As the wild card showdowns are decided and the MLB playoffs get started, the pressure is squarely on two teams – the Cleveland Indians and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
When the Chicago Cubs knocked off the Indians in a thrilling seven-game World Series last fall, they also passed along the stigma of baseball’s longest championship drought. The Tribe has come agonizingly close several times – most notably last year and in 1997, when they lost to the Florida Marlins in seven games. Cleveland also won the AL pennant but lost the World Series in 1954 and 1995.
You’ve got to go back the Truman administration in 1948 to find the last Indians championship squad. That year Cleveland beat the Boston Braves in six games. Do the math, that’s 69 years ago.
The Dodgers managed to win just one World Series in Brooklyn, beating the Yankees in seven games in 1955, before moving to Los Angeles in 1958. LA won five championships in its first 30 years on the West Coast, but none since. In fact, the Dodgers last made the World Series in 1988, when they knocked off the heavily-favored Oakland A’s in five games.
Many feel the Dodgers are due, having won five straight NL West titles and being crowned the best team ever by Sports Illustrated in August. Following that cover piece, the Dodgers reached a high water mark of 91-36, then proceeded to lose 16 out of 17 games, including 11 straight.
The Indians set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak in September, marking the Tribe as the team to beat in the AL.
The Dodgers wound up with the best record in baseball, 104-58, while the Indians finished second best at 102-60. Pressure’s on.
Sometimes records don’t even begin to tell the whole story, and stats don’t scratch the surface.
Take the case of Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige, legendary Negro Leaguer, Hall of Fame pitcher and storyteller supreme.
In six seasons with the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Kansas City A’s, Paige compiled a 28-31 record with a lifetime 3.29 ERA, and 288 strikeouts.
Not quite Hall of Fame caliber numbers.
But there’s so much more.
For two decades, Paige was arguably the hardest thrower, most colorful character and greatest gate attraction in the Negro Leagues. In his barnstorming days, he also pitched in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
It’s estimated that Paige pitched 2,5000 games, threw 55 no-hitters and performed before crowds in excess of 10 million.
MLB Debut at Age 42
On July 9, 1948, at the ripe old age of 42, Satchel Paige became the oldest man ever to debut in the major leagues. Six days later, he got his first major league win as the Indians beat the Philadelphia A’s, 8-5.
The Indians were battling for the American League pennant that summer, and in the heat of the race in late August, Paige authored back-to-back three-hit shutouts against the White Sox.
He finished the 1948 season with a 6-1 record and 2.48 ERA and appeared in one World Series game as Cleveland defeated the Boston Braves in six games. The Tribe hasn’t won the World Series since.
After a 4-7 record in 1949, the Indians released Paige. He was later picked up by the Browns, and Yankee manager Casey Stengel named Paige to the 1952 and 1953 American League All-Star team.
Note done yet, Paige continued to pitch into his fifties — on the barnstorm circuit and in the minor leagues.
Amazingly, in 1965 A’s owner Charles O. Finley signed Paige, then 59, to pitch one game on September 25 against the Red Sox. The ageless wonder threw three scoreless innings against a lineup that included Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro, allowing one hit and retiring the final seven batters he faced.
One can only imagine the type of records Satchel Paige — and some of the other great Negro League players — could have compiled if allowed to pitch in the majors in their primes.
Satchel Paige Master’s Maxims — A Guide to Longevity
1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social rumble ain’t restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.