CHARLOTTE, NC: Ageless pitcher Satchel Paige took the mound in Kansas City against the Boston Red Sox on September 25, 1965. In the process, Paige enshrined himself in history. At the age of 59, Paige became the oldest player to ever compete in a major league baseball game.
To be sure, it was a publicity stunt on the part of Charlie O. Finley, the colorful flamboyant owner of the then Kansas City Athletics. To this day, nobody knows for sure exactly how old Satchel Paige was, but even if the estimate of 59 is wrong, it’s still “in the ballpark” so to speak.
Paige, who like Yogi Berra, Casey Stengal and Dizzy Dean, was one of the game’s most quotable characters, once said about his age,
“I don’t know how old I am because a goat ate the Bible that had my birth certificate in it. The goat lived to be twenty-seven.”
Most estimates cite July 7, 1906, as the day Leroy Page came into the world in Mobile, Alabama. His family changed the spelling of his name to “Paige” in an effort to separate Leroy from his frequently abusive father, John Page.
The nickname “Satchel” was the result of being a baggage handler at the railway station in Mobile. Until he was caught for truancy from school. At the same time, the 12-year boy was embroiled in a shoplifting charge that ultimately caused him to be sent to the Industrial School for Negro Children in Mount Meigs, Alabama.
It may have been the luckiest break in Satchel Paige’s life. It was certainly a turning point because there he learned to pitch, and, upon leaving school, he turned pro.
For the next two decades, from 1927 to 1948, and as the highest-paid pitcher of the day, Paige played for any team in the country that could afford his salary.
Becoming a baseball star
Satchel possessed a dominating fastball for his era, combined with a cornucopia of off-speed and trick pitches that kept opposing hitters in a constant state of second guesswork as to what he would throw next.
Added to the mix was Paige’s gift for showmanship, which not only delighted crowds but intensified the frustrations of his opposition. At times, just to throw in a bit of pseudo-melodramatic flair, Paige would signal to his outfield to come in and take it easy on the dugout bench while he struck out the side.
From 1939 to 1942, Paige pitched for the legendary Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League.
During that stretch, Paige led his team to four Negro American League pennants before sweeping another Negro League powerhouse, the Homestead Grays, to win the 1942 Negro League World Series.
In those days, pitch counts were non-existent, thus adding to the aura of Satchel Paige’s legend as he was the winning pitcher in three of the four games despite the presence of famed slugger Josh Gibson in the Grays lineup.
Not long after Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier in major league professional sports by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Bill Veeck of the Cleveland Indians signed Satchel Paige to a contract on his alleged 42nd birthday in 1948. Much like Charlie Finley, Veeck (pronounced like “wreck”) was a maverick owner and promoter.
Two days after joining the Indians, Paige came into a game in the fifth inning of a game against the St. Louis Browns while on the short end of a 4-1 score. In two innings of work, Paige yielded two singles while striking out one and inducing a double play in a 5-3 Indians loss.
For the season, Paige went 6-1 with an ERA of 2.48 for the World Champion Indians. In fact, 1948 was the last time the Indians won the World Series, resulting in the longest current championship drought in major league baseball at 70 years.
In 1952 and 1953, when he was 46 and 47 years old respectively, Satchel Paige was voted to the American League All-Star team.
A dozen years later, at 59 years, 2 months and 18 days, Paige became the oldest pitcher in major league baseball history. Prior to the game, he nursed his aged pitching arm with liniment while sitting in a rocking chair before giving up no runs and only one hit, a double to Carl Yastremski in three innings.
Always the clubhouse quip-meister, Satchel Paige was a true baseball philosopher;
“Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”
“No man can avoid being born average, but no man has to stay average.”
“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.”
“With women, you don’t have to talk your head off. You just say a word and let them fill in from there.”
“Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move.”
“What’s scary in life is not what people know (or don’t know), but what they know that ain’t so.”
“If you tell a lie, always rehearse it. If it don’t sound good to you, it won’t sound good to anybody.”
“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a hundred times, I’m forty-four years old.”
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”
And finally, the quote for which Satchel Paige is best remembered:
“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
Satchel Paige was inducted into the Baseball of Fame in 1971.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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