The Greatest Pitcher Ever
Leroy "Satchel" Paige, one of baseball's finest pitchers, was most likely born on July 7, 1906. While Paige believed this date to be correct, poorly kept records left his exact birth year and date unclear. By contrast, there is no doubt that he was one of the greatest pitchers of all time. His long career included a critical stint with the Kansas City Monarchs Negro leagues baseball team between 1939 and 1947, during which he recovered from an injury to re-launch his career.
Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama, to a gardener and a domestic servant. As a child he acquired the nickname "Satchel" when he worked as a porter carrying luggage, or "satchels," at a railroad station. After being arrested for shoplifting in 1918, he spent several years in reform school, where he honed his pitching skills. In 1926 he began his professional career by playing for the Chattanooga Black Lookouts, a team in the Negro leagues. From there, he hopped from one black team to another - always in search of higher salaries.
By the 1930s, Satchel Paige had acquired a reputation as one of the finest pitchers in the game, white or black. He earned more money than any other black player and even more than many white major league players. Seemingly everywhere he played he attracted record crowds that sparked wider interest in black baseball players and helped the Negro league ball clubs attain financial stability. Joe DiMaggio, a future baseball legend, reportedly knew he was ready for the major leagues only when he managed to hit one of Paige's pitches in an all-star game. Paige, of course, was barred from playing in the major leagues himself, because of his race.
While in Mexico in 1938, Paige sustained an injury to his pitching arm that appeared to signal the end of his career. Surprisingly, though, he recovered from his injury over the course of seven months and reemerged to play with the Kansas City Monarchs. His signature fastball was diminished, but he worked to improve on accuracy and trick pitches. The Monarchs were already among the best of the Negro league teams, and with Satchel Paige's help they went on to win four Negro American League pennants in a row, starting in 1939.
Paige gained national fame during these years for his talent, on-field antics, and off-field persona. He occasionally pulled off such stunts as sending some of the outfielders to the dugouts while he confidently struck out batters. He authored several autobiographical books and published a list of "Rules for Staying Young." Still dazzling fans with his pitching into his forties and fifties, Paige famously proclaimed that, "age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
In 1948, Paige finally entered the major leagues to play for the Cleveland Indians. To his annoyance, he was not the first black baseball player to get a shot in the white leagues. Jackie Robinson had become the first to cross this important boundary by playing for the minor league Montreal Royals in 1946 and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Nonetheless, Paige was among the first handful of black baseball players accepted into to the white major leagues and the oldest major league rookie ever. That year, Paige proved his credentials by helping the Indians win the pennant. He played for the Indians and then the St. Louis Browns until 1953, after which he played in the minor leagues as his career wound down.
In the latter years of his career, Satchel Paige made one more contribution to Kansas City's baseball history. On September 25, 1965, Charles O. Finley, the eccentric owner of the Kansas City Athletics major league team, hired Paige to pitch one game for the Athletics. Not content with his appearance to be remembered as a mere novelty, Paige struck out seven players from the Boston Red Sox. At the age of 59, he could still compete at the highest levels of the sport.
In 1966, Paige finally retired from baseball and made his home in Kansas City. In 1971 he became the first black player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. On June 8, 1982, Paige suffered a heart attack and passed away in his Kansas City home. His legacy was best summed up by baseball greats Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Dizzy Dean, and Bob Feller, who all proclaimed Satchel Paige to be the greatest pitcher ever.
Read a full biographical sketch of Satchel Paige (Circa 1906-1982), baseball player, by David Conrads; prepared for the Missouri Valley Special Collections, the Kansas City Public Library.
View images associated with Satchel Paige that are a part of the Missouri Valley Special Collections:
- Satchel Paige Memorial Stadium; at 51st Street and Swope Parkway.
Check out the following books, articles, and films about Satchel Paige held by the Kansas City Public Library:
- Pitchin' Man: Satchel Paige's Own Story, by Satchel Paige.
- Maybe I'll Pitch Forever: A Great Baseball Player Tells the Hilarious Story Behind the Legend, by Satchel Paige.
- Satchel Sez: The Wit, Wisdom, and World of Leroy "Satchel" Paige, by Satchel Paige.
- Satchel Paige and Company: Essays on the Kansas City Monarchs, Their Greatest Star and the Negro Leagues, edited by Leslie A. Heaphy.
- Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, by James Sturm.
- Satch & Me: A Baseball Card Adventure, by Dan Gutman; a fictional novel intended for younger readers.
- Satchel Paige: The Best Arm in Baseball, by Pat McKissack; intended for younger readers.
- "Don't Look Back: The Story of Leroy 'Satchel' Paige," VHS, directed by Richard A. Colla.
- "Only the Ball was White," VHS, narrated by Paul Winfield; a PBS documentary about the Negro Baseball Leagues.
- Use the Kansas City Public Library catalog to find many more books and documentaries about Satchel Paige.
Continue researching Satchel Paige using archival material held by the Missouri Valley Special Collections:
Lawrence O. Christensen, ed, Dictionary of Missouri Biography (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 591-593.
Satchel Paige, Pitchin' Man: Satchel Paige's Own Story (Westport, CT: Meckler, 1992), ix-xix, 6-9, 16-17.
David Conrads, "Biography of Satchel Paige (Circa 1906-1982), baseball player," the Missouri Valley Special Collections, the Kansas City Public Library, 2003.
About the Author
|Dr. Jason Roe is a digital history specialist and editor for the Library’s digitization and encyclopedia website project, Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. He earned a doctorate in American history from the University of Kansas in May 2012 and is the author of the Library’s popular “This Week in Kansas City History” column. For assistance with general local history questions, please contact the Missouri Valley Special Collections.|