Note: Here is another post that got away on me. But it is one of the great stories in baseball and perfect to warm up with on a very cold day.
On February 9, 1971 Satchel Paige became the first player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his accomplishments in the old Negro Leagues. It was a belated honor for both the legendary pitcher and Black baseball in the Jim Crow era.
Paige, who was both coy and vague about his exact age, undoubtedly had the longest career ever in professional baseball from 1926 with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts of the Negro Southern League to his last pro game on June 21, 1966, for the Peninsula Grays of the Carolina League. In between he was the oldest rookie in Major League Baseball history at the age of 42 in 1948 with the Cleveland Indians.
Ever the philosopher, Paige, asked to sum up the triumphs and the struggles of his long career, replied simply and memorably “Don’t look back, they may be gaining on you.”
It took Indians owner Bill Veek to personally go down to Mobile, Alabama and dig in the records of the County Health Department to obtain Paige’s birth certificate and determine that he was born on July 7, 1906. Paige had previously claimed birthdates ranging from 1900 to 1908 both because he was unsure himself and later to make himself seem a bit older to owners that might be shy about signing an over-age pitcher. His mother, years after the fact, added to the confusion by entering the wrong year in his family Bible.
Satchel was born Leroy Robert Page to John Page, a gardener, and his wife Lula, a maid Page in Mobile, Alabama. He said his is life-long nickname Satchel came from toting luggage around the train station as a boy, a “jog” he began around age 10. A child hoop chum recalled it differently—that it came when he was arrested for stealing a bag when he was 13.
There were other arrests for theft and chronic truancy and the boy, like many others like him, ended up committed to the Industrial School for Negro Children in Mount Meigs. He was there for nearly 5 years during which time he got a rudimentary education and performed manual labor. But he also joined the school baseball team where coach Edward Byrd taught Page to kick his front foot high and to swing his arm around so it looked like his hand was in the batter's face when he released the ball. Based on good behavior and Byrd’s hope for a baseball career for his protégée, Satchel was released six month early in 1923.
By this time following his father’s death, the family inserted the “i” in their name to make the name Paige sound, “more high toned.”
Paige kicked around with various semi-pro Negro teams in the Mobile area over the next two years, sometimes juggling schedules to play for two or more teams as the same time. In a game for the Down the Bay Boys, a team barely above the sand lot level, Paige found himself in a jam in the 9th inning of 1-0 game when his outfielders loaded the bases on three consecutive bases. Disgusted, he told the fielders to sit down in the outfield. He then proceeded to strike out the side and win the game. As a barnstormer with Negro teams later in the decade he would repeat the accomplishment in front of astounded and delighted audiences.
Such pitching prowess naturally led to real, if low level, professional ball. In 1926 Paige was signed to the Chattanooga White Sox by player/manager Alex Herman, an old acquaintance from the Mobile slums. It was quite generous for a Black minor league team—$250 a month with Satchel getting $50 in cash and the rest sent home to his mother. Lulu, who told Herman that her boy was a minor, even got a $200 signing bonus for herself for signing the contract to allow her son to play.
Paige was immediately recognized as something extraordinary on the mound. In the middle of his next season his contract was sold to the Birmingham Black Barons of the major Negro National League. Over the next two and a half season Paige would become the recognized strike out king of the Negro leagues racking up games with 17 Ks besting the Major League record of 16 held by Noodles Hahn and Rube Waddell and then only six days later fanning 18—the record Bob Feller set in 1938 for Cleveland. But Paige did not always have complete control of his blazing fastball. His wildness stuck fear in the hearts of opposing players. He once set off a riot requiring police intervention when he hit an opposing player in the hand. In the 1929 season Paige struck out 176 but finished with only a 10-9 record due to poor offensive support from his team.
The young pitcher was already a superstar. Barons owner R. T. Jackson took advantage of Paige’s popularity by sometimes renting his services to other teams for a day or so to boost their attendance for a flat fee of $100 split between Jackson and Satchel.
