On this day in 1906, probably the great baseball pitcher ever, Satchel Paige was born. I think it’s funny that after the recent steroid scandal in Major League Baseball, people were wondering what this was going to do to the hallowed baseball statistics. Yet for many decades, blacks were not allowed to play for MLB teams, but when blacks and whites did play together as they did in the California winter league, the blacks very often totally out-shined the whites. That was more true of Paige than anyone.
When the Sporting News put out its Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players, it rated Cy Young, Grover Alexander, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson ahead of him. As much as I admire Walter Johnson, all he did was pitch fast. He never developed a decent curve ball. Paige threw everything well. Of course, in that regard, he had the advantage of having such a long career. As he got older and his speed lessened, he increasingly used other pitches including the knuckleball.
Because Paige was black he was forced to pretty much play year round. At the beginning of his career, he played as a freelancer—something that he couldn’t have done in MLB. And he played outside the country on a number of occasions, causing various problems with his relationship with the Negro League. The end of that was when he played the 1939-40 season in Puerto Rico where he ended the season with a record of 19-3, 1.93 ERA, and 208 strikeouts over the course of 205 innings. In one game, he struck out 17 batters.
The next seven years he played with the Kansas City Monarchs and “barnstormed” in the off season. It wasn’t until 1948 that Paige was allowed in MLB with the Cleveland Indians. He was 42 years old—the oldest rookie ever. His first season he had a record of 6-1 with an ERA of 2.48. He played four more seasons where he wasn’t as good, but he was a decent relief pitcher. He was in his late 40s by then. It’s just sad to think of what he would have been able to do had he been allowed to play 20 years earlier. Of course, lots of people got to see him play. He was a huge star. But the man doesn’t get as much respect as he deserves. I mean: Christy Mathewson? Really?!
Happy birthday Satchel Paige!