|Six Rules for a Happy Life|
|1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very lightly on vices such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.
Leroy “Satchel” Paige was almost universally regarded as the greatest pitcher of the Negro Leagues. Some of his pitching records are awesome indeed. They include pitching 64 consecutive scoreless innings, 21 straight wins, and a 31-4 record in 1933. Along with his teammate Josh Gibson, Paige helped lead the Kansas City Monarchs to five Negro American League pennants.
Although Statistical Records are sketchy and chaotic in the Negro Leagues, it has been estimated that Satchel pitched in about 2500 games in his extended career, winning about 2,000 games. That would be approximately four times the amount won by Cy Young. Paige barnstormed up to 30,000 miles per year; one year, he reportedly pitched 29 straight days. And many of these games were played against Major League competition. One of greatest pitching battles of all time was an exhibition game in the early 1930’s. Paige pitched against the Cardinals, where he out-dueled Dizzy Dean to win 1-0 in 13 innings.
“He’s a better pitcher than I ever hope to be.” – Dizzy Dean
Satchel was known for both his speed and impeccable control. Joe DiMaggio once said that Satch was the fastest pitcher he had ever seen. There are likely more anecdotes and quotes of incredible feats on the mound concerning Satchel than any other pitcher in the history of the game. As Buck O’Neil once said, “…some of them are legendary and some of them are even true.”
Paige and Gibson had a long-standing bet concerning who would prevail if they ever had the chance to meet manu-e-manu in a crucial situation. Finally, after many years, they met in the Black World Series. The series was tied, and in the final game, Satchel’s team was ahead by one run in the bottom of the 9th. The first batter got on first with a Texas leaguer. Satchel struck out the next two batters. He then summoned his catcher, and then his manager, for a consult. He told them that he was going to walk the next two batters, and then pitch to Josh. Despite their protests, they realized that Satch was going to do what he was going to do. He then walked the next two batters. Josh came up to the plate, like Casey at the bat. Satch proceeded to tell him both the type and location of each pitch. And just like Mighty Casey, Gibson went down on three pitches.
One of his shticks on his barnstorming tours — perhaps one of the most well known — was to set up a 1′ x 2′ plank in back of home plate, and stick four ten-penny nails in it. He would then drive the nails into the board while pitching from the mound. Reportedly, he never needed more then 10 pitches to do the trick. It should be noted that Satch had an arsenal of 14 distinct pitches, all of them with names – his fastball was Midnight Rider; his changeup, Midnight Crawler. His reaaaaaally slow changeup was 4-Day Crawler. Some of his other pitches were the Bee Ball, Trouble Ball, Hesitation Pitch, and his brush-back pitch, appropriately called “The Barber”. He actually didn’t develop a decent curve until the age of 54, in the major leagues.
“I use my single windup, my double windup, my triple windup, my hesitation windup, my no windup. I also use my step-n-pitch-it, my submariner, my sidearmer, and my bat dodger. Man’s got to do what he’s got to do.” – Satchel Paige
Around 1937, a man came to Paige with two items; a suitcase filled with $30,000, and a gun. The man told Paige that he was to choose 8 of the best players he knew to play ball for Rafael Trujillo, then the rather sadistic dictator of the Dominican Republic. Satch rounded up a Negro All-Star team, including Josh Gibson, and proceeded to fly to his appointed destination. The team participated in a baseball tournament in Central America, and made it to the finals. The night before the game, several of Trujillo’s henchmen escorted Satch and his teammates to the comisaria for the evening. The manager’s pep talk was terse and to the point: “Será mejor que ganar”, i.e., “You better win.”
“What do you mean by that?” Satch asked.
The manager shook his head. “Será mejor que ganar”.
When Satch and his teammates arrived at the field, the first thing that they noticed was that armed militia lined the entire stadium. Late in the game, Paige’s team trailed by a run, but a two-run bomb put them ahead. Paige stuck out five of the last six batters; he later stated that he never threw the ball harder in his entire life. As soon as the game was over, he and his teammates got the heck out of their pronto.
In 1938, Satch’s career almost came to an abrupt end. Satch was signed by the Kansas City Monarchs in order to pitch for a barnstorming team that was initially named “The Baby Monarchs.”, but was soon changed to “The Satchel Paige Traveling All-Stars. The squad was composed of has beens and never-were’s; Paige would strike out 20 per game, as the opposing batters were paid handsomely to strike out. Satch called it the worst time in his life. As related by Larry Tye in “The Life and Times of an American Legend,” the definitive book on Paige, Satch apparently blew out his arm in Mexico. He couldn’t lift his arm above his shoulder. In the enigmatic words of a reporter from the Kansas City Call, his arm was “as dead as a new bride’s biscuits.” A number of physicians told Paige that he would never pitch again. Well, Satchel had a trainer called Jewbaby Floyd, who used to brew up secret potions to heal what ailed the Monarch ballplayers. He treated Paige with boiling water, ice, and a foul concoction that he named “Yellow Juice.” For over a month, Jewbaby did his magic; one day, Satch got up, told his manager to “Turn ‘em loose”, and he threw his heater faster than ever. Paige would pitch for another quarter of a century.
