Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in major league baseball. But behind Robinson’s story is thousands of other African American athletes who couldn’t make it to Major League Baseball. During that time, the Negro Leagues were the only place where African Americans could play baseball. Players like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck O’Neil, Larry Doby, and Jackie Robinson all became baseball legends playing in the Negro leagues, but without any recognition. One legend in particular was Satchel Paige, a right handed pitcher out of Mobile, Alabama.
Born Leroy Robert Paige, Paige played in the Negro and minor leagues for almost two decades for eleven teams. Due to Segregation, “Satch” and his team were refused stay at hotels and restaurants, and many times would sleep on the bus. Paige would sometimes even travel by himself in his car and fish for his own meals. Paige was known for his unique pitching stance and style, including the “hesitation pitch”. To confuse the batter and strike him out, Paige would slowly wind up into his stance, slowly stretch his leg way up into the air, hold it there for a few moments, then suddenly throw a fastball. This pitching style made Paige one of the hardest pitchers to hit off of in the Negro Leagues. After Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, Paige was one of the many players from the Negro leagues to cross over into Major League Baseball. He signed with the Indians in 1948 and some the World Series the same year. The “hesitation pitch” was banned in the Major Leagues right after Paige pitched it in a game.
Paige was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. Eleven years later, he passed away at the age of 75. Satchel Paige is just one of the many unsung heroes of African American sports history. When he reached the major leagues he was past his prime, after playing for almost two decades in the Negro and Minor leagues. But that does not take anything away from his legend and his story.