“A Pitch from Satchel Paige” is a two-act, one-character theatrical play written by my former IBM colleague, news reporter and friend Jim Keller and his father Loren Keller, a veteran poet, actor and writer.
Recently, I attended a staged reading of the production, directed by Tony DiFabbio with Mark Hamilton playing the part of Satchel Paige. The show provides a unique perspective on the life of Satchel Paige, one of the biggest stars in the Negro Leagues and one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
Throughout, Satchel talks of the challenges of growing up in a segregated society and playing in a league where only the baseball was white. He speaks of his wide and varied assortment of pitches, and of playing in the Negro Leagues with legendary ballplayers like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard and Buck O’Neil.
Satchel Paige had hoped to become the first black man to play in the majors, but that honor instead went to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. A year later, Satch signed on with the Cleveland Indians, and helped lead the team to the 1948 World Series. Paige was 6-1 that year with a 2.48 ERA…at the ripe old age of 42.
Nearly 20 years later, in 1965, Paige came back with the Kansas City A’s to face the Boston Red Sox. He threw three scoreless innings, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced. At 59, old Satch was still going strong.
Gilbert Hernandez Black, a former pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns and a Negro League historian, also attended the play, and afterwards regaled the audience with stories from a bygone era.
RELATED BLOG: Satchel Paige: Great Early and Great Late
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.