On Feb. 9, 1973, one of the greatest baseball players of all time was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Satchel Paige became the first Negro League player in the history of baseball to get elected to the Hall of Fame.
People who watched Satchel Paige pitch say he was one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He pitched an estimated 2,600 innings, had more than 200 wins and more than 2,100 strikeouts, not including games in the Negro Leagues that went unrecorded, in a career that spanned five decades.
Paige started his career in the Negro Leagues with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts in 1926, earning just $250 a month. He showed early signs of his immense talent by throwing nine strikeouts over six innings against the Atlanta Black Crackers.
After his stint with the Black Lookouts, Paige bounced around multiple teams, including a stint in Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In 1934 with the Pittsburgh Crawfords, he had his best season going 14–2 in league games with 2.16 runs per game, while recording 144 strikeouts and only giving up only 26 walks.
Paige finally found a team to stick with, the Kansas City Monarchs. In his second stint with the team, he became the unquestioned ace of the team and led the Monarchs to three straight titles from 1939 to 1941.
On Paige’s 42nd birthday, he was finally signed by an MLB team in the Cleveland Indians, making him the oldest rookie in baseball history. He was the first African American pitcher in the American League and the seventh African American to join the MLB.
Paige made it to the world series during his first season in the MLB while having a 1.33 era, helping the Indians win the World Series in Paige’s only world series appearance. He finished his rookie season with a 2.48 ERA, two shutouts, 43 strikeouts and 22 walks. After an ownership change in the offseason, Paige was released.
After returning to the Negro Leagues with the Stars, he eventually returned to the MLB, this time with the St. Louis Browns. Paige had six shutout innings in his first game back, but gave up three runs in the seventh. He finished his first season back with a 3-4 record and a 4.79 ERA. The following season for Paige proved to be his best one yet, playing in more games than years previous, having a 12–10 record with a 3.07 ERA and making it to the All-Star game. The following season for Paige was not a good year, where he finished with a 3-9 record and a 3.53 ERA. After that season, he was released after another ownership change.
Paige was signed for one game by the Kansas City Athletics at age 59 to pitch one final game.
Paige was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971. He was not the first African American to make the Hall of Fame as Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella were inducted before him, but he was the first to get elected thanks to his play in the Negro Leagues. Paige paved the way for other Negro League players to get elected as he was followed by Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell, among others.
“Inside this building are plaques dedicated to baseball men of all generations, and I’m privileged to join them,” Paige said during his Hall of Fame Speech. “And I hope that someday the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players that are not here only because they were not given a chance.”
Satchel Paige will always be remembered for his excellence on the field and his great personality off the field. Still, his most significant contribution to the game is proving that Negro League players are just as deserving of a chance as their white counterparts, and it is partially thanks to him for breaking down that barrier.