After the ’29 season at home, Paige went to Cuba to play for the Santa Clara Leopards in the Winter League. This time he pocketed the $100 a day himself. Despite the big money Paige chaffed under the teams strict no drinking and carousing policy—he both enjoyed a taste and considered himself a ladies man. He also could not adjust to the language barrier or the food. He got in dust ups on and off the field, mostly fueled by misunderstanding of language and local custom. Then he got in some sort of trouble over a girl. To hear him tell it later in his memoirs he just came to a young lady’s home to court her but her father interpreted it as a proposal and came to the stadium with armed and with her brothers to enforce a wedding. Almost no one believes this. The Leopards manager saw it differently—that Paige had charges brought against him for an incident involving “a young lady from the provincial mulatto bourgeoisie.” Either way, Paige fled Cuba.
Back in the states the struggling Jackson rented Paige out more and more frequently and for longer stretches. In 1930 he spent stretches with the Baltimore Black Sox of the Negro American League and Chicago American Giants in addition to Birmingham.
The Depression was cutting revenues for all teams in the Negro leagues and threatening their very existence. In ’31 the Birmingham team temporarily disbanded. Most other teams could not afford his services. But Negro baseball impresario Tom Wilson moved his Nashville Elite Giants to Cleveland as the Cleveland Cubs. It was Paige’s first experience working in the same city as a White Major League franchise. The Cubs rundown stadium was literally in the shadow of the Indians’ ballpark and he resented the disparity.
By June he skipped to the Crawford Colored Giants, an independent club owned by Pittsburgh gangster Gus Greenlee. The team survived by playing all comers and barnstorming. He took home a fat $250 a month. Later that year he jumped at the chance to play for Tom Wilson’s Philadelphia Giants (which had nothing do with the City of Brotherly Love), of the California Winter League. There he played against white all-star teams striking out the likes of Big Leaguer Babe Hermann. Paige would return to California for winter ball over the next eight years.
Starting in 1932 Greenlee began snatching up top talent from struggling Negro teams eventually assembling what was surely the greatest team of black athletes in baseball history and which some historians believe ranks the New York Yankees of the Murder’s Row. Joining Paige on the Crawfords were four other players who would eventually make it to the Hall of Fame including the legendary Josh Gibson. Mid-season the short lived Negro East-West League collapsed and Greenlee was able to sign even more stars including Cool Papa Bell to play in his brand new Greenlee Stadium, the only Black owned big league ball park in the country.
Paige was at the height of his career. He finished the ’32 season with a record of 10–4, allowing 3.19 runs per game and striking out 92 in 132 2/3 innings. He also pitched the first no-hitter in Negro ball history that June.
Paige was no longer bound a personal service contract and did not have an exclusive contract with the Crawfords. His experience in Black baseball had made “belonging” to a team an alien concept. He considered himself a hired gun and was paid by the game by Greenlee.
Greenlee organized a new Negro National League in the ’33 season and his Crawfords gave up their status as an independent. Now with a pennant at stake, Paige astounded the owner and infuriated fans in August when he accepted a better deal and a late model used car to jump to the Bismarcks, a North Dakota semi-pro team, for one month. For the first time Paige played on an integrated squad and helped the team win against local rivals.
Paige casually rejoined the Crawfords in September and led the team to a championship. Angry fans, however, refused to elect him to the NNL All Star squad.
In 1934 Paige had his best season with a 12-2 record in NNL games, allowing 2.16 runs per game, 144 strikeouts, and giving up only 26 walks. He threw a second no-hitter on Independence Day. Fans forgave him and he was elected to the East-West All-Star Game which he entered as a reliever down one run and left with a victory.
There were also other opportunities that season. Paige participated in the annual Denver Post tournament for independent and high level semi-pro teams. It was the first year Black teams had been included in the tournament. Satchel pitched for the Colored House of David, a complement to the famous barnstorming team of bearded White sect member from Michigan. The old war horse Grover Cleveland Alexander was the manager. Paige started three games in five days, the first two shutouts and the last a 2-1 victory over the mighty Kansas City Monarchs earning 44 strike outs in the three games. It was the first time he had pitched before a large contingent of the white press. They were dazzled by what they witnessed.
