Satchel Paige: The Greatest Pitcher in the History of Baseball

Leroy Robert "Satchel" Paige was the greatest and most enduring pitcher in the history of baseball. He was also a gracious and witty role model of American equality between races.

Heroes come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Satchel Paige has been a hero of mine since I first heard of him.

Leroy Robert Paige was born on July 7, 1906, in Mobile, Alabama. He was the son of John and Lula Page, the sixth of their twelve children. The nickname came from the job he had carrying bags at the train station. He engineered a pole that he could hang bags and satchels from. One of the other boys said he looked like a walking satchel tree. He was arrested for shoplifting and truancy right before his twelfth birthday, and was sentenced to a boy’s reform school in Mount Miegs, Alabama, where he stayed until he was almost 18. About this time his father died, and his mother and all the children agreed to change the spelling of their name to Paige. It seemed to be a chance for a new beginning with a new name, but “Satchel” blamed it on wanting to be “high toned.”

It was at Mount Miegs that he learned to pitch while playing for the school team. When he got out of the reform school, his brother was pitching for a semi-pro team and he got on too. He proved to be an outstanding talent on the mound and a natural showman.

He played for several teams in the Negro League. In the off season he played in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. On off days he often played for other teams or “barn-stormed” playing local teams across the country. Anywhere he was announced a crowd gathered.

In 1948 he signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Indians; he was the oldest rookie ever to play in the Major Leagues. He was 42, an age that most pitchers have given up active play. He did not break the race barrier first, but he was the first black pitcher in the Major League. Over the years Satch had reported several different birthdays ranging from 1900 to 1908. Owner and promoter Bill Veeck went to the courthouse with Paige and got a copy of his birth certificate. The matter of how old he was had caused a lot of talk in the media. When asked about it, Satchel said: “Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”

Satchel Paige played baseball from the mid twenties until 1965 beginning with the Cleveland Indians, then the St. Louis Browns, and finally with the Kansas City Athletics. In his last game as a pitcher in 1965 he pitched three scoreless innings for Kansas City against the Boston Red Sox. His last game in uniform was as a coach in 1969 for the Atlanta Braves. He wrote an autobiorgraphy entitled "In 1971 he was honored by being the first black player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He died June 8, 1982 and is buried in Kansas City.

He authored several books including an autobiorgraphy entitled MAYBE I"LL PITCH FOREVER. Satchel Paige was as witty with words as he was skilled with a baseball. Many of his expressions have become so common that you may not know he was the author. His comments cover several categories.

1. A philosophy of a good life:

Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one's own virtues or powers are the characteristics of an excellent man.

Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching.

Ain't no man can avoid being born average, but there ain't no man got to be common.

2. Instructions on how to play baseball

You gotta keep the ball off the fat part of the bat

3. Advice about the important things in life:

Money and women. They're two of the strongest things in the world. The things you do for a woman you wouldn't do for anything else. Same with money.

It's funny what a few no-hitters do for a body.

4. Advice about health and digestion:

If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.

5. Insight on religion:

Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines.

6. General advice for other situations:

Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.

I ain't ever had a job, I just always played baseball.

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?

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