Leroy Robert Paige is the oldest rookie ever to play major league baseball.
Born is Mobile, Alabama on this date in 1906, “Satchel” was arrested for shoplifting a few weeks shy of his thirteenth birthday. It was not his first incident of theft or truancy so we was sent to the Industrial School for Negro Children in Mount Meigs, Alabama until the age of 18. He learned to pitch there and after his release in December of 1923 began playing semi pro baseball back in Mobile. African-American players were barred from the major leagues at that time, so Paige began his professional career in 1926 in the Negro Southern League. He debuted with the Chattanooga Black Barons and quickly found success with a blistering fastball and entertaining style that drew audiences everywhere he played.
Paige played for teams all over the country, moving from Tennessee to North Dakota to California and even outside its borders, in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico. He was in constant pursuit of the biggest contract available and, in between, would find barnstorming tours, which consisted of exhibition games against other professionals and area talent for extra money. In one of these games, he fronted a team that faced New York Yankees great Joe DiMaggio, who called him “the best and fastest pitcher I ever faced.” He also opposed St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean in a series of games, winning four of them. Dean later noted, “If Satch and I were pitching on the same team, we’d clinch the pennant by the fourth of July and go fishing until World Series time.” The 6″3″ right hander had a high leg kick, whippy delivery and deceived hitters by hiding the baseball until the last instant. He was a showman that loved to amuse the crowd and became the Negro League’s biggest draw. He led the Kansas City Monarchs to that circuits’ World Series in 1942 and 1946.
Mr. Paige’s travel and team-jumping made compiling official statistics from most of his career impossible, but by his own accounts he pitched in over 2,500 games and won 2,000 of them. By contrast, Cy Young is Major League Baseball’s all time winningest pitcher with 511 career victories. Paige also claims to have played for 250 teams and threw 250 shutouts. He is said to have won 104 of the 105 games he pitched in 1934. He played with some of the greatest players of all time in the Negro Leagues, including Josh Gibson and “Cool Papa” Bell and their success in barnstorming games against big league stars such as Babe Ruth, Bob Feller and Rogers Hornsby helped to validate the talent black players had.
Jackie Robison integrated Major League Baseball in April of 1947 when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The following season Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck signed Satchel Paige as the oldest man ever to debut in the major leagues. Cleveland was in the midst of a pennant race and the 42 year old Paige went 6-1 with 3 complete games and an ERA of 2.47. The Indians won the World Series and Leroy Paige became the first African-American ever to pitch in the fall classic. Paige played for the Indians in 1948 and 1949 and before signing with St. Louis, where he played three more seasons with the Browns. He left the game at age 46 and returned at age 58 for one game with the Kansas City A’s against the Boston Red Sox in September of 1965. He pitched three innings and gave up one hit. He was a five time All-Star in the Negro League and twice made the MLB All-Star team. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, the first Negro leagues player to receive that honor.
Satchel Paige made his major league debut on this date in 1948. It was his 42nd birthday.