Satchel Paige, Like So Many, Deserved A Better World Series Legacy Than The One He Got

10.27.17 2 years ago

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It was only by a strange fluke of history that the first black pitcher to throw in a World Series was 41-ish-year-old Satchel Paige.

Paige was the second black pitcher to make the majors, at the tail end of a whirlwind career that crisscrossed the country and turned him into a folkways legend. (The first was Dan Bankhead, who had a disappointing 1947 season playing with Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers and advanced to the World Series, though he didn’t pitch. After working his way back to the show two years later, he flamed out hard and spent the remainder of his career pitching in Mexico.) The team who signed him, the Cleveland Indians, owned and operated by all-around weirdo Bill Veeck, reached the Series in 1948 behind good years from fellow Negro League veteran Larry Doby, Joe Gordon, and an amazing season from Lou Boudreau, who alone topped 10 wins above replacement, with Paige along for the ride.

To be clear, Paige was no superstar. He was an MLB rookie in his early 40s who was largely relegated to bullpen work with only a few stars mixed in. But after the Braves thrashed three consecutive Indians pitchers, Paige came in with his team facing a 10-5 hole in the top of the seventh of game five. With one out, the immaculately named Braves infielder Eddie Stanky was on first, with outfielder Mike McCormick on third.

Paige’s first batter was not a batter at all but legendary southpaw Warren Spahn, who lifted a fly ball to center field that scored McCormick.

Then Paige squared off against outfielder Tommy Holmes. With the count sitting at 1-0, Paige balked. This was fairly common for him, as he was known to incorporate hesitation moves and other such oddball trickery into his pitching routine and always toed the line between legit trickeration and balky malfeasance. Stanky advanced to second, but it proved irrelevant once Paige induced a grounder to short that was scooped by Boudreau and thrown to first for an easy out. Al Rosen then pinch-hit for Paige to start off the bottom of the seventh.

A pitcher flyout, a balk, and a line out. That is the complete Major League World Series career of one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived. Two batters.

That’s extremely goofy and also super-depressing all at once, right? This is a metaphor.

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