A MOST UNNATURAL NATURAL
This is an article from the June 21, 1982 issue
Satchel Paige, who died last week at 75, was truly a legend, in the sense that most accounts of his life depend heavily on colorful but possibly apocryphal tales. One is amazed to read that Paige won 104 of 105 games in a single season, and that he regularly called in his outfield and then struck out the side. It doesn't much matter that such stories may not be true, because the verifiable facts about Paige are extraordinary enough.
Paige began pitching semipro baseball in 1924 when he was 17, and was still pitching in 1953, at 47, in the major leagues. He starred in the Negro leagues of the 1920s and 1930s and performed with marked success against major league batters in exhibition games, winning head-to-head pitching duels with Dizzy Dean (who called Paige the best pitcher he ever saw) and Bob Feller. Barred from organized baseball by the shameful color ban, Paige didn't sign a major league contract until he joined Bill Veeck's Cleveland Indians in July 1948, when he was past 40 and seemingly at the end of his career. Skeptics dismissed the signing as another of the flamboyant Veeck's publicity stunts, but in the second half of the '48 season Paige won six, lost only one, pitched two shutouts, had an ERA of 2.48 and had a hand in the Indians' winning the pennant. Four years later, with the seventh-place St. Louis Browns, he had a 12-10 record and the best ERA on his team, made the American League All-Star team and was one of baseball's best relief pitchers—"Get the runs now! Father Time is coming!" Casey Stengel would admonish his Yankees in the early innings of games with the Browns. In 1965, when he signed at the age of 59 for a one-time appearance with the Kansas City A's, Paige pitched three scoreless innings, allowed only one hit and even struck out a man.
People tend to remember Paige because of the mystery of his age, which really wasn't that much of a mystery until Veeck, the consummate showman, began hinting to newsmen that Satchel was actually much older than his listed age. Paige, also aware of the uses of publicity, went along with the charade. But the late Lee Allen, historian of the Baseball Museum at Cooperstown, N.Y., came up with a photostatic copy of a birth certificate showing that Paige was born on July 7, 1906. Paige's so-called Rules for Living are also part of the lore, but he didn't know he had a set of rules until a three-part story on him appeared in Collier's magazine in 1953. Several lively quotes from Paige lay unused in writer Richard Donovan's notes, and rather than lose them, the editors decided to bring them—and perhaps a couple of rules of their own devising—together in a box under the heading "How to Stay Young." The rules: "1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood. 2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts. 3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move. 4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain't restful. 5. Avoid running at all times. 6. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." That last one landed Paige in Bartlett's.
Paige's "languid and melancholy" appearance, as it was once described, and the publicity device of supplying him with a rocking chair in the bullpen helped project an image of Satchel as a kind of Stepin Fetchit character. In fact, Paige was a sharp, sometimes ruthless athlete-businessman. He was greatly admired in the old Negro leagues, but not universally loved, despite his wit and humor. He enjoyed himself, but he was his own man. And he wanted to be appreciated—with money and applause.
Paige was thought of as a "natural," blessed from the start with a blazing fastball and amazing control. Clint Courtney, his catcher with the Browns, said, "You hear about pinpoint control, but Paige is the only man I've ever seen who really has it. Once he threw me six strikes out of 10 pitches over a gum wrapper." But the control was something he worked hard to acquire. In a taped interview with oral historian Stephen Banker, Paige said, "You're born with speed, see, but you can get the control. We had a lot of players when I came up could throw the ball hard, way harder than I could, as far as that's concerned, but they couldn't gain control. It's such a thing as I practiced all the time; I just practiced control. Anything you practice you begin to come good at, regardless of what it is, whether it's baseball or not." So the "languid" natural was actually a hard worker who carefully cultivated his considerable gifts. And what he thereby achieved in baseball, above and beyond the extravagances of his legend, was a career unparalleled in the long history of the game.
