Here’s the latest from Joe Guzzardi. Joe generally contributes guest posts Wednesday and Saturday, but due to personal circumstances is offering his first post on Friday this week.
One of the greatest challenges baseball historians face is evaluating the true accomplishments of the great Negro National League stars.
Record keeping was sporadic. The games weren’t covered by the main stream media but rather by weekly newspapers published for African-American readers that carried scant statistical information.
Anecdotes make up a large part of the Negro National League’s lore. For example, historians speculated for years that Josh Gibson hit 800 or more home runs. But recent research found that Gibson hit many of those homers in unofficial games against inferior competition, often makeshift barnstorming teams.
Most now agree that Gibson’s more accurate home run total for regulation games against comparable Negro National League teams is between 150 and 200.
A certain aura based on hearsay also surrounds Satchel Paige who pitched for seven Negro League teams as well as various minor league, Dominican and Mexican clubs. Who can say if Paige, as he claimed, really pitched 50 no hitters?
But, when Paige finally reached the major leagues in 1948 to pitch for the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and the Kansas City Athletics, an official scorer documented his achievements. Paige’s record (28-31; 3.29 ERA) is beyond dispute.
His brief time in the majors includes what may be the most remarkable feat in baseball history.
Maverick owner Finley conceived the idea to sign and start Paige as a lark to boost the Athletics’ sagging attendance. That year the team, 59-103 and playing in front of an average of 3,000 fans, finished tenth. Paige inked a $3,500 contract and immediately declared: “I think I can still pitch and help this club.”
Finley, with considerable assistance from Paige, hyped the game masterfully. Before warming up, Paige sat in a rocking chair placed next to but not in the A’s underground bullpen. Paige said: “At my age, I’m close enough to being below ground level as it is.”
More theatrics: A white-uniformed nurse stood beside Paige to massage his arm before the game while a personal water boy handed him cool drinks.
Paige’s six children looked on; his wife Lahoma, expecting a seventh child, stayed home.
When the game began, Paige dominated. He recorded nine outs on only twenty-eight pitches and allowed just one hit, a double by Carl Yastrzemski. Ironically, during a Long Island semi-pro game a generation earlier, Yaz’s father had hit against Paige.
Relying on pinpoint control, Paige walked no one. According to teammate Ed Charles, Paige took only ten warm up tosses before “he proceeded to go out on the mound and shove the ball right up their you know what. Most of the kids on our team were saying: ‘What’s this old man doing? He should be in a retirement home.’”
Bill Monbouquette, Paige’s mound opponent and Satchel’s last strike out victim, said: “Satchel had better swings off me than I had off him.”
At the top of the fourth, Paige strode to the mound. But, as he had planned all along, manager Mel McGaha took Paige out so he could leave to a standing ovation.
Shortly after Paige reached the locker room, McGaha summed him back to the field where idolizing fans in the darkened Municipal Stadium flicked matches and lighters in his honor. To top it off, they sang “The Old Grey Mare” (For more details about the game and Paige’s career, read Larry Tye’s biography, Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend. See Tye’s interview that includes photos of Paige rocking in his chair here.)
The Los Angeles Times, one of the many major newspapers that turned out to cover the game, best summed Paige’s effort. In its recap, the Times wrote: “A gimmick yes. A joke, no.”
Certainly no major league hitter, including the likes of a brash, young slugger Tony Conigliaro or a seasoned veteran like Felix Mantilla, wanted to be shown up by a pitcher more than twice their ages.
The evening wasn’t a total success. The game drew only 9,289 fans. The A’s, with Don Mossi (5-7) in relief absorbing the defeat, lost 5-2 as Monbouquette (10-18) pitched a tidy (2:14) seven hit complete game.
After two more miserable seasons playing before empty stands, the Athletics pulled out of Kansas City to head for happier days in Oakland.
In its seven year history, the Kansas City Athletics most memorable, moments were the three innings that Paige dominated the Red Sox.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org