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Not My First Game, but Satchel's Last MLB Game: An Early Birthday Present!

By Larry Lester, November 16, 2014
Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. ~Satchel Paige

Satchel Paige’s actual birthday remains as mysterious as Satchel wanted it to be. Paige once said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” In 1948, Bill Veeck signed Paige to play for the Cleveland Indians, which happened on the day Satchel turned 42. What a nice birthday present for all baseball fans to see this legendary, almost mythical figure from the all-black leagues. But was he the real deal?

Two days later, in Paige’s first Major League outing, he drew 78,382 fans, the most ever for a night game. His first start—a 5–3 win over the Washington Senators—brought in another 72,434, and he finished the season with a 6–1 record. None of this success was surprising to those who had been watching Satchel fill Negro League stadiums for more than 20 years, from Miami to Anchorage, Puerto Rico to Cuba to the Dominican Republic, and across America’s breadbasket.

After Major League tours with the Indians, St. Louis Browns, and a stop with the Miami Marlins (1956–58) of the International League, Satchel Paige was coming home to play for Charlie O. Finley’s Kansas City A’s. He was now 59, and “Father Time” was not his best friend. This would be his last hurrah!

On August 7, 1956 the largest crowd in minor league baseball history—more than 50,000 fans—turned out to see Satchel Paige and the Miami Marlins defeat the Columbus Jets in a charity game at the Orange Bowl.

I recall his last game as if it were last week. I can hear the ticket seller crowing, “Hurray, hurray, step right on up. The World’s Greatest Pitcher—Guaranteed to Strike Out the First Nine Men.” There was no question that “Leeee-Roy Satchel Paiiiggge” had always been a hawker’s best friend.

He still was a huge draw, if not quite the “world’s greatest,” that night in 1965 when I saw Satchel pitch for Finley’s A’s. I had heard and read of the exploits of the tall, tan, talkative, talented lad, but having lived through a mere 15 seasons, I had never had the chance to see him pitch.

Due to a marital split by our parents, my two sisters and I lived with our dad during the summer months on Brooklyn Avenue, just a hop, skip, and jump from old Municipal Stadium. I attended many games in those days and saw all the American League stars. I don’t recall my first game, but I do remember Paige’s last Major League game. That September day was a very special day—a day to see the greatest of them all.

I got to the game against the Boston Red Sox early and purchased my ticket along the first-base line. In recognition of Paige’s days in the Negro Leagues, the Athletics brought onto the field several former Kansas City Monarch legends like Eldridge “Chili” Mayweather, John “Buck” O’Neil, and Alfred “Slick” Surratt, along with future Hall of Famers Hilton Smith, James “Cool Papa” Bell, and Wilber “Bullet” Rogan. As they were introduced, each doffed his cap or raised his hand to acknowledge the cheers.

Game time was the twilight hour of 5:30, a metaphor for the oldest man ever to suit up for a professional baseball game. The theme song was equally fitting: “Salute to Satchel Paige.” The crowd read a playful poem by match light as Satchel sat in the bullpen, swaying back and forth in a Finley-supplied rocking chair, with a nurse, Sandra Damon, rubbing his arm.

As the stadium lights came back on, the umpire shouted, “Let’s Play Ball . . .”

According to my scorecard, Satch had a shaky start. After getting Sox center fielder Jim Gosger to pop up, the A’s first baseman Santiago Rosario booted Dalton Jones’s dribbler. Next, Paige’s catcher Bill Bryan matadored a Paige fastball, allowing Jones to advance to second. But wait . . . Jones tried to taffy the catcher’s error by advancing to third when Bryan nailed him with a perfect strike to third baseman Wayne Causey, for the second out of the inning.

Working the corners against the next batter, future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, Paige fell behind in the count, 3–0. Yaz blasted the next room-service pitch off the left-field wall for a double. Paige dug into his bag of tricks, started, stopped, sputtered with a hiccup windup, and got the dangerous Tony Conigliaro to pop up on his hesitation pitch. Paige had thrown a total of 14 pitches in the first inning. Oh, it was a delight to watch Paige retire to his rocker.

The author's scorecard from legendary pitcher Satchel Paige’s last major league game—September 25, 1965—Boston Red Sox v. Kansas City Athletics.
Courtesy: Larry Lester

A’s pitcher Rollie Sheldon recalled that that night Paige was “confident, relaxed, and with the fans behind him. He threw his famous hesitation pitch to Tony C. He double clutched twice and he hit a feeble pop up to third base.”

After some gentle shoulder rubbing by his nurse in her lily-white uniform, with matching shoes and hat, Paige wasted no time in the second inning and retired the side in order, on only six pitches; getting Thomas to pop up, Mantilla to ground out short to first, and Bressoud to fly out to right field.

The third inning was just as easy, as he set down the first two batters on five pitches, including striking out Boston pitcher Bill Monbouquette on three offerings. He closed out the inning by getting Gosger to ground out, short to first. In all, he threw 28 pitches over three frames.

To start the fourth, Satchel Paige took his slow, elongated strides to the mound. To give Paige his proper accolades, Manager Haywood “Hollywood” Sullivan allowed him to warm up gingerly. After a few tosses and a brief summit, Sullivan waved in Diego Segui from the bullpen. Following the typical Hollywood script, we gave Satchel a standing ovation, as we sung “The Old Gray Mare.” He saluted the cheers with a wave of his cap, his swan song to the evening and the Show. 

Click here to hear an audio clip from Satchel Paiges last game.
Courtesy of Jeff Logan

Another of my favorite pitchers, Segui recalled, “As I looked at him, I thought about his record in the Negro Leagues and wondered what kind of records he would have set had he been given the opportunity to pitch in the Major Leagues. No one would be able to achieve the amazing feats that he accomplished. It was a privilege for me, who admired him, to relieve him in his last appearance.”

