popular members of the barnstorming team, but the Clowns were well past their heyday when they filled ballparks across the country.  Occasionally they still drew well, in Austin’s first season, 1964, 15,797 fans saw the Clowns in Chicago’s Comiskey Park on July 10; across town 13,556 fans watched the Cubs play the San Francisco Giants.

Austin would usually bat first in each game, replicating Eddie Gaedel’s appearance for Bill Veeck’s Saint Louis Browns in 1951–occasionally Satchel Paige would pitch to Austin.  While he appeared in publicity photo’s playing the field, he never appeared in the field during a game.

Satchel Paige pitching, Dero Austin at the plate.  Comiskey Park 1966

Satchel Paige pitching, Dero Austin at the plate. Comiskey Park 1966

Austin never became as popular as Bebop, and the Clowns continued playing to smaller crowds in smaller towns until they disbanded in the 1980s.

dero

Austin stayed with the Clowns well into the 70s and by 1974 was billed as the team’s manager.  The 31-inch tall Grandfield, Oklahoma native died in July of 1987 at age 39.

A Thousand Words–“The Wonderful Country”

13 Dec

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Leroy “Satchel” Paige talks baseball with local children in Mexico on the set of the 1960 movie “The Wonderful Country.”  Robert Mitchum and Julie London starred; Paige played Cavalry Sgt. Tobe Sutton.

It was Paige’s only real acting role (He made a cameo appearance as himself ten years earlier in “The Kid from Cleveland“),  and it’s a pretty good film.

Satchel Paige as Sgt. Sutton

Satchel Paige as Sgt. Sutton

A Thousand Words

6 Dec

Satchel Paige demonstrates four of his favorite pitches to The Baltimore Afro-American, 1948:

The sidearm curve (outshoot):  “A wrist-twist causes counter-clockwise spin which makes the ball bend away from a right-handed batter.”

Sidearm Curve--outshoot

Sidearm Curve–outshoot

The overhand curve (drop): “Is gripped and thrown with a twist as to let the ball leave the hand with a snap between thumb and forefinger.  Overspin thus makes ball take a sudden dip.”

Overhand curve--drop

Overhand curve–drop

The Screwball (inshoot):  “Ball slides off fingers with a rapid clockwise spin, making it twist away from a left-handed hitter.”

Screwball--inshoot

Screwball–inshoot

The knuckleball:  “takes odd twists and turns even the pitcher can’t predict.”

Knuckle ball

Knuckle ball

“May every page you turn be a Satchel Paige.” Greg Proops, The Smartest Man in the World Podcast.

satchelbraves

McGraw’s Maxims

4 Dec

While the New York Giants were training in Marlin Springs, Texas before the 1912 season, John McGraw wrote (his name appeared on the byline) an article published in newspapers across the country about what it took “to become a big league ballplayer.”

John McGraw, 1912

John McGraw, 1912

McGraw wrote:

“If you have speed in your legs, in your arms, if you are physically strong, know human nature, don’t use tobacco, you’ll make a ballplayer.”

Included in the article were “McGraw’s Maxims:”

Forget what you know and learn over

Don’t drink

Eat two meals a day

Don’t drink water on the field

The less training in winter the better

Indoor training doesn’t help

A steady player is better than a grandstand player

A country boy is better material than a college boy, because he doesn’t think he knows it all.

Reminiscent, if less colorful, than Satchel Paige’s “How to Keep Young,” written forty years later, (this has been reprinted everywhere for years, but any excuse to mention Satchel Paige…)

Satchel Paige, 1942

Satchel Paige, 1942

Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.

If you 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.

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Sammy Strang

5 Nov

Samuel Strang Nicklin, “The Dixie Thrush,” was one of baseball’s great renaissance men.

Born in Tennessee in 1876, he was the scion of one of Chattanooga’s most prominent families.  His father John Bailey Nicklin served in the Union Army during the Civil War, moved to Chattanooga in 1866, and served as mayor from 1887-1889.

Sammy Strang

Samuel Nicklin spent one year at the University of Tennessee where he starred on the football and baseball teams. He also had two short stints in professional baseball 1893 and 1896, which included 14 games with the Louisville Colonels in the National League when he was 19.  Late in 1896, he enlisted as a private in the Tennessee Volunteers, served in Spanish-American War and rose to the rank of captain.

After leaving the service, Nicklin signed a contract with Cedar Rapids Bunnies in the Western Association and dropped his last name; he was known as Sammy Strang for the rest of his career.

The Milwaukee Journal said of the name change:

“(Strang) came of a rich southern family with deep prejudices against professional ball.”

This “prejudice” likely had nothing to do with it given that in addition to serving as Chattanooga mayor, the elder Nicklin was active in professional baseball, serving as president of the Southern Association in the 1890s.

A career .269 hitter, Strang was best known for being one of baseball’s first regular pinch-hitters while playing for John McGraw’s New York Giants from 1905 until June of 1908.  According to The Associated Press:

“McGraw noted the regularity with which he hit in pinches.  So he called him a ‘pinch hitter’—and the term stuck.”

During the 1909 season, Strang began coaching the baseball team at West Point.  He retired from baseball after playing from 1908-1910 with the Baltimore Orioles in the Eastern League, to study opera.

Sammy Strang

During his baseball career, Strang was known for writing songs and singing but decided to seriously pursue a music career in 1910.  He traveled to Paris where he trained under Jean De Reszke, one of the greatest male opera stars of the 1890s.

Upon returning from Paris, he chose not to accept an offer to join an opera company and instead returned to West Point, where he continued as coach until 1917.

Strang returned Tennessee shortly before his father’s death in 1919 to manage and take over ownership of the struggling Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern League.  While the Lookouts did not win a league championship during Strang’s tenure, he was credited with turning the franchise around and sold the team, for which he paid nothing 1919, for a reported $75,000 in 1927, while retaining ownership of the stadium, Andrews Field.

Unfortunately, Strang’s most ambitious plan–to sign Satchel Paige in 1926–never materialized.

According to Larry Tye’s book “Satchel Paige: The Life and Times of an American Legend,”   Strang failed in an attempt to sign Paige for $500 to pitch a game against the Atlanta Crackers. Paige said of the deal:

“I just had to let him paint me white.”

Samuel Strang Nicklin died in Chattanooga in 1932.