Satchel Paige becomes first Negro League player nominated to Baseball Hall of Fame
The legendary pitcher changed the face of the game
Thursday will mark the 46th anniversary of Leroy “Satchel” Paige becoming the first Negro League veteran to receive a nomination for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Paige, a legend known for his humor, wit and fastball, was inducted into the Hall in August 1971. Besides that landmark, the pitcher was famous for being able to entertain the crowd, and for his longevity, enjoying a five-decade career and even suiting up to pitch three innings at 59.
One of 12 children growing up in Mobile, Alabama, Paige made money carrying bags for passengers at the train station, which earned him the nickname Satchel. While the origins of Paige’s nicknames are widely known, his exact birthdate remains a mystery, though it has been estimated he was born on July 7, 1906.
After getting caught for skipping school and shoplifting, Paige was sent to the Industrial School for Negro Children, which is where he learned his command of the mound.
When Paige began his baseball career at 18 with the Mobile Tigers, it was during the 1920s, when the sport was still segregated. In 1926, as a member of the Chattanooga Black Lookouts, Paige, who would travel south to the Caribbean, Central America and South America during the winter offseason to keep his skills sharp, made his professional debut. He played in the Dominican Republic in 1937, and when he returned to the States, his contract was sold to the Newark Eagles.
Instead of reporting for the New Jersey team, Paige went down to Mexico, where a fatigued arm nearly ended his career. It is estimated that the pitching legend played in approximately 2,500 games, including 29 straight in 1935, pitched 300 shutouts and 55 no-hitters, according to MLB.com.
From 1928 to 1932, Paige suited up for a number of teams, including the Birmingham Black Barons, Baltimore Black Sox, the Cleveland Cubs, Nashville Elite Giants and Pittsburgh Crawfords, which he helped win a league championship in 1935. During those years, he played with a host of future Hall of Famers such as Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson and Josh Gibson.
It took some time, but Paige was able to mend his arm by playing on first base and doing light stretches of pitching for the B-team of the Kansas City Monarchs. Once his arm returned to full strength, Paige took over the Monarchs’ top pitching role and helped the team win the World Series in 1946.
A year later, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and in 1948, Paige, who turned 42 that season, signed with the Cleveland Indians, becoming the oldest rookie in the majors. Paige enjoyed a 6-1 inaugural season, leading the Indians to their first World Series win in almost three decades.
Indians owner Bill Veeck was responsible for bringing Paige to the team, so when Veeck moved on to the St. Louis Browns, Paige followed right along in 1951. The following season Paige won 12 games, and became the oldest All-Star team selection. It appeared that Paige was retiring after playing in 1953, but 12 years later, at age 59, he returned to pitch three innings for the Kansas City Athletics and didn’t give up a run.
“If Satch and I was pitching on the same team, we’d clinch the pennant by the Fourth of July and go fishing until World Series time,” Dizzy Dean said about Paige.
Paige died at 75 from emphysema just after the Satchel Paige Memorial Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, was named after him in 1982.