Thursday, July 07, 2005

July 7th, 1948

Satchel Paige Signed by Bill Veeck

July Seventh of 1948 was an especially good day for Satchel Paige, being both his forty-second birthday and the day on which he finally signed a Major League contract. Paige’s signing was a controversial one. Some saw it merely as a publicity move by Bill Veeck, who vigorously insisted otherwise. This did little to convince some, including The Sporting News who in one of their lesser moments dubbed the signing "a travesty on baseball."

Despite (or perhaps because of) comments like this, Paige and Veeck persisted and Paige would make his debut two days later. In doing so, he became both the oldest rookie in baseball history and the first black pitcher in the American League. The 1948 Indians, of course, were the last Indians team to win a World Series, and while Paige was not a crucial component, he was hardly the "travesty" that had been predicted. Paige appeared in twenty-one games, with seven starts. He pitched seventy-two and two-thirds innings, with an ERA of 2.84, good for nearly three-quarters better than league average. Perhaps not surprisingly, Veeck brought him back the next year and Paige again performed well, although not quite up to his standards of the previous year, throwing eighty-three innings with an ERA just under a third better than league average.

After a year off in 1950, Veeck signed Paige to pitch for his new team, the St. Louis Browns. Many again viewed it as a mere publicity stunt; Paige was by this point forty-four but he managed a respectable, if below average 4.41 ERA that season. Brought back again--to more critics--Paige responded with probably his best season. He appeared in forty-six games for the Browns, all but six in relief. He racked up twelve wins and ten saves, both good for the team lead, and a 3.07 ERA, also good for the team lead. He would pitch again for the Browns in 1953, this time at age forty-six. Despite being just a few years short of an AARP membership, Paige again pitched more than one hundred innings and again led the team in saves. It would be his last real serious Major League season, his actual last appearance coming in 1963 when the fifty-eight year old Paige started one game for the Kansas City A's, going just three innings but allowing only one baserunner while recording a strikeout.

The final question then I suppose is: how good a pitcher was Satchel Paige? The short answer is I have no idea. The long answer is I have no idea, but he was good enough to pitch almost five hundred innings of Major League baseball with an ERA nearly a quarter better than league average. And he was good enough to do that while not spending a day in the Major Leagues below age forty-two. Come to think of it, I do know how good Satchel Paige was, pretty damn good.

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