Satchel’s age remains one of the great mysteries of the 19th – 20th centuries, despite a great deal of research by Bill Veeck Jr., amongst others. When questioned, Satch would state that “age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” Paige didn’t make his debut in the Major Leagues until he was, according to Veeck, at least 48 years old, although other sources have him younger, and some older. The year was 1948. According to Bill Veeck Jr., he had to plead with Lou Boudreau, then the player/manager of the Cleveland Indians, to allow Paige an opportunity to try out. Finally, Boudreau relented, telling Veeck that he would personally hit against Paige. Satchel threw 20 pitches, 19 strikes, and Boudreau, who up to that point had been hitting .400, went 0 for 19 pitches. He was signed up. Several years later, somewhere in the vicinity of 50, when playing for the St. Louis Browns, he was 12-10, with an ERA of 3.07, and the only member of the team chosen for the All-Star Game.
“If the Yankees don’t get ahead in the first six innings, the Browns bring in that damned old man, and we’re sunk.” – Casey Stengel
Quite a few years later, Charlie Finley, the owner of the Kansas City Athletics, (later the Oakland A’s), did a good deed by bringing up Satch for a few months ( he was in his late fifties) so he could accrue the requisite time to collect his pension. Finley put a rocking chair in the bullpen for Satch to sit and enjoy the games. Satchel took the time to regale his fellow bullpen mates with legendary tales of yore from the Negro Leagues, or at times, on particularly warm days, to take a much needed nap. At the age of 59, give or take a few years, Paige would pitch his last game in the Major Leagues. Before the game, Paige was back in his rocking chair, being served coffee by his “nurse.” Satch pitched three shutout innings against the Boston Red Sox; the only hit being a double by Carl Yastrzemski. The last six batters went out in order. Paige came out to the mound in the 4th inning in order to receive a standing ovation. The fans lit their matches and cigarette lighters while singing “The Old Grey Mare.”
“..But let me tell you about a part of Satchel that no one ever hears about. On the road once, we were going to Charleston, South Carolina, and when we got to Charleston the rooms weren’t ready. So Satchel said to me, “Nancy, come with me.” I said, “Okay.” I had an idea where we were going. We went over to Drum Island. Drum Island is where they auctioned off the slaves. And they had a plaque saying what had happened there. And we stood there, he and I, maybe ten minutes, not saying a word, just thinking. And after about ten minutes he said, “You know what, Nancy?” I said, “What, Satchel?” He said, “Seems like I’ve been here before.” I said, “Me, too.” I know that my great grandfather could have been there. My great grandmother could have been auctioned off on that block. So this was Satchel — a little deeper than a lot of people thought.” – Buck O’Neil *
“Well, he called me Nancy because of something that happened once. We were up on an Indian reservation in North Dakota and Satchel met an Indian maiden there her name was Nancy. So Satchel invited Nancy to come to Chicago to see him. He didn’t know that Lahoma, who was going to be his wife, was coming to Chicago. So Nancy got there and she was up in Satchel’s room, naturally. And we were down in the restaurant and here comes Lahoma up in a cab. So I go up to Satchel’s room, and I say, “Lahoma’s downstairs.” He says, “Okay. Do something with Nancy.” I was in a room right next Satchel, so I got a room right next to me for Nancy. So, after Satchel got Lahoma bedded down that night, he wanted to say something to Nancy. So he got up and was knocking on the door of Nancy’s room. He was knocking and saying, “Nancy, Nancy, Nancy.” Now, Lahoma woke up and came to her door. And I heard Lahoma, so I rushed out of the door and said, “Here I am, Satchel.” And he said, “Oh, Nancy, there you are. I’ve been looking for you.” So ever since then I’ve been Nancy.” **
How good was Paige? In his most recent version of the Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James ranks Paige as the 2nd greatest pitcher of all time, right after Walter Johnson. But the truth is that we will never really know how good Satch was; most of America never had a chance to watch Satch in action until he was close to 50. It will always remain a grievous shame of Major Leagues’ policy concerning racial segregation that we didn’t get a chance to see this enormous talent during his prime.
“Work like you don’t need the money.
Love like you’ve never been hurt.
Dance like nobody’s watching.”
*The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America – Joe Posnaski