Satchel Paige: Baseball's Larger-than-life Talent, Showman

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Part 1: Early Life, Early Success

Satchel Paige was one of baseball's most well-known names. He was many things: a talented athlete, a commanding presence on the field, and a showman who enjoyed the limelight.

A star for decades in the Negro Leagues, he became the oldest rookie in Major League Baseball when he joined the Cleveland Indians in 1948. The Indians won the World Series that year. And in 1971, he became the first African-American player to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Paige was fond of telling stories, many of them, and the details seemed to change from telling to telling. Many details of his life are sketchy. His birth certificate says that he was born on July 7, 1906, in Mobile, Ala.

The seventh child of Leroy and Lula Page, Leroy Junior got his nickname from work he did as a child, carrying bags (or satchels) at a nearby station. His family changed their name to Paige in the mid-1920s.

After a multi-year stint in reform school, Satchel Paige joined a semi-pro baseball team in Mobile. The team was the Mobile Tigers, and his brother Wilson was on the team. Both Satchel and Wilson were pitchers.

Paige also pitched for another semi-pro team in Mobile, and it was with that team that he had what he claimed to be one of his signature experiences. According to Paige, he was pitching and his team was leading 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth and final inning, with just one out to go, when his teammates committed three errors in a row, resulting in the bases being loaded. Paige was so frustrated that he insisted that the three outfielders come in and sit in the infield. Then, Paige struck out the batter, ending the game.

That was not the last time that Paige did something like that. In later years with other teams, he reacted similarly, especially in exhibition games, making a big deal of telling his teammates they weren't needed to field the ball because he was going to strike out the batter(s) and then, Paige, as promised, did just that.

Such episodes added to the fame that Paige was experiencing because of his athletic prowess. He was tall and skinny but strong and, after a few seasons, was known for his incredible pitching control, resulting in record numbers of strikeouts of the teams that he faced. Many players said that his fastball was the fastest that they had ever seen. He was also known for his many different "looks" on the mound, altering his arm and leg movements to create confusion and hesitation in batters. This only added to his mystique.

He was so popular that he was often rented out to other teams who wanted to boost their attendance figures and sales. This pattern continued for the rest of his career.

Next Page: Longevity and Fame

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