Tag Archives: satchel paige

The Final Swing

Ted Williams crossing the plate after homering on his final big league at-bat on September 28, 1960.

Performers are remembered by how they exit the stage.

In the history of major league baseball, no one left the game in grander fashion than legendary hitter Ted Williams, who blasted a home run – his 521st – on his final at-bat, in front of a sparse crowd at Fenway Park, 50 years ago today. It was a moment that was immortalized by a young John Updike in his New Yorker essay entitled Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.

Williams, who was blessed with exceptional eyesight and hand-eye coordination coupled with an obsessive approach to hitting, had one of the most amazing careers in baseball history. The skinny left-fielder made an immediate impact after joining the Red Sox in 1939, placing fourth in the MVP voting as a rookie. Two years later he had one of the greatest seasons ever when he became the last man to bat .400, while setting the record for on-base percentage at .551 (since broken by a juiced-up Barry Bonds in 2002). That same year he won the All-Star Game for the American League with a walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning. (Unbelievably, Williams didn’t win the Most Valuable Player award in 1941, because his accomplishments were overshadowed by Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak that same year.)

Williams’ production remained steady throughout his entire career, and he actually led the league in hitting as a 40-year-old. He ended up playing twenty-one seasons for Boston, winning two MVP awards, despite missing most of five seasons during his prime to military service in World War II and Korea, where he was a decorated Marine Corps pilot. His absence prevented him from reaching 3,000 hits or challenging Babe Ruth for the home run title, two legitimate possibilities. As it was, he retired with a career batting average of .344, the highest for any player with over 500 home runs.

Williams had a contentious relationship with Boston’s media and fans who often found him to be tactless and high-strung. This situation undoubtedly cost him additional accolades, as he twice won baseball’s Triple Crown (highest batting average, most home runs, most runs batted in), yet was passed over for the MVP award both seasons!

After his dramatic final home run on September 28, 1960 off of Baltimore’s Jack Fisher, Williams left his playing career behind. He later managed the Washington Senators for three seasons (earning the Manager of the Year Award in 1969), along with an additional season in Texas, where the Senators relocated in 1972 to become the Texas Rangers. In retirement he became an accomplished sport fisherman and was inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, his success in these various endeavors didn’t come home with him. His family life was a shambles, with three failed marriages producing children who sullied their father’s reputation after his death in 2002 by having his body cryogenically frozen instead of cremated as he wished, making him the butt of countless late-night monologue jokes.

In my opinion, Ted Williams hit one final home run in his baseball career after his final plate appearance. It came in 1966 during his induction ceremony for the Baseball Hall of Fame, when he called on Hall of Fame voters to include former Negro Leagues players like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Leigh Montville of the Boston Globe later wrote that this powerful statement from one of the greatest white players of all time was “a first crack in the door that ultimately would open and include Paige and Gibson and other Negro League stars in the shrine.” Largely because of Williams’ endorsement, Satchel Paige (who I wrote about yesterday in “Deadwrite’s Dailies”) became the first Negro Leaguer inducted into the Hall in 1971.

How Old Would You Be?

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.

  1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
  2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
  4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.
  5. Avoid running at all times.
  6. 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?”