Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression

Satchel Paige

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library
  • Date of Birth: possibly July 7, 1906
  • Place of Birth: Mobile, Alabama
  • Claim to Fame: pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team, 
  • Quotes: "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
  • Date of Death: June 8, 1982
  • Place of Death: his Kansas City home
  • Cause of Death: heart attack
  • Final Resting Place: Forest Hill Cemetery

Leroy "Satchel" Paige, one of baseball's finest pitchers, was most likely born on July 7, 1906. While Paige believed this date to be correct, poorly kept records left his exact birth year and date unclear. By contrast, there is no doubt that he was one of the greatest pitchers of all time. His long career included a critical stint with the Kansas City Monarchs, a storied Negro Leagues baseball team, between 1939 and 1947, during which he recovered from an injury to re-launch his career.

Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama, to a gardener and a domestic servant. As a child he acquired the nickname "Satchel" when he worked as a porter carrying luggage, or "satchels," at a railroad station. After being arrested for shoplifting in 1918, he spent several years in reform school, where he honed his pitching skills. In 1926 he began his professional career by playing for the Chattanooga Black Lookouts, a team in the Negro leagues. From there, he hopped from one black team to another - always in search of higher salaries. One of his frequent moves earned him a ban from the Negro National League in the 1935 season, but in that season, he played his first stint for the Negro American League Monarchs on a game-by-game basis. He left for an all-star team in 1936.

By the 1930s, Satchel Paige had acquired a reputation as one of the finest pitchers in the game, white or black. He earned more money than any other black player and even more than many white major league players. Seemingly everywhere he played he attracted record crowds that sparked wider interest in black baseball players and helped the Negro Leagues ball clubs attain financial stability. Joe DiMaggio, a future baseball legend, reportedly knew he was ready for the major leagues only when he managed to hit one of Paige's pitches in an all-star game. Paige, of course, was barred from playing in the major leagues himself, because of his race. 

While in Mexico in 1938, Paige sustained an injury to his pitching arm that appeared to signal the end of his career. He gradually recovered from his injury over the course of seven months and reemerged to play with the Kansas City Travelers, a minor league team associated with the Monarchs and soon renamed the Satchel Paige All-Stars. His signature fastball was diminished, but he worked to improve on accuracy and trick pitches. He regained his fast ball and led his team to competition against major Negro Leagues teams like the American Giants. After a season in Puerto Rico in 1939, Paige joined the Monarchs in 1940. The team was already among the best of the Negro Leagues teams, and Paige helped the team continue a streak of four Negro American League pennants in a row, between 1939-1942.

Paige gained national fame during these years for his talent, on-field antics, and off-field persona. He occasionally pulled off such stunts as sending some of the outfielders to the dugouts while he confidently struck out batters. He authored several autobiographical books and published a list of "Rules for Staying Young." Still dazzling fans with his pitching into his 40s and 50s, Paige famously proclaimed that, "age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

Paige's rules for staying young?

  • "Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood"
  • "If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts"
  • "Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move"
  • "Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society—the social ramble ain’t restful"
  • "Avoid running at all times"
  • "And don’t look back—something might be gaining on you”

In 1948, Paige finally entered the major leagues to play for the Cleveland Indians. To his annoyance, he was not the first black baseball player to get a shot in racially integrated baseball. Jackie Robinson had already become the first to cross this important boundary by playing for the minor league Montreal Royals in 1946 and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Nonetheless, Paige was among the first handful of black baseball players accepted into the white major leagues and the oldest major league rookie ever. That year, Paige proved his credentials by helping the Indians win the pennant. He played for the Indians and then the St. Louis Browns until 1953, after which he played in the minor leagues as his career wound down.

In the latter years of his career, Satchel Paige made one more contribution to Kansas City's baseball history. On September 25, 1965, Charles O. Finley, the eccentric owner of the Kansas City Athletics major league team, hired Paige to pitch one game for the Athletics. Not content with his appearance to be remembered as a mere novelty, Paige struck out seven players from the Boston Red Sox. At the age of 59, he could still compete at the highest levels of the sport.

In 1966, Paige finally retired from baseball and made his home in Kansas City. In 1971 he became the first black player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. On June 8, 1982, Paige suffered a heart attack and passed away in his Kansas City home. His legacy was best summed up by baseball greats Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Dizzy Dean, and Bob Feller, who all proclaimed Satchel Paige to be the greatest pitcher ever.

Acknowledgement: 

This article has been adapted from an article published at KChistory.org.