Tag Archives: Branch Rickey

Remembering: The Great Satchel Paige

2It happens every summer, America’s pastime celebrate the best in the game of baseball called the All Star Game where they supposedly present us with the best baseball player of each season. It is no secret that I am one who loves history and this game too. However, in today’s Major League baseball world I see a vastly different type of stars in the sport and frankly all sports with very few worth looking up too. Actually, I call this new breed – million dollar slaves.

In my youth, there were Murray Wills, Willie Mays, Josh Gibson, and many who played in the Negro League. The Negro League had the best baseball players of all-time and perhaps the greatest man to ever play the game of baseball – the incomparable Satchel Paige.

Satchel Paige was born around July 7, 1906, I say around because no one really knows for sure. However, we know it was in Mobile, Alabama, at a time of extreme racial unrest. 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 another 20 years.

A run-in with the law, a 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 disguise. His baseball talent, coupled with big hands and feet on his long, lanky frame were recognized by the coach there, Edward Byrd, as assets that could be developed.

Byrd taught Paige to pull back, and 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. This gave 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.”

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. In one such game, against white ball players he pitched to Joe DiMaggio, who called him “the best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced.”

Because Negro League records were sketchy Paige insisted that he kept his own records. Reportedly, pitching in more than 2,500 games and winning more than 2,000, played for 250 teams and thrown 250 shutouts – staggering statistics. Paige was prone to some flamboyance, but experts believe much of it can be borne out. In July 1948, on his 42nd birthday, after 22 years in the Negro leagues, Paige became the oldest man ever to debut in the major leagues.

He even pitched part of an inning when they went to the World Series that year with the Cleveland Indians. Paige was the first Negro pitcher in the American League and the seventh Negro big leaguer overall. Paige pitched for two other major league teams, the St. Louis Browns and the Kansas City Athletics, with whom he ended his career on September 25, 1965, at the age of 59. Although all during that time, he continued exhibition games and even did a baseball “skit” with the legendary basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters.

Paige died of a heart attack in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 8, 1982—less than a month before his 75th birthday.

Paige was famous for his hard fastballs, and he also developed his signature “hesitation” pitch, but he could do anything with the ball that he wanted. He held a number of firsts, most notably the first black pitcher to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, which he was fortunate to be able to see. He was also the oldest rookie and working player in the game.

I find it interesting that Paige rarely addressed the issue of his age, often quoting Mark Twain: “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Maybe that’s why he was the greatest pitcher ever to play the game and lives in the heart of a kid who thought of him as his hero. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


The Magic of #42

There are moments in time where time itself demands change. There was such a moment in the Spring of 1947 when an African American baseball player named Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate and changed the face of the game. It is an honor for me to pay homage to Mr. Robinson whose character, stature, and integrity was beyond reproach.

Born January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play in the so-called major leagues in more than fifty years. Throughout his decade-long career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he made advancements in the cause of civil rights for black athletes. In 1955, he helped the Dodgers win the World Series. He retired in 1957, with a career batting average of .311.

Now, as is often the case with His-Story much of what we know about history is a myth. Let me use a quote that I often use by the prolific French writer, historian, and philosopher Voltaire who said, “History is a pack of trick we play upon the dead”. What I mean by that is this dynamic historical event actually was a simple as a black man being allowed to play a game with white people as a result of the rigid “Jim Crow” laws mandated by the law of the land – America.

At the time, the sport as well as America was segregated. African-Americans and whites played in separate leagues with Robinson who played in the famed Negro Leagues, but was chosen by Branch Rickey, a vice president with the Brooklyn Dodgers, to help integrate major league baseball. He joined the all-white Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1945. He moved to Florida in 1946 to begin spring training with the Royals, and played his first game on March 17 of that same year.

Now, we have been told that Branch Rickey did this out of good conscience and for the cause of civil rights. Well that is not exactly true. Rickey saw an opportunity to make money. The Negro league was prospering and the white league was barely surviving. He knew if he could convince one Negro player, and Robinson was not the best player in the Negro league, Rickey knew others would follow, and they did. Hence, the Negro league ceased to exist. Let me add that Mr. Robinson, an average player, was better than all of the white players playing in the white league at the time.

It is not my intention to neither demean nor take away from the significance of the huge step toward equality. Despite the racial abuse, particularly at away games, Robinson character prevailed as he endured the most brutal harassment, threats, and derogatory language hurled at him on and off the field. It is because of his superb character that we should celebrate this great man.

Jackie Robinson succeeded in putting the prejudice and racial strife aside, and showed everyone what a talented player he was. In his first year, he hit 12 home runs and helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant. That year, Robinson led the National League in stolen bases and was selected as Rookie of the Year. He continued to wow fans and critics alike with impressive feats, such as an outstanding .342 batting average during the 1949 season. He led in stolen bases that year and earned the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.

Robinson also became a vocal champion for African-American athletes, civil rights, and other social and political causes. In July 1949, he testified on discrimination before the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1952, he publicly called out the Yankees as a racist organization for not having broken the color barrier five years after he began playing with the Dodgers.

In his decade-long career with the Dodgers, Robinson and his team won the National League pennant several times. Finally, in 1955, he helped them achieve the ultimate victory: the World Series. After failing before in four other series match-ups, the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees. He helped the team win one more National League pennant the following season, and was then traded to the New York Giants. Jackie Robinson retired shortly after the trade, on January 5, 1957, with an impressive career batting average of .311.

Let me close with what really happen that day – number 42 was just a number until Mr. Jack Robinson wore it! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective.

http://johntwills.com


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