Satchel Paige

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Satchel Paige : biography

July 7, 1906 – June 8, 1982

Dominican Republic: 1937

In the spring of 1937 the Crawfords were training in New Orleans, and Paige was approached by Dr. José Enrique Aybar, dean of the University of Santo Domingo, deputy of the Dominican Republic’s national congress and director of Los Dragones, a baseball team operated by Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic. Aybar hired Paige to act as an agent for Trujillo in recruiting other Negro league players to play for Los Dragones. Aybar gave Paige $30,000 to hire as many players as he could. Paige recruited five of his Crawfords teammates—Cool Papa Bell, Leroy Matlock, Sam Bankhead, Harry Williams and Herman Andrews—as well as Josh Gibson, who had recently been traded to the Homestead Grays. Other Dominican teams were also recruiting Negro league players. Greenlee and his fellow owners banned Paige and the other jumpers from the organized Negro leagues, but failed to dissuade the players.Ribowsky 1994, pp. 146–51; Tye 2009, pp. 108–11.

In the Dominican Republic, the American players were shadowed by armed guards. Although the purpose of the guards was to protect the players, the players were fearful that Trujillo would unleash them in anger if his team lost the championship. The season ended with an eight game series between the two top teams, Paige’s Dragones of "Ciudad Trujillo" (as Trujillo had renamed the capital city of Santo Domingo) and the Águilas Cibaeñas of Santiago. The Dragones won the first four, with Paige contributing two of them. The Águilas came back to win the next two and still had a chance to win the championship if they won the final two games.Tye 2009, pp. 110–14. In Paige’s memoirs, he recalled finishing the game with two shutout innings to hold onto a 6–5 win while soldiers looked on "like a firing squad."Paige and Lipman 1993, p. 120. In reality, however, Paige did not enter the game until there was one out in the ninth inning, with his team leading 8–3. He proceeded to give up three runs on three hits before he got the third out on a great throw by Bankhead.Tye 2009, p. 115. Paige had an excellent season overall, however, leading the league with an 8–2 record.Holway 2001, p. 337.

Paige and the other players returning from the Dominican Republic faced a Negro league ban for jumping their teams. In response, they formed a barnstorming team called "Trujillo’s All-Stars," which was later known as the "Satchel Paige All-Stars." Wilkinson evaded the ban by having promoter Ray Dean schedule games between the All-Stars and the House of David. In August, the All-Stars won the Denver Post tournament. In late September, Paige faced a team of Negro league all-stars at the Polo Grounds. Despite striking out eight and allowing only two runs, he lost when the opposing pitcher, Johnny "Schoolboy" Taylor, tossed a no-hitter. A week later a rematch was held at Yankee Stadium, and this time Paige beat Taylor handily.Ribowsky 1994, pp. 158–162; Tye 2009, pp. 116–117.

Mexico: 1938

In 1938, Greenlee, who still held Paige’s NNL contract, again made an unsuccessful attempt to sign Paige. Greenlee then sold his contract to the Newark Eagles for $5,000, but they could not sign him either. Paige instead went to play in the Mexican League.Hogan 2006, p. 308; Tye 2009, pp. 117–120.

Jorge Pasquel, a Mexican baseball executive and businessman, and his four brothers wanted the Mexican League to compete with the major leagues. Their plan to do that was to hire the best Negro league players who were ignored by the big leagues, then raid big league teams and field integrated clubs in the name of international baseball. With this goal, they hired Paige for $2,000 per month to play for the moribund Club Agrario of Mexico City, to create a rivalry for Club Azules of Veracruz, a powerhouse bunch led by Martín Dihigo. Back in the states, Greenlee, out $5,000, declared Paige "banned forever from baseball."Ribowsky 1994, pp. 162–168; Tye 2009, pp. 119–120.

Pitching in Venezuela, Paige felt pain in his right shoulder. After he arrived in Mexico, the pain developed into the first major injury of his career. He tried to pitch through the pain, and managed to beat Dihigo in their first match-up in early September, allowing one run in eight innings. Two weeks later they faced off again, and this time Paige could barely lift his arm. He managed to go six-plus innings in a game that Paige’s team ultimately lost 10 to 3. One sportswriter wrote that Paige looked like a "squeezed lemon."Ribowsky 1994, pp. 168–170; Tye 2009, p. 120.