There’s his line for the game – – 12 innings pitched (When’s the last time you saw a pitcher go 12?), no earned runs, 7 hits, 9 strikeouts and only 2 walks. Not a bad outing for any pitcher, but this one, Satchel Paige, was at least 46 years old.
The thing is, nobody knew how old Satchel Paige really was. Many people were convinced that Paige himself did not know his actual birth date. Try googling Satchel Paige Age, and you’ll get about 23,000 hits.
One of those hits is the official Satchel Paige website, Satchelpaige.com (Well, it’s official to the extent that they claim be the exclusive licensing agent for Satchel Paige.) Satchelpaige.com says, “It is estimated that Leroy “Satchel” Paige was born on July 7, 1906. The mere idea that his birthday is an estimate provides perfect evidence to the mystery that was Satchel Paige”.
One thing that is certainly known, is that Paige made his Major League pitching debut on July 9, 1948, and that he was and still is, the oldest rookie in Major League history. Of course the reason why Paige did not start pitching in The Majors until he reached the age when most players are well into their retirement, is because he was denied that right; for being black.
On the other hand, not being allowed to pitch in The Majors did not keep Paige from being widely recognized as not only a great Negro League pitcher, but as one of the greatest pitchers ever, period.
In addition to being the oldest rookie in Major League history, Paige was also probably the most famous.
From 1927 to 1948 Satchel Paige was the baseball equivalent of a hired gun: He pitched for any team in the United States or abroad that could afford him. He was the highest paid pitcher of his time, and he wowed crowds with the speed of his fastball, his trick pitches and his considerable bravado. History.com
Technicaly speaking, in 1947, the year before Satchel Paige’s “rookie season”, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, but
The truth is that Satchel Paige had been hacking away at baseball’s color bar decades before the world got to know Jackie Robinson. Satchel laid the groundwork for Jackie the way A. Philip Randolph, W.E.B. DuBois, and other early Civil Rights leaders did for Martin Luther King Jr. Paige was as much a poster boy for black baseball as Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong was for black music and Paul Robeson was for the black stage – and much as those two became symbols of their art in addition to their race, so Satchel was known not as a great black pitcher but a great pitcher. In the process Satchel Paige, more than anyone, opened to blacks the national pastime and forever changed his sport and this nation. Read more, sabr.org
Willie McCovey hit his first Major League home run on August 2, 1959.
Unlike like his teammate and San Francisco Giants slugging partner, Willie Mays, who was hitless in his first 12 major league at-bats; the other Willie (some other!), Willie McCovey, let the baseball world know from the gitgo that “The New Willie” was anything but, just another Willie.
McCovey made his Major League debut on July 30, facing Phillies Hall of Fame pitcher, Robin Roberts. The 21-year-old McCovey was so intimidated by Roberts that he went four for four, hitting two singles and two triples. On day-one he racked up eight total bases. He would go on to collect another 4,211 total bases to go along with his 521 home runs and 1.550 RBIs, before ending his career in 1980; a career that spanned four decades.
On his second day in the Majors the Giants played the Pirates, and McCovey gave pitcher Harvey Haddix a break, only managing a single in four at bats. On August 1, Giants manager Bill Rigney batted his new phenom third, between Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda. McCovey did not disappoint. He hit a first inning double off of Red Witt and scored on Cepeda’s single. It was déjà vous for Witt in the third inning, another McCovey double and another Cepeda single knocking him in. Then the Giants brought in Bennie Daniels who was able to strike out McCovey in the fourth. Daniels pitched three scoreless innings, but in the seventh McCovey touched him up for a single. Then Cepeda also singled, moving McCovey to second. At that point Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh decided to bring in Roy Face to pitch to Willie Kirkland (Yes, another Willie. The Giants had three). Kirkland singled and McCovey scored. Before the inning ended the Giants had four more runs.
McCovey didn’t homer unitl his fourth game, but in the three games leading up to it he was 8-13 (.615) and had 14 total bases, giving him a slugging average of 1.077. In the game when McCovey hit his first homer, it was his only hit in five at bats.
He played in a total of 52 games during the 1959 and wound up with an average of .354. He also hit 13 home runs, had 38 RBIs and was named National League Rookie of the Year.
McCovey never hit for average like that again, although he was National League MVP in 1969 when he hit .320, belted 45 home runs and knocked in 126 RBIs. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986, his first year of eligibility.
Not until more than 12 years after Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers, did the first black player take the field for the Red Sox.
On July 21, 1959 the Red Sox were in Chicago, trailing the White Sox 2-1, going into the 8th inning. Vic Wertz hit a lead off single for Boston. Then Red Sox manager Billy Jurges, very belatedly, made history by pulling Wertz in favor of pinch runner, Elijah “Pumpsie” Green. White Sox pitcher Dick Donovan retired the next three batters. Then Green took the field and played short stop for two innings. He didn’t have any fielding opportunities and didn’t get up to bat, as Chicago held on to win the game 2-1.
Green played in 49 more games for Boston in 1959, hitting .239 with one homer and 10 RBIs. He had three more unremarkable seasons with the Red Sox and then wound up his career playing 17 games with the Mets in 1963.
Ironically, Robinson had tried out for the Red Sox in 1945, before Branch Rickey signed him to play for Brooklyn. He went on to lead the Dodgers to six NL pennants and one World Series Win.
In a 1965 Sports Illustrated article Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey had this to say about his team’s lack of black players:
“I have no feeling against colored people,” he says. “I employ a lot of them in the South. But they are clannish, and when that story got around that we didn’t want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club. Actually, we scouted them right along, but we didn’t want one because he was a Negro. We wanted a ballplayer.”
Howard Bryant, who wrote the book “Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston”, said
The Red Sox were one of the most racist teams in baseball. You’ve got a 50-year legacy of difficulties between the Red Sox and the African-American population.
Harold Friend for Bleacher Report probably hit the nail on the head. He wrote:
The Red Sox rejected Robinson, Jethroe, and Mays, but selected Pumpsie Green. Only two conclusions are possible. Either discrimination existed or the Red Sox were the most incompetent organization in sports history.