In September the Crawfords faced the Philadelphia Stars in a special four game charity match at New York’s Yankee Stadium. Paige faced 21 year old phenom who had gone 21-3 in league play. The game went into extra innings with both starters still on the mound until it was called on account of darkness with a 1-1 tie. The game has been called the greatest in Negro ball history.
Later that fall Paige faced off against the dominant pitcher of the National League that year, the legendary Dizzy Dean of the St. Louis Cardinals who had chalked up 30 wins that year and two more in the World Series. It was a barnstorming exhibition. Dean pitched for a team of semi-pro all stars. Paige won the contest 4-1.
The two met again later that year in California Winter Ball play and this time Dean fronted a talented team of pro from the Major and high minor leagues. This time Paige won in 13 innings with a 1-0 score. Bill Veek, Jr., then scouting for his father and the Chicago Cubs, witnessed the game and called it “the greatest pitcher’s duel I ever saw.” As he later became a team owner, he would remember Satchel Paige.
Dean and Paige settled into a friendly rivalry that continued with barnstorming matchups over the next ten years, a relationship all the more interesting because Dean was a Gold Ol’ Boy Mississippian. Later as a sports writer for the Chicago Tribune Dean wrote that Paige was “"the pitcher with the greatest stuff I ever saw.”
Despite Paige stellar year, in 1935 Greenlee refused his request for a raise. Paige just shrugged and went back to the Bismarcks for the same fat paycheck and another car. The team was adding more Negro league stars in similar situations. After going 29-2 in the teams short summer season, they were invited to a new tournament in Wichita, Kansas that paid the players an upfront $1,000 and had a winner’s purse of $7,000. The Bismarcks swept the tournament in 7 games with Paige starting 4 of them and coming in as relief in another. He racked up 60 strike outs—a professional baseball record that stands to this day.
Paige and the other players, however, were banned by the Negro National League from returning to their original teams for the balance of the regular season as punishment for jumping their contracts. Paige simply signed a day to day contract with the independent Kansas City Monarchs for the rest of the year.
After the regular California Winter League season a San Francisco promoter paid Paige to assemble a special Negro team to compete as the Satchel Paige All-Stars in a one day February exhibition against Bay Area white stars from the Major Leagues and the high minor. The team included young Joe DiMaggio in his last appearance before joining the Yankees. Paige fanned DiMaggio three times. At his last at bat, Joe lined one to Paige on the mound who deflected it letting DiMaggio reach base with a single. The Yankee scout at the game wired New York, “DiMaggio everything we'd hoped he'd be: Hit Satch one for four.” The slugger later said Paige was the best pitcher he ever hit against.
In 1936 Greenlee agreed to Paige’s demands and signed him for $600 a month, by far the highest salary in the NNL. Satchel responded with another stellar year. He then joined a NNL All-Star squad to compete in the Denver Post Tournament. Paige pitched in three of the seven games it took the team to sweep the tournament and claim the $5,000 prize. He then led the same team on a barnstorming tour paired with a team of White Big Leaguers led by Rogers Hornsby.
The following spring Paige was approached by agents of Dominican Republic Dictator Rafael Trujillo to recruit a team of Negro all-stars to play for his personal team, the Ciudad Trujillo Dragones and given $30,000 to attract top talent. Paige looted his Crawford team of its best players including Cool Papa Bell and also signed Josh Gibson who was then playing for the Homestead Grays. Once on the island they discovered that they were accompanied at all times by Trujillo’s armed men, supposedly for their protection. But Paige began to fear that he and his team mates could be harmed if the disappointed the dangerous strongman. Paige, however, managed to lead the league with an 8-2 record.
