It took pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige longer to climb to the big leagues than anybody in history, and he was in no hurry to leave the Show behind.
It was on this date 45 years ago that Paige came out of retirement for one final appearance at age 59, to become the oldest man to ever play in a major league baseball game.
Paige, a “larger-than-life” personality who got his nickname from carrying satchels at the post office as a boy, had begun his playing career over four decades(!) earlier when he first took the mound in semi-pro leagues in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. He threw right-handed with a high leg kick, and had only one pitch, the fastball, which he altered, giving names to the variations like “Bat Dodger,” “Trouble Ball,” and “Midnight Creeper.” He quickly moved up the ranks to become the top pitcher in the history of the Negro Leagues, becoming a five-time All-Star, posting a record of 31-4 in 1933, his best season, with 21 consecutive victories. Much of his early career was spent barnstorming around the country, often playing white teams in exhibition matches. Joe DiMaggio, called him the “best pitcher he ever faced” after one of these games.
When Kansas City Monarchs teammate Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier” in 1947, Paige was publicly elated, but privately disappointed not to be the one chosen for the honor. No matter, as there were many major league “firsts” in store for Paige, beginning with becoming the oldest “rookie” in history, when he was signed to his first big league contract by Cleveland on his 42nd birthday in 1948. He helped the Indians win the pennant that year and pitched in the World Series. He would later pitch in two major league all-star games for the St. Louis Browns (becoming the first black pitcher to do so) before ending his career in 1953.
Kansas City Athletics manager Charles O. Finley brought Paige back for his sole appearance in 1965 as a publicity stunt to honor several former Negro League players who were in attendance. Paige played his role perfectly, resting in a rocking chair in the dugout before the game, having liniment rubbed onto his joints by a nurse. When Satchel took the mound, he still had the juice, throwing three scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox, allowing only one hit, a double to future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.
He pitched in more games in more places than anyone in history. It is estimated that Paige appeared in 2600 games, pitching 300 shut-outs, and 55 no-hitters. He became the first Negro Leagues player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.
Paige, who was as known for his quips as for his pitching, attributed his longevity in the sport to “six maxims” on “How To Stay Young,” which were carved on his headstone at Forest Hills Cemetery in Kansas City after his passing in 1982.
- Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
- If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
- Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
- Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.
- Avoid running at all times.
- Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
Remarkably, Paige may have been much older than 59 when he last pitched. Birth records were spotty in the Paige family and some believe he was several years older than he stated. Whenever he was questioned about this, Paige would say that he wasn’t certain of his age and ask, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”