Sports Outside the Beltway

Satchel Paige’s 100th Birthday

Today would be Satchel Paige’s 100th birthday. Maybe.

“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” That’s according to baseball immortal Leroy “Satchel” Paige, born 100 years ago on July 7, 1906. Paige (legend has it) won 2,100 games, 60 in one season, and 55 without giving up a hit. And that was before he was allowed in the majors as a 42-year-old “rookie.”

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” Paige once remarked. Of course, old Satch was known to have fudged the facts a smidge when it came to longevity. He enjoyed shaving off or adding a year or two to his biography, depending upon his mood and how much publicity it might attract. Satchel’s actual birthday is one of the great mysteries of sport.

He told Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck it was Sept. 18. Wilber Hines, a childhood friend, claimed it was Sept. 12, 1905. In 1980, two years before Satch died, Cool Papa Bell reported that “Satchel is two years older than I am, and I’m 101.” (Bell was 77 at the time.)

But Satch’s mother, Lula, said that he was born in 1904, and that she wrote the birthdates of her 13 children down in the family Bible. The only problem was that her father was reading it under a chinaberry tree one day when the wind blew it out of his hands. The family goat ate it, and the date was lost forever. But the goat, according to Satch, lived to be exactly 27.

July 7 seems to be Paige’s most likely birth date. Teammate Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe (who died last August) insisted Satch was born on July 7, 1900, two years to the date before he was.

In Satch’s autobiography, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, he wrote, “I got to Cleveland on July 7, 1948. That was my 42nd birthday.” And in 1954 the Mobile, Ala., Health Department located a birth certificate for a “Leroy Page” dated July 7, 1906. “They’ve been carrying on so long about my age, nobody will believe what I say,” Satch said.

We’ll never know for sure when Satchel Paige was born. But when he threw his first pitch for the Cleveland Indians in 1948 (one year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier), Satch was an old man by baseball standards. Yet he still went 6-1 to help the Indians win the American League pennant. Paige became the first black player to pitch in the
World Series and the first Negro League player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (his plaque says he was 42 in 1948). Satch went on to pitch four more seasons.

The man was a character, if nothing else.

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