Probably the one thing common to every biography ever written is that no one ascends forever.
It probably wouldn’t make a very interesting story to read about someone who never faced trials or setbacks. Something tells me if that story existed, we would all dislike the protagonist. Pain and suffering are universal, so we need it in our characters so that we can identify with them.
That stated, I just finished the autobiography of Buck O’Neil, who was a great Negro League player and coach and then a scout for the Cubs and Royals. The interesting thing about O’Neil is that he didn’t become well known until the Ken Burns documentary “Baseball.” But O’Neil was such a fantastic storyteller, remembering wonderful details and telling them with endearing emotion, that he became a featured raconteur for baseball, especially black baseball, at the end of his life.
O’Neil doesn’t spend many words complaining that he was just old enough to miss out on baseball’s integration in the late 1940s. The title of the autobiography is “I Was Right On Time.” But O’Neil did offer an insight into his friend Satchel Paige that I was able to relate to a friend this week.
I bumped into a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while on Monday night. He’s a guy in his mid-20s and he told me about how he’s been helping out at home with some difficult problems, while his entry into medical school has been delayed by apparent clerical mistakes that are out of his hands.
So I told him about Satchel Paige, and the desperation he faced when he was just a little older than my friend.
Paige’s arm went dead in 1938 when he was 32 years old. Paige had been pitching just about anywhere — all over the United States as well as Mexico and South America — that an African-American was allowed to pitch in those days. But when he began to develop soreness in his pitching arm, doctors told him he would never pitch again. He certainly didn’t pitch like Satchel Pagie for a while, though black baseball promoters kept trotting him out to the mound as a publicity stunt.
Paige’s pitching record shows he barely pitched between 1937 and 1940. It looked like the end, and for a man without many prospects outside of pitching and a flair for spending the money he made through baseball, this was bad. Paige was perhaps among the most dominant pitchers of all time, but we still can’t say for certain. He was legendary by the time he was 32, but at that time in his career, Major League Baseball was still a decade away from allowing African-American players.
However, Paige wasn’t finished.
On September 22, 1939, Paige took the mound in the second half of a doubleheader and struck out 10 American Giants in seven innings, helping the Kansas City Travelers win, 1-0. Paige and his arm were back.
He went on to pitch for 27 more seasons, becoming the oldest rookie in Major League Baseball history at age 42 in 1948 and the oldest player to appear in a game in 1965.
I think this story made my friend feel better. I know it helped me to share it.
Photo via magicalbaseball.com.
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