Everyone involved was glad to get back to the U.S., but all of the players were banned from the NNL for the jump. Paige kept them together as a barnstorming team first as the Trujillo All Stars to take advantage of the considerable attention they had received in the Negro press. Soon, however they were playing as the Paige All Stars.
In 1938 neither Greenlee nor any other team could meet Paige’s salary demands. So, despite his earlier unhappy experience, he returned to play in Mexican League. Mexican promoters were hoping Paige would lure more stars and elevate the League to Major League status. Enraged, Greenlee declared Paige was banned for life from the NNL.
Paige had played winter ball in Venezuela where he injured his shoulder. Reporting to Mexico, he tried to play through the pain, only aggravating the injury. A doctor told him he would never play again and Paige came back to the States after participating in only two games.
In 1939, his shoulder still bothering him, Paige could not get a job until J.L. Wilkinson of the Monarchs offered him a modest contract to front a barnstorming team once again named the Paige All Stars, but without the stars. Paige would pitch when he felt able and play first base otherwise. Taking it easy and with the expert help of a trainer, Paige’s shoulder began to recover. By mid-summer his fastball returned with the old pop. Still limiting his innings pitched, by late in the season his team was beating regular Negro League teams. Paige had developed a change up to supplement his fast ball and still impressed the likes of Buck Henry.
That winter he played in the Puerto Rican League and tore through it. He beat a good team fronted by Henry 23-0. That winter he sailed to a 19–3 record, a 1.93 ERA, and 208 strikeouts in 205 innings—records that still stand in Puerto Rico.
Such achievements naturally revived interest in Paige despite the ban. The Monarchs were now in the new Negro American League and could not promote Paige to their regular roster until the ban could be dealt with. Paige started the 1940 season with his traveling team. The NNL Newark team claimed they owned rights to Paige. It took a meeting between the two league presidents to work out a deal that let the Monarch promote him to their squad and let Newark keep several players they had poached from the NAL.
Paige debuted with the Monarchs in September, pitching 5 innings and striking out 8.
In the ’41 season Paige appeared with the Monarchs but was also frequently leased out to other teams between starts. He boosted attendance wherever he played. To facilitate this arrangement Wilkinson leased a DC-3 to ferry Paige to distant engagement. He and the pitcher shared the fat payments which could range from $250 a game for appearing with a small town squad to more than $2,000 or a third of the gate to play for top Negro League teams. The arrangement was making Paige rich. By the early 40’s with many top players in both Major League Baseball and the Negro leagues in service, Paige was making $40,000 a year, triple the average salary of a Yankee and even topping star slugger DiMaggio.
Despite the distractions, Paige helped lead the Monarchs to their third straight NAL championship with a 26-4 record.
In the preseason of 1942 Dizzy Dean organized a barnstorming team of recently drafted Major Leaguers to play their last games before entering the service. Paige beat Dean’s All Stars 3–1 at Wrigley Field—the first ever appearance there by a Negro team. Then on lease to the Homestead Grays he beat Dean’s team again 8-1 at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC.
After the Monarchs captured the NAL pennant they went on to face the Grays of the NNL for the first Negro World Series since 1927. Paige started game 1 and hurled 5 shutout innings before being lifted for a reliever. The team won 8-0. Two days later he entered the second game in the 7th inning. After a shaky start giving up four in the bottom of the 8th to make it 5–4 Paige settled down and fanned Josh Gibson to retain a one run edge. The Monarch’s picked up four more in the 9th to ice the game. Both Gibson and Paige would embellish this encounter in their memoirs to have him fanning the slugger in the bottom the last inning.
Paige started game three on two days rest but was pulled after a bad start. The Monarchs went on to win anyway. In game four the Grays padded their injury riddled roster with players from other teams. The Monarchs played under protest. Paige entered the game as a reliever but the Gray’s and their fresh bats won. The protest, however, was upheld the results nullified.
