This February, Sports Illustrated is celebrating Black History Month by spotlighting a different iconic athlete every day. Today, SI looks back on the legacy of Satchel Paige.
It's been written that Satchel Paige won 104 out of 105 games in a single season. That when barnstorming, he would routinely have his infielders sit down as he struck out the side. That he would do the same thing in the major leagues, calling his outfield in before he proceeded to strike three batters out in a row.
Regardless of the veracity of those tales, Paige's actual achievements warrant just as much amazement. He pitched professionally for 30 years. He threw exclusively fastballs for the first 15 years of his career—and was still by far the best pitcher in his league. Paige made his MLB debut at age 42 and still made two All-Star teams and pitched a sub-3 ERA. He mastered every single pitch—from the eephus to his looping curveball to a knuckleball to a changeup—and had precise, never-before-seen control. "You hear about pinpoint control, but Paige is the only man I've ever seen who really has it," Clint Courtney, his catcher with the St. Louis Browns from 1952 to 53, told Sports Illustrated in 1982. "Once he threw me six strikes out of 10 pitches over a gum wrapper."
Paige's gregarious nature, mixed with his self-confidence and enthusiasm, captivated the media and the public alike. Shameful discrimination meant he couldn't compete in the big leagues until he was well past 40, but it didn't mean that his legacy as a ballplayer wasn't remembered. Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio called him the best pitcher he ever saw. So did Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean. Indians legend Bob Feller said the same.
From the SI Vault:
"Little Shop Of Honors Legends Of The Negro Leagues Live On At A Small Store In Nashville," by Nicolas Dawidoff (Sept. 4, 1995)
"Remembering Their Game," by Shelley Smith (July 6, 1992)