THE ABDUCTION OF BELLE
The blocky, 130-pound computer is named Belle, after its birthplace, the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., and it packs quite a wallop in chess circles, having won the most recent World Computer Chess Championships in Austria in 1980 and having beaten its share of human opponents. For a few anxious moments on May 7, Belle's co-developer, Ken Thompson, a Bell Labs scientist, feared that his computer had suddenly expanded its capabilities and staged a disappearing act. Invited by the Soviet Union's Central Sports Committee to put on an exhibition with Belle, Thompson arranged to ship the computer to Moscow aboard an airliner departing from New York City's JFK Airport; he then got on the plane himself. But when he arrived in Moscow, he found out that the computer wasn't aboard.
After several calls to the U.S., Thompson learned that Belle had been confiscated at JFK by U.S. Customs agents, who had neglected to inform him of the action. The seizure occurred as part of Operation Exodus, a new program designed to curb what government officials consider a worrisome outflow of American technology to the U.S.S.R. and its allies. The exhibition canceled, Thompson returned home. "It was a huge embarrassment," he said. "It was a slap in the face to the people who invited us."
A spokesman for the Commerce Department, which administers the issuance of export licenses, said that the computer had been seized because it was of potential military use to the Soviets. He said that Belle, which can analyze about 100,000 chess positions a second, is "a fairly powerful small computer" of the type that defense contractors use to simulate military options. Not until he posted a $600 bond last week did Thompson get Belle back. Thompson, who faces a possible fine if he's found to have violated the Export Control Act, was puzzled by the confiscation. "For chess, Belle is awesome," he said. "It's definitely the speediest thing around. But that's all it does." Does Belle have any military application? Said Thompson, "Only if you drop it out of an airplane. You might kill somebody that way."
DISTURBING AN OCEANIC EDEN
In addition to a tragic toll in human life, the war in the Falkland Islands may have proved costly to wildlife. Until the fighting broke out, the Falklands were a kind of subantarctic Eden, a haven for millions of seabirds and marine mammals, including penguins and albatrosses, cormorants and petrels, seals, porpoises, sea lions and passing whales. The bleak, virtually treeless archipelago had only 1,800 inhabitants and few visitors. One of them, SI's Clive Gammon, told of magnificent trout fishing and "a fragile, delicate beauty that is hard to put in concrete terms" (SI, April 3, 1978). Others marveled at the tameness of the native birds; in the 1950s a visiting ornithologist wrote of steamer ducks that scarcely bothered to step out of his path and of tussock birds that perched on the toes of his boots. Giovanna Holbrook, a Gainesville, Fla. tour operator who conducted natural-history expeditions to the islands, recalls, "It was a land's end, a godforsaken place where I thought nothing would ever disrupt the peace and quiet. Those birds and animals were free from the human world. As a result, they are very naive, easy targets for any unthinking man with a gun."
The war's effect on so fragile an environment can only be imagined, especially because news on the subject was skimpy. Noting that war was "the most directly destructive influence on nature and the natural environment," Britain's Prince Philip, an ardent conservationist, said last month that his country's naval task force had almost certainly killed whales by mistake. "Unfortunately for [whales], they return an echo just like that of a submarine," he said. "I can only assume that a number of them have been killed." Speaking before a cease-fire was reported early this week, Julian Fitter, secretary of the Falkland Islands Foundation for the Conservation of Wildlife, Wrecks and Places of Historic Interest pointed out that many of the archipelago's seals and penguins were at sea during the southern hemisphere winter. "What worries me is what the situation will be when they come back in October," Fitter said. "The actual balance is very delicate. Areas scarred by fire hundreds of years ago have never grown back."
Fitter expressed particular concern about a small colony of king penguins near Port Stanley. "They are at risk," he said. "With only one hundred pairs, a single misdirected naval shell could wipe them out." There was also reason to worry about the striated caracara (known locally as the Johnny Rook). One of the rarest hawks in the world—there are only a few hundred pairs—it is found solely in the Falklands and off Tierra del Fuego. The flightless steamer duck, or logger, was a subject of worry, too.
