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On This Date in Sports February 9, 1971: Breaking Another Barrier

MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that Satchel Paige would be the first player from the Negro Leagues to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in a special wing for players from the Negro Leagues. Players. When the plan was scrutinized for its similarity to Jim Crow laws, the plan was revised for Paige and future honorees from the Negro Leagues to be inducted as would any other player.

The Negro Leagues were the refuge of the black baseball player in the days before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. In these years of segregated baseball, numerous stars did not get their chance to play in the majors but showed their skills playing in the Negro Leagues. Often, these players would play barnstorming games against major league stars, winning more than 50% of the time.

According to most records, Leroy Satchel Paige was born on July 7, 1906. He earned the nickname Satchel when he would help carry bags off the train near his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. A thin, wiry frame with a rubber arm helped Satchel Paige become the top pitcher in the Negro Leagues; some suggest he may have even been the best pitcher of the era had he been given a chance to play in the majors. Paige drew large crowds whenever he pitched, was asked to pitch often, and managed to dominate most of the time.

When it came time to break the color barrier, Satchel Paige was among the players that Branch Rickey considered signing, but due to his age, he was passed over for Jackie Robinson. He would get his chance a year late, signing with the Cleveland Indians and posting a 6-1 record at the age of 42. Satchel Paige spent two seasons in Cleveland and three with the St. Louis Browns, making the All-Star team in 1952 and 1953, the oldest ever to make an All-Star team at the age of 47. In 1965, Satchel Paige made one last Major League appearance at the age of 59, allowing just one hit while pitching three innings with the Kansas City Athletics.

The first suggestion that Satchel Paige and the top Negro Leaguers came in 1966 during Ted Williams’ induction speech, when he advocated Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson getting into Cooperstown. In 1971, that dream of inclusion became a reality when Bowie Kuhn announced that there would be a Negro League Wing in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The idea was good but poorly executed, as the separate wing felt almost like the Black Players were being segregated again. Satchel Paige was among those unhappy with the separate wing, as he stated I am not going into the backdoor of the Hall of Fame. Eventually, Kuhn and the Hall of Fame would reconsider, and just before that summer’s induction ceremony, announced that the Negro League Hall of Famers would be given the same plaque and equal standing with anyone else chosen for the sports hallowed Hall.

Over the next few years, Satchel Paige would be joined by Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Monte Irvin, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Oscar Charleston, Martin Dihigo, and John Henry Lloyd. Starting in 1978, the Negro League Committee was disbanded, but Negro Leaguers continued to get Hall of Fame consideration from the Veterans’ Committee. In the subsequent years, there have been many more Negro Leaguers added to the roster of all-time greats enshrined forever in Cooperstown.