Satchel Paige

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Satchel Paige : biography

July 7, 1906 – June 8, 1982

Paige returned to his hotel room. He recalled that the next morning, "My stomach got sick with the pain that shot up my right arm. Sweat popped out all over me. The pain wouldn’t quit. I tried lifting my arm. I couldn’t. I just sat there, sweating, hurting enough to want to cry, getting sicker in the stomach and getting scared—real scared. My arm. I couldn’t lift it."Paige and Lipman 1993, p. 125; Tye 2009, p. 121. He was examined by physicians in Mexico and in the United States; one expert told him that he would never pitch again.Tye 2009, pp. 121–122.

Kansas City Travelers: 1939

With his arm injured, Paige suddenly found himself unemployable. He looked for work as a manager or coach, but was unsuccessful. One ballclub owner was willing to give him a chance to play ball again—J.L. Wilkinson of the Monarchs. Wilkinson offered him the modest opportunity to play, not for the Negro American League Monarchs, but for a second-string barnstorming team called the Travelers, which was now renamed the Satchel Paige All-Stars. Paige would pitch when he could and play first base when he could not.Ribowsky 1994, pp. 172–176; Tye 2009, pp. 122–123.

Managed by Newt Joseph, the team also included Byron "Mex" Johnson, but otherwise it mostly functioned as a minor-league team staffed by marginal, aging, or young players. Playing throughout Kansas, Missouri, the Dakotas, Illinois, and even Utah, large crowds turned out to see Paige throw an inning or two, relying on junkballs.Ribowsky 1994, pp. 176–179; Tye 2009, pp. 122–124. Paige recalled, "Everybody’d heard I was a fastballer and here I was throwing Alley Oops and bloopers and underhand and sidearm and any way I could to get the ball up to the plate and get it over, maybe even for a strike. But even that made my arm ache like a tooth was busting every time I threw. And the balls I was throwing never would fool anybody in the Negro leagues, not without a fast ball to go with them."Paige and Lipman 1993, p. 133.

Sometime that summer Paige’s fast ball returned. Paige’s catcher, Frazier "Slow" Robinson, recalled that one afternoon Paige told him, "You better be ready because I’m ready today." Paige then surprised him when, with Robinson expecting a lob, Paige "threw that baseball so hard that he knocked the mitt off my hand."Tye 2009, p. 124. Modern sports medicine specialists suggest that Paige suffered from a partially torn rotator cuff in his shoulder caused by repetitive stress. Paige’s recovery was assisted by the Monarch’s long-time trainer, Frank "Jewbaby" Floyd, who was sent by Wilkinson to work with Paige. Floyd worked with massage, hot and cold water, ointments, and chiropractics. He had Paige rest his arm by pitching fewer innings and playing other positions.Ribowsky 1994, pp. 179–183; Tye 2009, pp. 125–126.

By late fall his team was playing well against major Negro league teams. On September 22, 1939, in the second game of a double-header against the powerful American Giants, Paige won a 1–0 game, striking out 10 men in the seven innings before the game was called on account of darkness.Ribowsky 1994, pp. 178–179. Buck O’Neil, who had batted against Paige in 1935 and 1936 and faced him again in a game against the parent Monarchs, recalled a dropoff in speed but an improvement in deception. "He could still throw hard. Not as hard as he had thrown, but you’re talkin’ about somebody thrown’ ninety-eight, a hundred miles an hour. But now he’s throwin’ maybe ninety—which is still more than the average guy… He was the best and, actually, he was so deceptive! You’d look at that big ol’ slow arm movin’ and—chooo— that ball’s just right by you. And then he’d come up and throw you a change of pace and, oh, man."Ribowsky 1994, p. 182.

Puerto Rico: 1939–40

In just one season, Paige left his mark on Puerto Rican Baseball. He arrived in Puerto Rico in late October, four weeks after the start of the 1939/40 winter season, and joined the Brujos de Guayama (the Guayama Witch Doctors). The town of Guayama is widely known for its Santeria, Palo (religion), and other spiritualist religious practices. In a legendary game in Guayama, Paige walked off the mound because he saw a ghost standing next to him.