Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige, Legendary Pitcher
- One of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time
- Highly popular. He attracted huge audiences wherever he played, and eventually became a Pitcher-for-Hire.
Leroy Robert Page (1906-1982) was born in Mobile, Alabama, to John Page, a gardener, and Lula Page, a domestic worker. John died a few years after their son was born, and Lula changed the spelling of the last name to Paige, perhaps to mark a new beginning.
Leroy Robert was known to everyone as “Satchel.” The most often-told story about his nickname was that Leroy picked up spare cash by helping tourists with their luggage. The name “Satchel” stuck.
At age 12, Satchel was arrested for shoplifting. This followed some other minor thefts and truancy, so he was sent to a reform school for negro children in Mount Meigs, Alabama. One of the staff members, Edward Byrd, noticed Satchel’s natural talent for ball-playing. Byrd began working with the boy to develop his skills.
By the time Satchel left the school at age 18, he was a good ball player. Initially, he joined a semi-pro Negro team called Down the Bay Boys. From then—1926—until 1948, he played for at least eight different Negro League teams, including the well-regarded Kansas City Monarchs. With the Monarchs, Satchel and the team played in five Negro American League pennants.
Satchel was particularly known for his fastballs, but that was just one of his options on the mound. He had a number of unique pitches to call upon. He was also wise about his job: “If a man can beat you, walk him.”
When Paige joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the early 1930s, he already had a following of fans who just loved to see him play. The owner of the Pittsburgh team made additional money by farming Paige out to semi-pro clubs that needed to boost attendance. With Satchel Paige pitching, the teams would have no trouble getting a crowd.
Satchel Paige: Barnstorming
In 1946-47, Paige joined a group of black players who barnstormed to bring in extra money during the off-season. But Satchel Paige was such a pitching phenom that he could easily offer himself out as a pitcher-for-hire. He played in exhibition games against the best players of the day, black or white. Huge crowds came to watch him.
On his own, Paige sometimes traveled as many as 30,000 miles a year. In one streak, he pitched twenty-nine days in a row–a punishing schedule as any modern day pitcher would testify.
“I liked playing against Negro League teams,” Paige told a reporter. “But I loved barnstorming. It gave me a chance to play everybody and go everywhere . . .”
When Jackie Robinson was selected to be the first African American to play in the major leagues, Paige was annoyed. He felt he was a better player. However, Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey had been very careful in making his selection. Robinson was picked not only for his ability but also for his even-tempered personality. Branch Rickey knew that the first African American to play on a white team needed to be able to remain calm and cool no matter what the crowds or the other team members said or threw at you. Paige eventually accepted that Robinson was the best man for that job.
Satchel Paige to the Majors
In 1948, two years after Robinson moved out of the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige moved into the Major Leagues, signing with the Cleveland Indians. He was the first Negro pitcher in the American League and the seventh Negro player to move into the Majors. Though still a great player, he was also 42–the oldest rookie to ever join a major league team. He went on to help the Indians win the American League pennant that year. Later, he also played for the St. Louis Browns, also a major league team.
Satchel Paige died of a heart attack in 1982; he was 75. He knew his fate would have been different if had he been white: “They said I was the greatest pitcher they ever saw…I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t give me no justice.”
And he had a couple of good pieces of advice regarding the game—or actually, life in general. “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”
He also had wise words about the advanced age at which he started playing major league baseball: “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Recently reader Ross Uitts notified me about an article he wrote for the website, “Old Sports Cards.” Because there aren’t many Satchel Paige cards in existence, he’s trying to document those that can be found.
On his site, Uitts writes about five of the Satchel Paige cards. I enjoyed seeing and reading about the cards, and I recommend you click through to the site.
Uitts has several additional stories about the famed pitcher. I’m still laughing at the description of Satchel Paige, hired to pitch a game at 59, staging it so that there was a rocking chair for him to sit in between innings, and a nurse to tend to his right shoulder. The man was a total showman! www.oldsportscards.com