Satchel Paige: One of a kind, unfortunately

Satchel Paige

Clarence “Ace” Parker died earlier this month at age 101. Parker was not only the oldest-living member of the NFL Hall of Fame, he was also one of the oldest-living former Major League baseball players.

Parker, who would gain fame on the gridiron between 1936 and 1941, and again after World War II in 1945, played under Connie Mack for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1936 and 1937.

While he enjoyed minimal success in the big leagues, at his passing he was noted for being one of just two individuals still alive who played on the same major league baseball field as Yankees great Lou Gehrig and the last living person to play on the same field as Rogers Hornsby, another baseball Hall of Famer.

Hornsby, who began his career in 1915 for the St. Louis Cardinals and would go on to compile the second-highest career batting average in Major League history at .358, was playing for the St. Louis Browns in one of his last games on May 7, 1937, when he took the field against Parker’s Athletics.

Hornsby, nicknamed the Rajah, made it back to the majors more than a decade and a half after his last game when he was hired by the inimitable Bill Veeck to manage the woeful Browns in 1952.

Among players that Hornsby, a cantankerous sort who didn’t smoke, drink or go the movies because he believed they could harm a batter’s vision, had on his roster in St. Louis was Satchel Paige, the former Negro Leagues star who, despite being in his mid-40s, was still quite effective.

Paige was the antithesis of his manager in just about every respect.

The Alabama native was a swaggering, entertaining sort who, after 30 years of professional baseball, had his own outlook on sport and life.

A 1953 article for Collier’s magazine highlighted the fact that Paige had been a guest at the Second International Gerontological Congress, held in St. Louis in 1951, where the subject was the effects of age upon the human body.

The doctors in attendance were amazed at the condition of Paige’s right arm, his throwing arm. Not surprisingly, Paige was happy to enlighten the doctors:

“I just explained to the gentlemen that the bones running up from my wrist, the fibius, which is the upper bone, and the tiberon, which is the lower bone, was bent out, making more room for my throwing muscles to move around in there. I attributed most of long life, and so on and so forth, to them two bones.”

The article added that the doctors did not examine Paige’s head, which was a pity for its contents were at least as interesting as his pitching arm.

“He is a mountain of information on hunting dogs, expensive cars, jazz, Central American dictators, quartet singing, cameras, Kansas City real estate, Missouri River catfish, Indian maidens, stomach powders, mules and other matters. Whenever the Browns gather in a railroad club car, Paige is generally in the middle, spreading light on such matters as the futility of spring training under men like Rogers (Rajah) Hornsby, …”

Paige elaborated for Collier’s on his training regimen, or lack thereof.

“With Mr. Hawnsby, it’s all runnin’,” Paige told some listeners recently. “Now, I don’t generally run at all, except for the showers, because of the harmful effects. I believe in training gently up and down from the bench. Old Mahjong had me flyin’ around, shakin’ my legs and carryin’ on until I very nearly passed.”

Paige likely shed no tears when Hornsby was canned midway through the 1952 season.

Paige was 12-10 with 10 saves and 2.07 earned-run average for the Browns in 1952. The following year his record slumped to 3-9, but he saved 11 games and still managed a respectable ERA of 3.53, not bad for a team that finished 54-100, dead last in the American League.

Paige was let go after the 1953 season, but he would pitch in one more Major League game.

In 1965, at age 59, he threw three innings for the Kansas City Athletics – successor to the Philadelphia Athletics and precursor of today’s Oakland Athletics – against the Boston Red Sox, holding the Sox scoreless.

Paige, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971, died in 1982 at age 75.

(Top: Satchel Paige with former St. Louis Cardinals great Dizzy Dean.)

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3 thoughts on “Satchel Paige: One of a kind, unfortunately

  1. Another of my favorites. I found your site by searching Les Mueller, and now you have honored my second favorite pitcher of all time (Gibby will always be first). Thanks, Cotton.

    • You’re quite welcome. I only remember Gibson at the end of his career, but I always get a laugh when I read Bob Uecker describe the occasions when his manager would signal him to go out to the mound to talk to Gibson, and Gibson would greet him with a scowl and an angry “What do you want?” Uecker would usually slink back to the plate. Fierce competitor and great pitcher.

      • Love Bob Uecker. This one will make you laugh also: Tim McCarver tells the story of walking out to the mound once when Gibson was struggling and Gibson told him “The only thing you know about pitching is how hard it is to hit.” The man was amazing. They broke the mold after Gibson, no doubt about it.

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