The day the Atlanta Braves signed Satchel Paige so he could get his MLB pension
The 62-year-old pitcher needed 158 days on an active roster to be eligible
Satchel Paige reached out to the 20 Major League Baseball teams about the prospect of joining them in 1968. The 62-year-old pitcher needed only 158 days on an active roster to reach the five-year minimum required to receive his pension.
Nineteen teams turned him down, but on Aug. 12, 1968, Atlanta Braves president William C. Bartholomay signed the star player as a part-time pitcher and an adviser. The New York Times noted that Paige, a 17-year Negro Leagues veteran and the oldest rookie (42) to play in the majors, was “still without any trace of gray in his hair” at the news conference announcing the signing.
“Satchel Paige is one of the greatest pitchers of all time,” Bartholomay told United Press International. “Baseball would be guilty of negligence should it not assure this legendary figure a place in the pension plan.”
Said Bartholomay to The Washington Post: “We hope we can use him as a pitcher, but very frankly, we want to make him eligible for a place in baseball’s pension.”
Paige was added to the active roster and would also help instruct the Braves’ pitchers on technique and conditioning.
Asked what kind of stuff he has, Paige grinned, UPI reported.
“I’ll just have to go out and see if I can unfold,” the pitcher said. “If I can throw half as good as I could last year, then I know I can still get ’em out. But that’s just something I’ll have to see.”
Said Bartholomay: “We expect Paige to get into shape and be ready to pitch when called upon.”
Asked about his age, Paige was rather aloof. The right-hander was notorious for not revealing his age, blaming it on a mule for eating the documents or the nurse dying and then a fire wiping out his birth certificate, and so on. All of this added to his mystique and legend.
“[The Braves] have done a lot of research on that and asked me so much about it, I’ve forgotten myself,” he told The Associated Press.
The Mobile, Alabama, native was the master of longevity in the game. Paige entered the majors in 1948 as a member of the Cleveland Indians. He helped lead them to an American League pennant and finished with a 6-1 record, including three complete games, and a 2.47 ERA. Paige pitched two-thirds of an inning in Game 5 of the World Series that year, making him the first African-American to pitch in the championship series.
After a second year with Cleveland, Paige was traded to the St. Louis Browns, where he posted records of 3-4, 12-10 and 3-9, respectively, and earned two All-Star Game nods.
He played his last major league game on Sept. 25, 1965, for the Kansas City Athletics against the Boston Red Sox. He threw three scoreless innings and became the oldest pitcher (59 years, 2 months and 18 days) to ever play.
Paige did not see any game action for the Braves. And thanks to the Major League Baseball Players Association, he would receive his pension before the 1969 season began.
On Feb. 26, 1969, nine days before the first scheduled exhibition game was to be played in Florida, the league and the players’ association agreed to eight new main provisions.
The third provision, The New York Times reported, stated, “Any player with four years of major league service (instead of five), now qualifies for a minimum pension and this provision is retroactive for 10 years. Anyone who played during the 1959 season or later and has four years is eligible. Among others, Satchel Paige becomes eligible under this clause.”
That same day, The Washington Post published an article, “Satchel Paige Now Qualified for Pension,” and explained that he would not have to wait until Aug. 1, 1969, to be eligible for the pension plan. The Post also reported that the Braves now listed Paige as an assistant trainer.
Three years later, Paige began drawing from his pension plan — $250 a month.
Paige was the first inductee of the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. He died on June 8, 1982.