Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige was, to be sure, past his prime when the Cleveland Indians signed him in 1948. An icon of the Negro Leagues, Paige reportedly signed on his 42nd birthday, making his major league début two days later. Pitching against the St. Louis Browns, Paige entered the game in the fifth inning—he hurled two innings, allowed two hits, and frustrated the Browns. Left fielder Whitey Platt, a .271 hitter in 1948 with 123 hits in 123 games, “had been so fooled that he threw his bat far down the third base line,” wrote A.S. “Doc” Young, Sports Editor for the Cleveland Call and Post.
Aggravation manifested after the game for the Browns, despite the victory. Young described, “Over in the Browns’ dressing room, Manager Zack Taylor was still muttering about the ‘hesitation’ pitch, the one where Paige practically completes a follow through before releasing the ball. That pitch, Paige said, was legal 20 years ago!”
Although the Indians lost the game 5-3, Paige’s performance overshadowed the defeat. It was a formidable start for the next chapter of a storied career; the Indians beat the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series.
In Paige’s Society for American Baseball Research biography, Larry Tye—author of the 2009 book Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend—wrote, “His 6-1 record was neither a joke nor an afterthought; it was the highest winning percentage on an outstanding Indians staff and a crucial factor in the team capturing the pennant, which it did by a single game over the Red Sox. Each game he won had fans and writers marveling over what he must have been like in his prime and which other lions of blackball had been lost to the Jim Crow system of segregation.”
Two tv-movies depict Paige. HBO’s Soul of the Game, a 1996 offering starring Delroy Lindo, revolves around the decision to select the first black player for the major leagues; Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige are the primary contenders. In the New York Times, Caryn James praised, “But unlike most baseball movies, this one resists melodrama and saccharine inspiration most of the time. Mr. Lindo, who has had powerful smaller roles in films like ‘Malcolm X’ and ‘Clockers,’ proves himself to be one of the best leading actors around. In scenes between Paige and his wife (Salli Richardson), he is at once a realist about the pervasive racism of society and a relentless optimist about his own potential. Though more saintly than his biographers would have it, this Paige deserves to be the deeply humane hero Mr. Lindo makes him.”
In 1981, ABC aired Don’t Look Back: The Story of Leroy “Satchel” Paige. Starring Lou Gossett, Jr., Don’t Look Back benefited from Paige’s insight. Ken Watts of Associated Press explained, “As technical adviser, the flamboyant Paige gave Gossett valuable insight into his character. In some parts of the film, shots of Gossett are intercut with actual footage of Paige on the mound. The resemblance is so strong, it is difficult to separate the two.”
Paige reflected on his career while watching Gossett retreat it. “Me and the rest of ’em (Negro League players), we had to stay around for so long before we was recognized as anything, if you want me to tell you the truth,” stated Paige. “Bitter? Naw. We never had much of anything, but we did have lots of fun. If I had to do it all again, I’d do it exactly the same way.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 9, 2016.
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