In the replay of game four Paige missed his scheduled stop when he was stopped for speeding in rural Pennsylvania. Arriving in the 4th inning he threw on his uniform and spikes and entered the game without warming up with the Gray’s ahead 5-4. He did not allow a hit or run and struck out six and the Monarchs went on to a 9-5 win sweeping the series. Paige had appeared in all four official games as well as the nullified one striking out 18 in his 16 innings.
During the war years Negro league records are not even complete. Paige was slipping, but still effective and made annual appearances in the East-West All Star games. In ’43 his Monarch’s suffered a setback as many top players entered the service, including Buck O’Neil. Paige started the war years classified as 1-A despite his lingering shoulder problems. He was reclassified with a 2-A deferment for “essential service,” despite the fact he was in fact over age. He had listed his birthdate at 1908, two years late, on his Selective Service forms putting him at the upper range of Draft liability. He finished the war years as a 4-F.
In ’44 Paige painted himself into an embarrassing quarter when he told the press that he would lead a player strike unless the proceeds of the All Star Game was donated to war relief. Owners retaliated by releasing evidence that he had accepted under-the-table appearance fees in ’43 and was demanding more that year. The revelation angered both the public and his fellow players. Paige was banned from the All Star game that year.
By 1946 the Monarch stars in the service returned to the field. The NAL had folded and the Monarchs were in the NNL. To retain a World Series, the season was divided in half with the winners of the first half facing the winners of the second. The Monarchs faced the Newark Eagles that fall. In game one Paige entered the game as a reliever in the 7th with his team trailing. Not only did he hold the line over the final four innings he struck out eight and allowed no runs. He even contributed offensively, hitting a single. He was credited with a win. The rest of the series did not go as well, working as a reliever Paige played in games 2 and 4, giving up several hits in each and was charged with the losses. Paige, who was scheduled to be used in relief once again, never showed up for game 7, which Newark won, claiming the championship. Paige did not explain his absence by team owners believed he was meeting with Bob Feller to plan a post season barnstorming tour.
That would be the swan song of Paige with the Monarchs. He did go on that now legendary barnstorming tour with Feller, who lined up a hectic 35 games in 31 cities in in 27 days including split city double headers. Feller and Paige each recruited top talent and each toured on DC-3s emblazoned with their names. Feller played a few games against other opponents, but Paige’s team faced only Fellers. Before the tour was finished Paige threatened to sue Feller, widely regarded as one of baseball’s straightest arrows for allegedly not paying him his full due. That was patched up and tour continued. In the end Feller pitched 54 innings against Paige's team and given up 15 runs, an average of 2.50 per nine innings and Paige had pitched 42 innings and allowed 18 runs, or 3.86 per nine innings. Paige, facing some of the best hitters in baseball, was still an effective pitcher, but clearly not as dominating as he once was.
In 1947 Feller took his All Stars back on the road, but Paige was not invited, supposedly because Feller had booked heavily in the South. Unable to hook up with any regular team, Paige peddled his own services on a day by day, game by game basis. People still paid good money to see a living legend.
Meanwhile Paige suffered the bitter disappointment of watching his younger former Monarch teammate Jackie Robinson become the first Black player to be signed to a Major League contract. Paige believed, rightfully, that it was his dominating performances in the late ‘30’s and early ‘40’s that first started Major League baseball seriously considering breaking the color line. He believed he had earned the honor. But Branch Rickey and other owners knew that Paige was manifestly unsuited to be the first. His pride would never have allowed him to start with a minor league contract, as Robinson did, working his way to the Big League club. And his prickly, aggressive personality would never have allowed him to withstand the vicious abuse Robinson endured without lashing back.