Segui added, “Given the circumstances that Mr. Paige experienced, he could have been bitter at not been given the opportunity to pitch in the Majors during his lengthy career, but he rose above it. And did the most to his ability and carried himself proudly. He is a man people can look up to.”

Kansas City pitchers Orlando Pena, Diego Segui and Aurelia Monteagudo.

Rather than trust my memory of that historic outing, or my tattered scorecard, I wrote to players on both teams in August of 1990, some 25 years after the historic event. To my surprise, many wrote back. Yep, players were different back in the day.

I asked catcher Billy Bryan how often he signaled for the hesitation pitch. He recounted, “He did this on his own a lot, so he would sometimes have you reaching for the ball before it got there.” That may explain Bryan’s passed ball in the first inning. “Of course, at the age of Satch at this point,” Bryan added, “he was not overpowering, but still had his great control, and command of location of his pitches.”

Some had a different perspective that day. “I was playing third and to be perfectly honest it was a little scary,” said Wayne Causey, “because Satch wasn’t throwing very hard.”

Rookie catcher Rene Lachemann recalled Satchel as “one of the funniest players I have met. I could listen to his stories of his career all day. He never told us how old he was but you could tell that he was a great athlete as well as one of the greatest pitchers ever.”

Boston ace Bill Monbouquette called Paige Awesome! We had one hit, a double by Carl. I remember our guys saying, I am going to hit one off the old man. He mowed us down like taking candy from a baby.”

Another outstanding pitcher, Blue Moon Odom, said, “It was a game that will live on in my mind always. I was a 20-year-old, playing with the legendary Satchel Paige. . . . Satchel was a man whom every young pitcher looked up to. He made everyone feel special.”

Dick Radatz, Boston’s bullpen wizard and one of the hardest-throwing pitchers of his day, echoed the sentiments of nearly everyone on the field or in the stands that day: “It would have been good to see him at 25 instead of probably 60–65.”

In 1968 Atlanta Braves owner William Bartholomay signed Satchel Paige as a pitching coach.

At the time of Paige’s age-defying appearance against Monbouquette and the Red Sox, I lived just five blocks from Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium—and Father Time’s clock was ticking for me, too. I had left my two younger sisters, Cookie and Brenda, at home by themselves. They had promised not to tattle on me, but only if I could get back before daddy. I ran like a cheetah in an effort to cheat time. As I came through the front door I could hear my father walking through the back door. We met halfway into the house. Of course, sporting my dirty ball cap, I was loaded down with a scorecard and other diamond goodies. And I smelled like hotdogs and burnt popcorn. I was flat busted! Boy, was I in Barney-Rubble trouble!

My father went baritone and demanded, “Did you leave your sisters at home by themselves?” I froze like a batter looking at a third strike. I could hear my heart beat. For a moment I thought, “Should I even bother to answer?” I was speechless and just waited for the guillotine to drop!

Suddenly, a voice emerged from the second bedroom. I looked up, and it was my grandmother from Fort Smith, Arkansas. Grandma Williams had come to help celebrate my mother’s 36th birthday. Knowing her oldest grandson’s love for the game, she put her hands on her hips, cocked her head to one side, and she proudly stretched the truth and said, “George, I’ve been with the girls all evening.”

If it hadn’t been for my mother’s birthday, I probably would have never seen my 16th birthday. Perhaps the baseball gods were watching over me.

 

The Box Score from the Kansas City Star, September 26, 1965

BOSTON  AB  H   RBI  PO A
Gosner, cf 4 1 1 0 0 0
Jones, 3b      3 0 0 0 1 0
Malzone, 3b 1 0 0   0
Yastrzemski, lf 4 1 2 0 6 0
Conigliaro, rf      3 2 2 2 1 0
Thomas, 1b 3 1 1 2 10 0
Mantilla, 2b 4 0 1 0 0 0
Bressoud, ss 4 0 0 0 2 0
Ryan, c 4 0 0 0 6 1
Monbouquette, p 4 0 0 0 0 1
Totals      34 5 7 4 27 9
             

 

KANSAS CITY AB  H RBI PO A
Campaneris, ss 4 0 0 0 1 3
Tartabull, cf 4 1 2 0 2 0
Causey, 3b 3 0 0 0 2 0
Bryan, c 4 1 2 1 7 2
Green, 2b 4 0 2 1 1 1
Rosario, 1b 4 0 1 0 8 1
Hershberger, rf 3 0 0 0 2 0
Reynolds, lf 3 0 0 0 3 0
Paige, p 1 0 0 0 0 0
Segui, p 1 0 0 0 1 0
Stahl, p 1 0 0 0 0 0
Mossi, p      0 0 0 0 0 0
Wyatt, p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Akers, p      0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 32 2 7 2 27 7
         
BOSTON 000 000 230 5
KANSAS CITY 100 001 000 2

E - Rosario, DP - Boston 1, (Mantilla, Bressoud, Thomas), Left on Base - Boston 4, Kansas City 4, 2B - Yastrezmski, Bryan, HR Thomas (21), Conigliaro (31).

 

PITCHING IP H R ER BB SO
Boston            
Monbouquette (W, 10-10) 9 7 2 2 1 5
             
Kansas City            
Paige 3 1 0 0 0 1
Segui 4 3 2 2 1 4
Mossi (L, 5-7) 1/3 1 1 1 0 1
Wyatt 1/3 2 2 2 1 1
Aker      1 1/3 0 0 0 0 1

WP - Segui, PB - Bryan 2, Time - 2:14, Attendance - 9,289
Umpires - Valentine, McKinley, Soar.

 

 

 

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