As most Indians fans know (how could they forget?) the last time the Tribe won the World Series was in 1948.  Harry Truman was president, and earlier in the year desegregated the United States military.  Current manager Terry Francona wouldn’t be born for another 11 years.  What I’m trying to say (and what I’m sure you realize) is that this was quite a long time ago.  Baseball film records are spotty from this time period; if film of notable games exists, its often of mediocre to poor quality.  For many years, it was believed that there was no full television broadcast footage of the 1960 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees until a pristine reel containing the game was found in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar a couple of years ago.  Every so often, small bits of film will turn up – people will discover bits of noteworthy games immortalized on film, or performances of star players decades after they retired from the game.  One such clip has been discovered from November 7, 1948 that shows the famous Satchel Paige, in color, pitching in Los Angeles just a few weeks after he won the World Series with the Indians.

After many major league baseball seasons, even prior to integration, there were postseason “barnstorming” games.  Satchel Paige would field a team of Negro League stars, while Dizzy Dean, and later Bob Feller, fielded a team of white major league stars.  The two groups would travel around the country playing against each other.  Because of the sunny, warm weather, California was often a logical destination for some of these games.  In this particular video, Paige and African American stars faced off against a team run by Indians teammates Gene Bearden and Bob Lemon.  In his autobiography Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, Paige expressed disappointment that Jackie Robinson was the man that crossed the color line in 1947, rather than him.  According to Paige, he was the one that the “white boys” wanted to barnstorm against.

Paige is best known in Cleveland for his time with the 1948 World Series team; he left the team after the 1949 season.  He actually played for another Cleveland team – the Negro League Cleveland Cubs in 1931.  The Cubs (and the league as a whole) struggled financially since it was in the midst of the Depression.  Paige didn’t really become a superstar until he started to pitch for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, right after he left the Cubs.  During the 1930s, the Crawfords became one of the most powerful baseball teams in history.  The 1935 Crawfords roster boasted five future Hall of Famers, with Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, and Oscar Charleston.  That particular group is often mentioned in the same breath as the 1927 Yankees, as two of the best teams to ever walk on a baseball diamond.

By the time Paige returned to Cleveland to join the Indians, the legendary pitcher was already 42-years-old.  Even though a hard-throwing pitcher at that age would often be considered “over the hill,” Paige still had it.  After he joined the Indians on July 9, 1948, Paige went 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.  I wrote a piece in 2011 suggesting that his signing was probably one of the best July moves in Indians history.  Even though he did not pitch much in the World Series in 1948, I don’t think the Indians would have made it to that point without him.  The Indians finished the season tied with the Boston Red Sox, and played a one-game tiebreaker playoff before meeting the Boston Braves in the fall classic.  He still had enough gas left in the tank to pitch in California after the season, and thankfully, someone was able to capture the moment on film.

3 Comments

  • Steve Alex says:

    A great story. The closest thing in recent Tribe lore to that move was bringing in Dennis Martinez in ’95. My late grandfather was a minor league shortstop before the war and used to love telling me the story of how he batted against Satchel Paige.

  • Chris Burnham says:

    So… Jamie Moyer=Championship? ;-)

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    Steve, that’s very cool! Did he face him a number of times, or just once? I met one of his former catchers from the Negro Leagues, and he told me he still can’t get over how accurate Paige was. Incredible precision on pitch placement. I asked the catcher if there was a current pitcher that reminded him of Paige (this was back in 2007) and he said Greg Maddux.

    And Chris, I got a good chuckle out of that!

    One of the other crazy things about Paige is that he talks about arm troubles during the 1930s and said at one point he had a “dead arm.” I always wonder what was really wrong with his arm – what modern medicine would have found. I think it was isolated mostly to his elbow, so I’m wondering if he would have required Tommy John. He still managed to bounce back though!