In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Satchel Paige makes his first major league start at the age of 42 or 44 depending on who you ask. The longtime Negro League star was unable to pitch in the majors during his prime years when he was perhaps the best pitcher in the world. Paige made his debut with the Cleveland Indians on July 9th and made eight relief appearances before beating the Washington Senators 5-3 for his second win.
Leroy Robert Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama, on July 7th, though record over what year he was born is hazy as he was born in either 1904 according to a note in his mother’s bible or 1906 as he claimed when he signed his first contract. Paige earned the nickname, Satchel as a young boy for helping passengers carry their bags at a local train station for a dime. Thin and wiry, Satchel Paige was a wizard on the mound, often telling his fielders to sit down as he struck out the side.
After playing semi-professional ball, Satchel Paige signed his first professional contract with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts in 1926. He eventually was promoted to the Birmingham Black Barons, where he quickly became one of the biggest stars in the Negro National League. His brash cocky attitude and blazing fastball helped make him popular across the sport. It is unknown exactly how many games, Satchel Paige won while in the Negro Leagues, as records, box scores and statistics were not published in many newspapers. The rubber-armed Paige claims to have pitched in over 2,500 games, winning 2,000 as he often went on barnstorming tours in the winter, pitching every day.
One such barnstorming tour came after the 1946 season with Satchel Paige touring with a team of Negro League stars against a team of Major League stars led by Bob Feller. The tour saw the teams play 35 games in 31 cities over a 27-day span, helped highlight many of the stars of the Negro Leagues ahead of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947. The tour was duplicated following the 1947 season as teams in the American and National Leagues began looking to integrate their rosters.
While Satchel Paige was over the age of 40, his pitching still had incredible movement, leading Bill Veeck of the Cleveland Indians to offer him a contract in 1948. The Indians were the first American League team with an African American on the roster, having signed Larry Doby of the Newark Eagles in 1947. When he made his debut two days after his birthday, he was the oldest rookie in Major League history, officially listed as 42. In that game on July 9th, Paige pitched two innings in a 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Browns at Municipal Stadium. Six days later, Satchel Paige earned his first win on the road against the Philadelphia Athletics. He would make eight relief appearances in July, posting a record of 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA.
After eight relief appearances, Satchel Paige was given his first start by Indians player-manager Lou Boudreau. The Tribe in a heated battle for the pennant were hosting the Washington Senators who as usual were fighting to start out of last place in the American League. Senators’ manager Joe Kuhel called upon Early Wynn to make the start. Things got off to a rough start for Satchel Paige, as Bud Stewart delivered a two-run triple to give Washington a 2-0 lead in the first inning. The Indians cut the deficit to 2-1 in the fourth inning as Larry Doby scored on a double by Ken Keltner. The fifth inning would see the Senators scratch across a third run against Paige, but in the bottom of the inning, the Indians answered to tie the game 3-3 as Doby doubled home Allie Clark and later scored on a single by Boudreau. In the sixth, Cleveland took the lead as Jim Hegan led off the inning with a home run against Forrest Thompson. The Tribe scratched across an insurance run in the eighth, as Satchel Paige earned the win, pitching seven innings while allowing three runs on seven hits with six strikeouts. Ed Kleiman finished the game for Cleveland, pitching two scoreless innings to earn the save.
Satchel Paige would be a spot starter for the Indians, pitching mainly out of the bullpen. He would post a record of 6-1, with one save, 43 strikeouts and a 2.48 ERA. He would later go on to make one appearance in the World Series as the Tribe beat the Boston Bruins in the Fall Classic. Paige would pitch one more season with the Indians, posting a 4-7 record. After returning to the Negro Leagues in 1950, Satchel Paige signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1951, after they were purchased by Bill Veeck. He spent three seasons in St. Louis, posting a record of 18-23 with a 3.57 ERA for a second division ballclub. Over the next decade, Satchel Paige remained active pitching for several minor league teams including the Miami Marlins owned by Bill Veeck after the Browns moved to Baltimore. In 1965, he made one last start in the majors with the Kansas City Athletics, allowing just one hit in three innings at the age of 59 or 61 depending on who you asked.
Satchel Paige was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971, as the first player chosen by Negro League Committee, created to recognize the players who were kept out of the game for too long. Over the last decade of his life, Satchel Paige was a popular guest at various Old Timer’s Days and television shows about baseball, and had his autobiography, “Don’t Look Back” turned into a television movie.