weekly blog--one for the ages
Today is the Boston Red Sox’s home opener at Fenway Park--the 106th if you are counting. It’s also a good day to focus on Major League Baseball’s oldest active player of all-time, Leroy Robert “Satchel” Page, who played until the ripe old age of 59.
While Paige was playing baseball, many ages and birthdates were reported, ranging from 1900 to 1908. Paige himself was the source of many of those dates. His actual birthdate, July 7, 1906, was determined in 1948 when Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck traveled to Mobile, Alabama, and accompanied Paige's family to the County Health Department to obtain his birth certificate. In 1959, Paige's mother told a reporter that he was 55 rather than 53, saying she knew this because she wrote it down in her Bible.
Paige, who passed away on June 8, 1982 is perhaps the best pitcher in baseball history. He was a right-handed pitcher in both the American Negro and Major leagues (MLB). At age 42 in 1948, he was the oldest major league rookie while playing for the Cleveland Indians, and was the first player who had played in the Negro leagues to pitch in the World Series. In 1971, he was the first electee of the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
While his outstanding control as a pitcher first got him noticed, it was his infectious, cocky, enthusiastic personality and his love for the game that made him a star. On town tours across the United States, Paige would sometimes have his infielders sit down behind him and then routinely strike out the side. He played his last professional game on June 21, 1966, for the Peninsula Grays of the Carolina League.
The spectacle of watching Paige pitch was made all the more entertaining by the expansive pitching repertoire he developed over the years. In 1933, Paige debuted the "hesitation pitch," a tricky delayed delivery. By the 1950s, Paige was throwing almost any pitch imaginable, including a screwball, a knuckleball, and an Eephus pitch, a very slow-speed junk pitch that often catches the hitter off-guard.
In August 1968, the owner of the Atlanta Braves, William Bartholomay, signed Paige to a contract running through the 1969 season as a pitching coach/pitcher, although it was mainly done so that Paige could gain service time to receive a major league pension. Paige did most of his coaching from his living room in Kansas City, but he did pitch in at least one pre-season exhibition game in April 1969, striking out Don Drysdale.
Buck O'Neil, a former teammate and longtime friend of Paige, claimed in the 1994 documentary Baseball that Babe Ruth batted against Paige once. According to O'Neil's story, the two men opposed each other in a barnstorming game after the Babe's retirement, and that Ruth hit a 500-foot home run off Paige. O'Neil said that Paige was so awestruck by the shot that he met Ruth at the plate to shake his hand, and later had Ruth sign the ball.