I once had the opportunity to talk to Larry LeGrande, a man that caught for Satchel Paige on one of his Satchel Paige All Star teams from 1961-63. I asked LeGrande which modern day major league pitcher most reminded him of the legendary Paige. His answer? Greg Maddux (this was in 2007). His reason for the comparison was the fact that both men had precision control on the mound. Paige’s control was legendary – one of the classic stories involved players placing a gum wrapper on home plate in order to provide a target smaller than home plate. Supposedly, almost every time he threw the ball, he could put it over that gum wrapper – no matter its location.
I’ve always loved reading about Paige and researching his career. I love stories about his incredible control and his “hesitation pitch,” which was eventually deemed illegal by major league baseball because it was too close to a balk. The stories about how he was so confident he could strike out the side, he would signal for the outfielders to come in since their services would not be necessary. One of the things that I was never able to do was see him pitch with my own eyes. His career had ended by the time I was born, and he died when I was just three-years-old. Even though I could not see him pitch in person, a couple of people have directed my attention to an old color video of him pitching in 1948. It’s just over a minute and a half long, and not all of it is Paige throwing the ball. It’s still more than I’ve ever seen, and it brought him to life in a way that stories and articles could not.
The video was filmed at an exhibition game in November of 1948, just a few short weeks after the Indians cemented their 1948 World Series title. Paige (and other major league players) would often barnstorm around the country after the season ended. It was a way to keep playing in the winter, and a way to earn some extra cash through a share of the gate receipts. There were a number of times that Paige would field a team with Negro League players, while Bob Feller would field a team with white major league players. The two groups would travel the country together in the offseason, playing exhibition games for fans.
In November of 1948, Paige and a group of Negro League players (primarily from the Kansas City Monarchs) took the field under the team name “Royals.” For this particular game in the video, Paige wore his Cleveland Indians uniform. The Royals’ opponents on this day? A team of major leaguers led by Indians pitchers Gene Bearden and Bob Lemon. (In the video’s description on You Tube, it notes that Bearden can be seen in the video wearing number 30). You may remember that Bearden was considered one of the heroes of the postseason – he pitched and won the Indians’ one-game playoff with the Boston Red Sox, the tiebreaker that sent the Indians to the World Series.
The game in the video was held at California’s Wrigley Field, a site of Pacific Coast League baseball that was open from 1925 to 1969. William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum magnate that owned the Chicago Cubs, also owned the Pacific Coast League Los Angeles Angels. In fact, since he also owned Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, the Cubs held their spring training there for several years.
The video is fascinating not only for the look at Paige, but for a snapshot of baseball in the 1940s. Obviously the lack of technology (digital scoreboards, etc.) is noticeable, but the way the crowd was dressed is fantastic. The formal clothing at ballgames – the suits, the hats, the dresses for women – is a far cry from the typical team-related gear of the modern era.
Step into the time machine and take a look at Satchel Paige, Gene Bearden, Bob Lemon, and baseball of the late 1940s:
EDIT: A couple of folks were asking me about full rosters for this game. Thanks to Dwayne Isgrig, who shared an article from the LA times that included a box score with last names. (Local papers never had the full info)
Bearden-Lemon All Stars:
Ware, 1B (This was Archie Ware, that played for the Cleveland Buckeyes)
Bell, LF (as in Cool Papa Bell)