The dangers to wildlife included artillery barrages, construction of trenches and, possibly, napalm and oil spills. And the threat will not necessarily end with the cessation of hostilities. Environmentalists fear that if Argentina eventually controls the islands, indigenous penguins could conceivably end up filling Japanese bellies. Before the crisis began, a firm called Hinode Penguins had sought permission to slaughter penguins in Patagonia for shipment to Japan. Although the Argentine government had so far withheld permission, the company presumably would be interested in the 10 million penguins in the Falklands for the same purpose. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has her own plans for the islands, including further development of a plentiful supply of krill', a shrimplike creature that is a main link in the native food chain and is useful for animal feed. Other ideas for commercial exploitation: extraction of alginates from kelp for use as thickening agents in food and textiles, exploration for offshore oil and an expansion of tourism. All this suggests that the Falklands, having become the object of human attention in its most intense form, will attract greater interest on a permanent basis. The war, in sum, may have forever altered an oceanic Eden.
As documented by Senior Writer Kenny Moore (SI, May 11, 1981), Dan Jones of Lewis and Clark College may have been the last of a breed—the collegiate three-sport athlete. Jones has now finished school, winding up with varsity letters in football, basketball and baseball in each of his four years and these career stats: a .362 batting average, an 11.1 point-per-game scoring average and a Northwest Conference pass-reception record of 2,074 yards. Last summer he was the only player from an NAIA school selected for a U.S. college baseball team that won the Continental Cup, an eight-nation tournament, and he scored the winning run in a big victory over Cuba. And, oh yes, this week Jones received his degree, no small accomplishment for a college athlete these days.
MAULED BY THE BLACK BEARS
Miami won the College World Series in Omaha Saturday, beating Wichita State in the final game 9-3. The tournament's spoiler, however, was Maine, which along with Texas rounded out the series' Final Four. The Black Bears eliminated Cal State-Fullerton and Stanford in successive games in the eight-team tournament, making this the first year since 1954 that neither a California nor an Arizona team made it into the Final Four. The losses to Maine were a comeuppance both for Stanford Coach Mark Marquess, who had suggested that West Coast baseball was so strong that four teams from that part of the country, "not just two," should have been allowed to compete in Omaha, and for Fullerton Coach Augie Garrido, who had claimed that the regional tournament in which the Titans ousted Arizona State had matched the nation's two best teams. "It's a shame that TV and all the people in Omaha won't get our best possible product," Garrido had said. In best Down East tradition, Maine Coach John Winkin didn't say much of anything, but let his boys do their talking on the field. The scores: Maine 6, Cal Fullerton 0; and Maine 8, Stanford 5.
MAGIC JOHNSON FOR GOVERNOR
You know how the TV networks are always projecting the outcome of national elections before the polls close in California, prompting outcries from citizens of that state that many Californians are thereby discouraged from voting? Well, there was a primary election in California on Tuesday, June 8, and TV coverage may have deflated the turnout of that one, too. In this case, the damage was done by CBS's telecast of the sixth and final game of the Lakers' NBA championship series victory over the 76ers. The telecast, which began at 6 p.m. and ended 40 minutes after the 8 p.m. closing of the polls, drew, at the audience's peak, more than two million viewers in L.A. alone. Only 52% of those eligible, a smaller turnout than expected, cast ballots in Los Angeles County. It's assumed that a lot of viewers were too caught up in the game to vote. It may also be assumed that the folks who so righteously object to network projections are all Laker fans, because they were conspicuously silent this time. As Los Angeles Times TV columnist Howard Rosenberg wryly noted, "I've heard of no complaints to CBS or Channel 2 [the local CBS outlet that carried the game] about the Laker telecast interfering with the last two hours of Tuesday's election."
THEY SAID IT
•Lee Trevino, who was once struck by lightning while playing a round, on how other golfers can avoid a similar fate: "Hold up a one-iron and walk. Even God can't hit a one-iron."
•Bill Fitch, Boston Celtic coach, on the difference between NBA and college officials: "Our guys are handling rush-hour traffic, and college guys can't even handle the Sunday drivers."