Countdown To Pitchers And Catchers: #29 Satchel Paige
Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Satchel Paige.
By Vince Guerrieri
In 1946, Bob Feller and Satchel Paige were the featured attractions on a barnstorming tour.
Feller was a Cleveland Indians phenom with a blazing fastball, who had just come back from service in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Paige was an ageless wonder who had pitched throughout the Negro Leagues, including Chattanooga, Pittsburgh and Kansas City. Feller said Paige was the best pitcher he ever saw.
Two years later, the two were teammates, with Paige wearing number 29 for the Indians.
Paige was signed by Indians owner and baseball impresario Bill Veeck during the stretch run in 1948. The Indians were fighting for their postseason life against the Red Sox, Yankees and the Athletics. On July 7, 1948, his birthday, Paige became the first black pitcher in the American League. Two days later, he made his first appearance for the Indians.
Some derided the signing as a publicity stunt by Veeck, who was known to do those from time to time, but when the Indians finished in a tie with the Red Sox and beat them in a one-game playoff to advance to the World Series, every win counted, and Paige went 6-1 for the Indians. That year, he became the first black pitcher to appear in a World Series, won by the Indians over the Boston Braves in six games.
In 1949, Paige went 4-7 for the Indians, and was released.
Two years later, Paige and Veeck were reunited. Veeck had bought the St. Louis Browns, and signed Paige to a contract. In 1952 and 1953, Paige was named to the American League all-star team. He made his final major league appearance Sept. 25, 1965, starting a game for the Kansas City Athletics.
In 1966, Ted Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In his speech, he demanded the hall begin to consider inducting Negro League players. Paige was the first inductee in 1971. The baseball lifer died in 1982, his age a matter of some mystery, but pegged around 76.
Photo: Life Archives