Sunday, February 11, 2018

Breaking Down the Doors to the Hall of Fame—Satchel Page—Part II

The Big League Years.

Note:  Yesterday we followed Satchel Paige’s wild ride from childhood to the cusp of World War II.  Now the rest of the story.
Such achievements [his 19–3 record, a 1.93 ERA, and 208 strikeouts in 205 innings in the Puerto Rican League in 1940] naturally revived interest in Paige despite ban in the Negro Leagues for jumping to the Mexican League in 1938.  The Kansas City 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 barnstorming team.  The Negro National League (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 Monarchs 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 J.L. Wilkinson, Monarchs owner, 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.  
Paige as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs, the premier team of the Negro Leagues.
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 start 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 corner 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 but 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.

Maverick owner Bill Veek, who had recently lost his leg in an auto accident, was Paige's biggest fan and booster.  He not only signed him to the Cleveland Indians in 1948, he also hired him when he aquired the lowly St. Louis Browns later.
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 oldest 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 former 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 Hornsby 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 released.

Paige and basketball clown legend Goose Tatum in the short-lived baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters fielded by promoter Abe Saperstein. 
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 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.
The first of two autobiographies, an "as told to" book penned by sportswriter Dave Lipman and the source of many of the pithy quotes atributed to the veteran hurler.
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.

Another maverick owner, Charley Finley, signed Paige for a last appearence in a Major League uniform with the Kansas City Royals.  With typical showmanship, he had Paige appear with a nurse before calling him into the game as a reliever.
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 took 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 in 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.

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