It was painful to watch other players follow Robinson. But he was not forgotten Bill Veek, who had signed Larry Dolby the first Black player in the American League and who was owner of the Cleveland Indians remembered the dazzling display he had seen in Los Angeles a decade earlier. His pitching ace, Bob Feller, confirmed that Paige was still a quality pitcher and just the thing to fill a late season need in the bullpen. On his 42nd birthday he signed a $40,000 contract to pitch for player manager Lou Boudreau. Two days later on July 9, 1948 Paige became the old Major League Rookie to debut. Boudreau pulled starter Bob Lemon in the 4th inning with the Indians trailing 4-1 to the St. Louis Browns. Paige had not even had time to learn the Indians signs. Pitching cautiously to avoid crossing up his catcher, Paige allow two men to reach base before tossing caution to the wind and unleashing the still considerable heat of his famous fast ball. He also used his hesitation pitch, a change-up most major leaguers had never seen. He settled down and held the Browns for two and a half innings before being lifted for pitch hitter Dolby. Six days later he notched his first Major League victory against the Philadelphia Athletics just one day after he had thrown an exhibition game in Cleveland against the Brooklyn Dodgers. He got his first start and second win against the Washington Senators at home on August 3. More than 72,500 fans jammed the ballpark, a record for a Major League night game. His next start, at Comiskey Park against the Chicago White Sox resulted in largely Black fans jumping the turnstiles joining 52,000 paying customers. They saw Paige go the 9 inning distance, shutting out the Sox 5-0 and silencing critics who said he could never pitch a complete game again.
Despite the American League ruling his hesitation pitch would be considered a balk, Paige continued to pitch effectively as the Indians were in a heated pennant race with the White Sox. They had an impressive pitching roster led by Lemon and Feller, who after a shaky first half came on strong with a nine game winning streak. With a boost from Paige, the Indians clinched the pennant. He the season with a 6–1 record, 2.48 ERA, 2 shutouts, 43 strikeouts, 22 walks and 61 base hits allowed in 72 2⁄3 innings. It was good enough to earn Paige serious consideration for Rookie of the Year. In the World Series against the Boston Braves he made only one brief appearance in relief. But when he team took the Series in six games, Satchel won his World Series ring.
Unfortunately the ’49 season did not go as well. Paige fell to a record of 4–7, 1–3 in starts, with a still decent 3.04 ERA. It was his first losing season in baseball. To make matters worse, Bill Veek, his biggest champion had to sell the team in the off season to pay for his messy divorce. The new owners released Paige unconditionally. He could not catch on with another Big League team for the 1950 season.
He returned to barnstorming then signed with the Philadelphia Stars in the Eastern Division of the NAL.
Veek came to the rescue again when he returned to baseball as owner of the St. Louis Browns. Paige was the first player he signed. His first game back in the Bigs was on July 18, 1951. He finished a lackluster season with the bottom dwelling Browns with a 3–4 record and a 4.79 ERA.
Despite Veek/s assurances of his continued support, Paige was nervous when the tough, blunt Rogers Hornsby, reputedly a form Ku Klux Klansman, became manager the next year. But Hornsby had batted against Paige in their barnstorming days and had faith in him. Hornsby used Paige regularly and to good effect. But he could not help an otherwise awful team and was fired by Veek less than halfway through the season. New manager Marty Marion liked what he saw and continue to use him regularly in relief. By All-Star break he had appeared in 25 games and Yankee Manager Casey Stengel named him to the American League squad, the first Black pitcher ever selected. He game was called on account of rain before Paige could take the field. Still it was an impressive year with a wretched team—finishing 12–10 with a 3.07 ERA.
Unfortunately the next season was rocky. Stengel did still name him to the All Star game and this time he got in but had a shaky inning charged with three runs. The whole season was like that. Although he had a respectable 3.53 ERA, the Browns were still awful and he had only a 3-9 record. In the off season Veek was once again forced to sell the team and Paige was release.
Despite some high earning years, Paige had never saved a dime. Now he had to go back to barnstorming. He even tried to set up a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters with Abe Saperstein and even toured for a while with the basketball team performing a baseball skit with Goose Tatum. Paige returned to the Monarchs, then on its last legs, for a humiliating $300 a month and a portion of the dwindling gate. In 1955 he signed a contract with the Greensboro Patriots of the Carolina League. It was Paige’s first time playing in the Deep South where racial tensions were running high and resistance to integrated baseball was still strong. When he was scheduled to start against a Phillies farm team, protests were lodged in an attempt to block his appearance. Only Hurricane Diane, which forced the cancelation of the scheduled game, prevented what could have been a very ugly incident.
