A baseball superstar once remarked “I know who’s the best pitcher I ever seen and it’s old Satchel Paige. My fastball looks like a change of pace alongside that little pistol bullet ol’ Satchel shoots up to the plate.” Many other superstars felt the same way.
Satchel was tall and he was lanky and he had a unique wisdom, a way with words that made him popular for interviews. He was tough, with a pitching schedule that would have him play multiple games a night. “One day I pitched a no hitter for the Crawfords against the Homestead Grays. I remember every time I got someone out, firecrackers went off. Those firecrackers were still popping when I was leaving the park,” Paige said. “I hopped in my car and drove to Chicago. I got there in time to beat Ted Trent and the Chicago Giants, 1–0, in 12 innings. And the same day, I was supposed to be in Cleveland.”
Amongst his many characteristics, Satchel Paige was also black. Which shouldn’t matter. But it does. Because this was the late 1940s and few blacks were playing Major League ball.
But for Satchel, his time came on July 7th, 1948. The Cleveland Indians signed him that day. And then on July 9th, on a warm summer night in Cleveland, in front of almost 35,000 people, Satchel who was already somewhere in his early 40’s, as no one knows for certain just how old he was, took the mound for the first time wearing his Indians jersey. That day he became the first black pitcher in American League history.
He pitched a couple innings as a relief pitcher. Gave up a couple hits, but no runs. Nothing remarkable.
He continued as a relief pitcher. Where he found his groove. And on August 13th, he was given the chance to start. In front over 50,000 fans in Comiskey Park in Chicago, Satchel threw a shutout. He didn’t even allow a single extra base hit.
Seven days later, 78,382 fans came to watch him pitch in Clevaland. He threw another shutout. He was the oldest pitcher to throw back-to-back shutouts.
Satchel finished the 1948 season with a 6–1 record, a 2.48 ERA and the Rookie of the Year award from The Sporting News.