Today’s sports world is filled with entertainers. Athletes become household names literally overnight thanks to their antics and showmanship. Players like Richard Sherman and Reggie Miller couldn’t even hold a candle up to the show that Leroy “Satchel” Paige put on for crowds from 1927 to 1965.
Leroy Page was born on July 7, 1906 in Mobile, Alabama. I did not commit a spelling error in his name. His last name was originally spelled “Page” but in his mother, Lula, changed the last name to “Paige” so there would be no connection between Leroy’s abusive father and the rest of the family.
Paige’s life was shaped during his early years. During his childhood, Paige recived the nickname that would become synonymous with baseball. After working long hours of carrying bags at a local train station, his friends began to refer to him as “Satchel”, a name that history will always remember.
The most significant part of his life first started out at as a punishment. A couple weeks before his 13th birthday, Paige was arrested for shoplifting. He was sent to an all black state reform school in Mount Meigs, Alabama.
While there he met Edward Byrd. Byrd soon became his mentor and taught Paige all the keys to pitching. He told him to use his large frame and have a high leg kick, all skills that Paige would use in his future career.
Three years following his release from the reform school, Paige began his professional career. A friend of his, Alex Herman, was a player/coach of the Chattanooga White Sox, who played in the Negro Southern League.
Herman offered him $250 to play. With his first pro salary, Paige sent $200 to his mother back home and kept the $50 for himself. For a little more than 20 years, Paige was pitching on whichever American team could afford his large contract. His barn storming style of baseball brought him to places like Pittsburgh, California, and North Dakota and all the way down to Mexico and Puetro Rico. In 1939, Paige signed a deal with the Kansas City Monarchs. The Monarchs were a dominant team in the Negro League. (As you may know, this was the original team of Jackie Robinson).
For the three years he was on the team, the Monarchs won four consecutive pennants and in 1942 won the Negro League World Series. Paige won three of the four games in the sweep of the Homestead Grays, home to Josh Gibson, who hit over 800 home runs.
Along with his stellar fastball and dancing curveball, people flocked to go see the antics of Satchel Paige. Paige was a true showmanship.
Mixed with a large ego and plenty of confidence, Paige would call in his field and tell them to go sit down because they would not be needed and sure enough, the lanky flamethrower would strike out the side.
Seeing a great ballplayer and even better promotion, Bill Veeck signed Paige to a Major League contract with the Cleveland Indians on July 7, 1948. At the age of 42, Paige was long past his prime, but that did not hold him back form having success at the highest and whitest level of baseball.
He would win six games that year and post an impressive 2.48 ERA on a world championship team. He would also go on to be named to the All Star games in ’52 and ’53 at the age of 46 and 47. In 1965, Paige became the oldest man to ever walk onto a diamond at the professional level at the age of 59. Due to his success and long career, Paige was immortalized in Cooperstown in 1971.
Paige came a year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Paige, along with many other black ballplayers during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s were never able to show their true athletic colors on the highest stage due to hate and discrimination. The Major Leagues may have missed out on some of the greatest ballplayers to take a field, but baseball never forgot them. Eighteen black players, including Paige, have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame based on their career in the Negro Leagues, the last being Hilton Smith in 2001, fifty years after the last negro league season.