Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Satchel Paige (Better Than Clemens and Everybody else)

I love baseball. I always have. 

I played baseball and dreamed of being Wade Boggs. I had every Wade Boggs baseball card ever printed. I watched every game he played and I tried to emulate his swing. I considered it a perfect swing. 

Well from watching all those games I grew to love Wade's team, the Boston Red Sox. I loved Mike Greenwell, Oil Can Boyd, Jim Rice, Ellis Burks, and the rest. While watching all the Red Sox games I also loved the ace.....Roger "The Rocket" Clemens. I used to make it a point to find the games on TV when Clemens was starting.

He threw gas. He was a big, menacing hulk of a pitcher that had a gruff, come-right-at-you attitude. I loved watching him go straight at batter and sit em down.

Even though Wade was my hero, I have always loved power pitching. And Roger was one of the most powerful the game has seen.

Well....fast forward 25 years and Roger Clemens is kind of the poster child for cheating and lying due to his well publicized indictment by a federal grand jury on charges he lied to Congress while under oath. 

(Clemens was charged with three counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of Congress during his testimony in a nationally televised hearing in February 2008 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

At that hearing, Clemens and his former trainer Brian McNamee contradicted each other about whether Clemens had used steroids and human growth hormone. Andy Pettitte, Clemens’s friend and a longtime teammate, provided a written statement under oath to Congressional investigators in which he said Clemens admitted to him in 1999 or 2000 that he had used H.G.H.)
It should be noted that Clemens was not convicted of any of the charges. However I don't think anyone in the game of baseball thinks he is innocent. This Hall of Fame caliber pitcher has an asterisk over his name now. 
But despite this Clemens is doing something unexpected. He is returning to the game (well returning to pitch one minor league game). 
Roger Clemens is 50 years old. It is unbelieveable to think someone that old would take the mound. News coverage is all over the story. It's a huge story on Facebook and Twitter.
This cracks me up.
It cracks me up because pitching (for a minor league team by the way) at 50 seems like a Herculean feat the likes of which has never been seen. If we pay attention to the news we would believe no one had ever pitched at such an elevated age. Hardly.
In 1965 at the age of 59 years, two months and eight days, Satchel "Satch" Paige pitching for the Athletics, started a late season game against the Boston Red Sox and hurled three scoreless innings. 
Clemens' feat is noteworthy , but not news frenzy worthy.
By many accounts Satchel Paige was the greatest pitcher to ever play the game. 
It is unfortunate that during Satchel's prime he was forced to play in the Negro Leagues because baseball had not yet become integrated. 
The travesties that occurred due to our country's segregation obviously go far far deeper than the game of baseball (or the scope of this blog), but the game of baseball suffered as well.
One way it suffered was more basball fans didn't get the privelge of seeing Satch pitch.
Not only did Satch amass Negro League stats that are absurd ( It has been estimated that towards the end of his life, he'd pitched in well over 2500 games, winning about 2000 of them-with 300 shutouts, 55 no-hitters, and struck out more than 10,000 hitters. Supposedly won 104 of 105 games in 1934 also). Even if those stats are exaggerated, there is no one in history even remotely close to those numbers.
But in addition to being the all time most dreaded pitcher to face, he also was hilarious (which no doubt added to many a batter's humiliation)
Here are a few of my favorite Satch stories:
It was in the Southern Negro League that Paige began to emphasize his precise control by disdaining a regular home plate and placing a gum wrapper down instead. "This is my base," he'd chortle, or he'd place two bats about six inches apart and zap the ball between them into the catcher's mitt .