When Veek bought a controlling interest in another Phillies farm team, the Miami Marlins of the International League, he once again signed Paige, this time over the strenuous objection of manager Don Osborn. Osborn said he would only use Paige in exhibition games. Veek had Paige pitch against Osborn’s line up and he fanned all of them. Now a believer, Osborn taught Paige how to throw a curve ball for the first time in his career, re-invigorating his career. He finished the season 11–4 with an ERA of 1.86 with 79 strikeouts and only 28 walks. It was impressive enough so that when Veek once again sold the team, Paige was kept on for two more seasons. In ’57 he went 10–8 with 76 strikeouts, 11 walks and 2.42 ERA.
In ’58 Osborn was replaced by Kerby Farrell with whom he clashed repeatedly for his casual disregard for curfews and chronic lateness. He was fined and sat down several times. He finished the season 10-10 and announced he would not return.
With the Negro leagues now just a thing of the past, Paige kicked around the edges of baseball for the next several years, returning to barnstorming, hurling for the Havana Cuban Stars in 1959, and spending a stint with the Triple-A Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League in 1961 at the age of 56. He appeared in middle relief in 25 games, struck out 18 and giving up only 8 earned runs.
In 1962 Paige worked with ghost writer David Lipman on the first of two autobiographies, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever.
In 1965 Charlie Finley, maverick owner of the Kansas City Athletics in Paige’s long time adopted home town, signed him for a single appearance at a game where Negro League old timers were honored. Paige was brought in to start to the surprise of the crowd who had watched him being attended by a “nurse” in the bullpen. After a shaky first inning against the Boston Red Sox but allowing no runs, he settled down to send the next six players back to the bench, one of them a strike out. As planned he was replaced in the fourth inning. The wildly cheering crowd serenaded him singing The Old Gray Mare.
It was Paige’s last appearance in the majors, although it did not end his association. In 1968 Atlanta Braves owner William Bartholomay signed him as a pitching and catching coach, although the title was mostly ceremonial. The job, with no real duties, was enough for Paige to finally earn enough Major League service to qualify for a pension.
The year before he appeared in his last game in organized baseball for the Peninsula Grays of Hampton, Virginia in the Carolina League against the same Greensboro Patriots who had been forced to cut him before his first game for them more than a decade earlier.
In 1969 Ted Williams gave his induction speech at the Hall of Fame bluntly demanding the inclusion of Negro league players, which had been resisted by the Hall of Fame foundation and by many owners. Bowie Kuhn, the new Commissioner of Baseball announced a committee to study the issue and make recommendation. Everyone agreed that Paige had to be the first inducted. But Kuhn’s first plan, announced in February of 1971, for a separate Negro wing of the Hall of Fame was met with an uproar for smacking of segregation. Forced to back down, when the specially appointed Negro Committee came forth with their nomination of Paige the next year, Kuhn to pains to announce that he would be enshrined, as would all subsequent Negro honorees, in the Hall on an equal basis.
At his induction ceremony that summer some in Baseball thought that Paige was not grateful enough to them for the honor and was bitter. Paige in his speech had merely outlined the long and sad past of segregated baseball. After the induction despite some backlash, Paige enjoyed renewed attention and was invited to appear on numerous television shows. He became a fixture on the lucrative sports banquet and Major League Old Timers circuits.
In 1981 Lou Gossett Jr. played Paige in the television bio pic Don’t Look Back. He was paid $10,000 as a consultant on the film. A few weeks after the May broadcast, an obviously ill Paige made an appearance at a Negro leagues reunion Ashland, Kentucky where he was the special honoree. It was his last major public appearance.
On June 8, 1982 Paige died in his Kansas City home of a heart attack during a power outage. He was not quite 76 years old.