Tuesday, June 21, 2011

SATCHEL PAIGE PITCHES ONE LAST TIME

When the Athletics were still calling Kansas City their home base they had a tough time drawing a crowd.  The team was not very good during those years.  When you would go see the A's play, you were there to see the players on the opposing teams more than to see the hometown heroes.

When Baltimore would come to town you would see Brooks, Frank and Boog and if you were lucky Jim Palmer would be pitching.  The twins brought with them Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew.  Nolan Ryan would come to pitch for the Angels, which was always exciting.  Al Kaline and Bill Freehan would come into town with the Tigers.  And when New York came to town it was their whole team that impressed you.

The A's had some good players themselves though.  Dick Green and Bert Campanaris was on that team.  Danny Cater played in the outfield along with Rick Monday.  They had the players, but they couldn't quite gel.  Most of the problem was with the pitching staff.  The old A's had no pitching what so ever and they didn't have any long ball power hitters.

The A's owner in an attempt to boost attendance signed Satchel Paige along with some other negro league players to a contract in September of 1965.  Satchel Paige was fifty eight years old at the time and would be the starting pitcher on September 25 against the Boston Red Sox.  Dad decided we would go see Satchel pitch which was fine with me because I loved the Red Sox.  My favorite player of all time Carl Yastrzemski, or Yaz as he was known as, played left field for the Sox.

As the game began Paige sat in the bull pen of the old Municipal Stadium in a rocking chair sipping coffee between innings.  He was cheered loudly as he took the mound to begin the game.  The fifty eight year old ace took some lazy warm ups before facing the first batter.  It was a ground ball that was bobbled and then thrown wide of first base.  The first batter had reached first but it was not Satchel's fault.  The runner tried to steal third on one of Satchels screwy pitches but was thrown out.  The second batter popped up to right fielder Danny Cater.  Then Yaz came up to the plate.

With the A's pitching staff I had not really gotten a chance to see Yaz hit against a legend before.  Although this legend was an old man, Paige still had some tricks up his sleeve.  He could throw a wicked screw ball, a changeup that would have batters swinging at air and a curveball that ended up in the dirt after flying through the strike zone as it dropped off so suddenly.  Yaz was a hitter who was recognized as one of the games best.  I remember my heart beating a little fast as Satchel and Yaz began what to me would be an historic face off.

Yaz won it.  He slammed a double into right center field.  I didn't know whether to cheer or not.  The old man had given up a hard hit, but it was given up to another future Hall of Famer, and my hero.  I think I just sat quietly and let it soak in.  I was watching one of the all time great pitchers and one of the all time great hitters.  Neither of them was a loser in that face off.  It was one of the at bats that would stick in my memory for a lifetime.

Satchel then proceeded to get Tony Conigliaro out to end the first inning.  The next six betters over the course of the next two innings were put down in order by Paige.  After three innings Satchel was done.  Three innings of a pitcher like there would never be again in the majors.  He was tall and lanky.  You would be hard pressed to find any bulging muscles on the man.  He did not throw over powering pitches but rather pitches that moved all over the place.  A batter would be hard pressed to find contact with the ball simply because he didn't know where it would be.  In my mind this makes Yaz's double that more impressive.

It was the last time Paige would pitch.  He would go on to a coaching career with the Braves but his playing days were over.  There were only nine thousand people there to watch the old man pitch and as he left the mound after the third inning they played "The Old Grey Mare" over the public address system.

It was history that night.  So much history that the game was included in Ken Burns PBS series "BASEBALL".  As I was watching the clip of Paige on the mound in Municipal Stadium from that September night in 1965 I couldn't say I really remembered that much of it.  I remember the tall lanky high leg kick that Satchel had.  I remember thinking he didn't seem to throw as hard as most of the pro pitchers I had seen.  I remember Yaz hitting the ball hard.  Other than that it is all pretty much a blur in a fuzzy memory.

Satchel Paige was known for his quotes as much as Yogi Berra is.  The difference is that Satchels quote s made sense.  Here are a few of them for your consideration:

"Age is a question of mind of matter.  If you don't mind, It doesn't matter."
"I ain't never had a job.  I always just played baseball."
"I never rush myself.  You see they can't start the game without me"
"There ain't no man that can avoid being born average.  But there ain't no man that's got to be common"
"Don't eat fried food.  It angries up the system"
And probably the most famous of his quotes:
"Don't look back.  Something might be gaining on you."

Satchel Paige died on June 8, 1982.  He is buried in Forest Hills cemetery,  the same place my grandfather and grandmother are laid to rest.  Satchel Paige was one of many many negro league players who either never got their due or got their due way past when they should have.

September 25, 1965


Mr and Mrs Paige's burial site-Kansas City, Mo.


Detail of burial marker

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