As the definition of confidence...The greatest single episode of Paige's lengthy career occurred in Forbes Field on July 21, 1942, when Paige had his penultimate showdown with Josh Gibson. That hot July day Paige knew he really had his stuff and he baffled and teased the Grays through six innings. With a 4-0 lead, he was a picture of nonchalance, as he put the first two men out in the seventh. Then lead-off man Jerry Benjamin tripled.Satchel motioned for first baseman John "Buck" O'Neil, the Monarchs' captain, to approach the mound. "Hey, Nancy," yelled Paige, using the nickname he gave O'Neil, "I'm gonna put Howard Esterling on base; I'm gonna put Buck Leonard on base; I'm gonna pitch to Josh!""Oh, Satchel, you got to be crazy," moaned O'Neil, who was accustomed to Satchel's antics.Behind the scene was this story. When both Satchel and Josh had been rising young stars with the Pittsburgh Crawfords years before, Paige had told Josh, "Some day we're gonna meet up. You're the greatest hitter in Negro baseball, and I'm the greatest pitcher, and we're gonna see who's best."So on that day in 1942, Paige walked Howard Esterling so that Buck Leonard entered the batter's box and Gibson reached the on-deck circle. "Hey, Josh, you remember that time when I told you about this," roared Paige as he began deliberately to walk Leonard. "Now is the time.""Okay, Satchel, okay," cackled Gibson in his high-pitched voice. In repartee, Gibson was not ready to challenge the voluble Paige."I'm gonna put Buck on. I'm gonna put him on, and pitch to you. I want this to happen," Satchel told Josh. Now the fans began to realize just what was happening. They stood and cheered. And then, as Leonard hustled to first, loading the bases, they turned oddly silent."Now I'm gonna throw you a fastball, but I'm not gonna trick you, I'll tell you what, I'm gonna give you a good fastball," said Paige as Gibson stepped in.Boom! It was a knee-high fastball. Josh didn't swing. Strike one."Now I'm gonna throw you another fastball, but I'm not gonna try and trick you. Only it's gonna be a little faster than the other one," teased Satchel.Boom! Again, Josh didn't swing the bat. Strike two. "Now Josh, that's two strikes," laughed Paige. "Now I'm not gonna try to trick you. I'm not gonna throw any smoke around your yoke. I'm gonna throw a pea on your knee, only it's gonna be faster than the last one."Boom! It was a fastball, knee high on the outside corner, and Josh didn't swing. Strike three.As Paige walked off the mound even the Grays' fans cheered. "I told you, I was the greatest in the world... "
Again teetering the line between confidence and cockiness, and durability to boot...Wendell Smith argued Satchel Paige's greatest days came in July of 1934. Pitching for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Paige mowed through the Homestead Grays' lineup at Forbes Field. Paige had such extraordinary stuff that day, he'd shout to the batter, "You'll get nothing today," while an appreciative crowd howled with laughter. Finally Buck Leonard, to slow Paige up, complained that Paige was tampering with the ball, and in an unusual concession, several were thrown from the game. Paige scornfully approached Leonard and yelled, "You might as well throw them all out, 'cause they're all jumping today." Then after his victory, the incredible Paige hopped into his roadster and drove straight to Chicago; there he outdueled the American Giant ace Ted Trent 1-0 in a twelve inning ballgame 

While playing for the Pittsburgh Crawfords he loaded the bases with Philadelphia Stars. Third baseman Judy Johnson called for the ball, and while rubbing it up, informed Paige that "the fellows were kinda hoping you'd get in this spot." "They did, did they?" questioned Paige. "Yeah they did," answered Johnson. "They said you were such a pop off." Paige fulminated a couple of minutes and then struck out the side on nine pitches. Quickly he walked toward the Stars dugout and boasted, "Now go back to Philadelphia and tell that !"


Stories of irreverence toward segregation became staples of Negro league lore. Satchel Paige, who loved fast cars and had a tongue as sharp as his fastball, was legendary for getting "one up" on the white man. Double Duty Radcliffe relates that once Paige got a speeding ticket while zooming through a small Kansas town in his new Lincoln. A policeman escorted him to the local judge, who fined him forty dollars and asked if he had anything to say for himself. According to Radcliffe, "Paige pulled eighty dollars from his wallet and said, 'Here you go judge, 'cause I'm coming back tomorrow .'" 

On many occasions he would pull in the outfielders to sit behind the mound while he proceeded to strike out the side with the tying run on base.

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