Satchel Paige

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Satchel Paige : biography

July 7, 1906 – June 8, 1982

A team that featured shortstop Perucho Cepeda and outfielder Tetelo Vargas, the Guayama Witch Doctors were the 1938-39 champions. In September 1939, they had won the semi-pro baseball "World Series" in Puerto Rico against the Duncan Cementeers. On November 5, Paige pitched a shutout against rival Santurce, which featured player-manager Josh Gibson, by a lopsided score of 23 to 0.Van Hyning 1995, pp. 73–74, 241.

In a December game against Mayagüez, Paige set a league record by striking out 17. He ended the season with a 19–3 record, a 1.93 ERA, and 208 strikeouts in 205 innings. The 19 wins and 208 strikeouts set league single-season records that have never been broken. Paige helped his team win the league championship playoff series, winning two games against the San Juan Senadores.Tye 2009, pp. 126–127; Van Hyning 1995, pp. 73–74, 241.

Puerto Rican pitcher Ramón Bayron recalled, "It took special eyes to see his pitches."Tye 2009, p. 127. Luis Olmo, who later played with the Brooklyn Dodgers, described Paige that winter as "the best I’ve ever seen."

Kansas City Monarchs: 1940–47

1940–42

Paige returned to the Travelers for the 1940 season. Abe and Effa Manley, owners of the Newark Eagles, still claimed that they still held the rights to Paige’s Negro league contract, and retaliated against Wilkinson by signing players from Wilkinson’s Negro American League. In late June, the NNL and NAL leaders met to discuss the situation and reached an agreement that allowed Paige to advance to the Kansas City Monarchs and let the Manleys keep the players they had recruited in violation of the inter-league rules.Ribowsky 1994, pp. 184–187; Tye 2009, pp. 144–146. Late in the 1940 season, Paige was promoted to the Monarchs. On September 12, Paige made his debut with the Monarchs against the American Giants and pitched a five-inning darkness-shortened complete game. The Monarchs won 9–3 and Paige struck out ten.Ribowsky 1994, p. 193.

Because of Paige’s strong gate appeal, there was considerable demand by outside teams to lease Paige’s services to pitch for a single game. With infrequent league games, Wilkinson booked Paige to pitch for small-town teams or other Negro league teams at rates ranging from a third of the total receipts to a fixed fee $250 to $2,000 per game, plus expenses. Wilkinson purchased a Douglas DC-3 airplane just to ferry Paige around to these outside appearances. Because of the larger gate when Paige pitched, the Monarchs’ owners could also insist on a larger share of the receipts from their road games. Wilkinson and Paige each kept a share of the fees. By the early 1940s, Paige’s estimated annual earnings were $40,000, which was four times the pay of the average player on the major league New York Yankees and nearly matched the pay of their top star, Joe DiMaggio.Ribowsky 1994, pp. 195–198; Tye 2009, pp. 163–164.

Hoping for some publicity for Paige, who had received relatively little coverage while pitching in the hinterlands with the Travelers, Wilkinson arranged for Paige to pitch on opening day of 1941 for the New York Black Yankees. Appearing in front of a crowd of 20,000 fans at Yankee Stadium, Paige pitched a complete game, 5–3 victory, striking out eight. As intended, the contest brought considerable coverage from both the black and white media, including a pictorial by Life magazine.Ribowsky 1994, pp. 195–197; Tye 2009, pp. 146–147.

Paige took over the role of ace pitcher for the Monarchs, while Hilton Smith, their former ace, dropped to number two pitcher and sometimes was relegated to relieving Paige. Because of Paige’s ability to draw a crowd, he would often be scheduled to start a game and pitch for three innings, with Smith or another teammate assigned to pitch the last six.Holway 2001, p. 384; Tye 2009, pp. 156–157. In addition to Smith, Paige’s teammates included first baseman Buck O’Neil, shortstop and manager Newt Allen, and center fielder Willard Brown.Holway 2001, p. 384. In 1941, the Monarchs won their third consecutive Negro American League championship. Though no standings were published, according to historian John Holway, they had a 24–6 team record for a winning percentage of .800, placing them five games ahead of the second-place New Orleans/St. Louis Stars.Clark and Lester 1994, pp. 163–165; Holway 2001, p. 383.