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Satchel Paige - In The Big Leagues

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In 1946, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson to play in the majors, at long last breaking the color barrier. Other teams soon followed suit and two years later, Bill Veeck, the owner of the Cleveland Indians, signed Satchel Paige to a contract. He was 42 years old, and many critics believed this was a publicity stunt designed by Veeck to bring more fans into the stadium.

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns's Baseball is a twenty-hour tribute to the sport, broken up into nine "innings," or chapters, and narrated by John Chancellor, joined by testimonials from a diverse group chosen for their love of the game, including former Negro league player Buck O'Neil, editor Daniel Okrent, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mickey Mantle, comedian Billy Crystal, and sportscaster Bob Costas. It is periodically aired on public television. Burns has referred to his trilogy of films: The Civil War, Baseball, and Jazz, as a trilogy about race in the United States. Baseball contains ongoing commentary on race, especially about the treatment of African-American baseball players before, during, and after Paige's lifetime. The film covers the development of the Negro leagues and the star players emerging from them. It also covers the struggle of blacks to break into the major leagues, overcoming a color barrier that had kept them out for decades. The film shows the heroism of not only Jackie Robinson but such players as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Hank Aaron, Rube Foster, Curt Flood, Bob Gibson, and Frank Robinson.

The Indians were in the middle of a pennant race, and Veeck saw Paige as a valuable asset. Satchel had become the seventh black player recruited into the majors, and, in his debut start, in spite of his age and the skepticism of many critics, Paige pitched a 5-0 shutout over the Chicago White Sox. The savvy of Paige as an entertainer, and the hype surrounding the Indians' owner in recruiting Satchel, paid off. He went 6-1 in his first ever major league season, with a 2.47 earned run average (ERA), helping the Indians into the World Series.

Paige played only two seasons with the Indians, soon becoming a burden on the team, missing meetings, trains, warm-ups, and falling mostly on his old habits from the Negro League days when he answered, essentially, to no one. When Paige was nearly 60, the Kansas City Athletics signed him to a contract in what most people also considered a publicity stunt. This was 1965, and he would pitch only three innings that season, with the promise of one more season, so that he could earn his big league pension. The Athletics failed to honor their word, however, and let Satchel go. He would eventually get his pension in 1969, while working as a pitching coach with the Atlanta Braves. The team put him on the roster so he could retire with a major league pension.

Though he rarely showed any anger over segregation, Paige felt all along—and rightly so—that he belonged in the majors. Indeed, he had countless off-seasons of pitching to, and decimating, many major league ballplayers. Mark Ribowsky wrote, "For all of his out-ward gaiety and nonchalance, Paige was deeply offended by the color line that kept him from playing in the major leagues." A New York Times correspondent, Dave Anderson, stated, "To the end, Satchel Paige had too much dignity to complain loudly about never being in the big leagues when he deserved to be."

Paige had married Lahoma Brown, a longtime friend, in 1947, a woman who brought stability to his life. Following his playing years he spent some time in the minor leagues as a coach with the Tulsa Oilers. Eventually he settled down in Kansas City with his wife and eight children.

Satchel Paige - Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns [next] [back] Satchel Paige - Played In The Negro Leagues

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