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Legendary pitcher Satchel Paige became the oldest player to join Major League baseball, with a career that spanned 40 years.
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Satchel Paige was born around July 7, 1906, in Mobile, Alabama, at a time when racial unrest was just beginning to rear its ugly head. Paige honed his pitching talents in reform school and made his professional baseball debut in 1926, moving up through various teams in the Negro Southern League, amassing a reputation as an ace pitcher. He made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians in July 1948, at the age of 42, and he continued playing for nearly another 20 years.
"Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching."
"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?"
"You might say I traded five years of freedom to learn how to pitch."
Satchel Paige was born Leroy Robert Page on July 7, 1906, in Mobile , Alabama. Paige was the seventh of 12 children born to father John Paige, a gardener and, by some accounts, a ne'er-do-well, and mother Lula, a washerwoman. It was Lula Paige who added the "i" to their surname not long before her son Satchel was to start his illustrious career; he maintained that she changed it to sound "high-tone."
Nicknames and baseball players seem to go hand-in-hand, so perhaps Satchel’s fate was predestined. As he tells it, his mother sent him to earn money carrying luggage for businessmen at the train station, but was frustrated with the pittance it paid. So, he rigged a pole to carry several bags at once to make the job pay better, and his co-workers purportedly told him, "you look like a walking satchel tree," hence his unique nickname.
A run-in with the law, though, through petty theft and truancy, got Satchel "enrolled" in reform school at age 12. But the Industrial School for Negro Children in Mount Meigs, Alabama, may have been a blessing in diguise. His baseball talent, coupled with big hands and feet on his long, lanky frame—he would grow to 6'4"—were recognized by the coach there, Edward Byrd, as assets that could be developed.
Byrd taught Paige to pull back, then kick his foot high in the air and as he came down, bring his arm from way behind and thrust his hand forward as he released the ball giving the ball maximum power as it hurtled forward. Satchel later said, "You might say I traded five years of freedom to learn how to pitch."
Satchel Paige began his professional career as a pitcher in 1926, on a team in the Negro Southern League, because blacks were not allowed in the major leagues. His record with the Chattanooga White Sox did not go unnoticed and he moved his way up quickly through the ranks to the Negro National League teams and a popular draw among audiences.
He played for teams all over the country, from California to Maryland to North Dakota and even outside the country—in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
In between contracts, he had quite a following through barnstorming tours, sort of orchestrated pick-up/exhibition games that included a wide array of talent and provided extra money. In one such game, he was hired to front a team called the "Satchel Paige All-Stars" and ended up pitching to Joe DiMaggio, who called him "the best and fastest pitcher I've ever faced."
One downside to all this travel and team jumping was a lack of statistics since even in official Negro League games there could be a dearth of statisticians or record keepers.
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