Paige’s induction in 1971 changed history
“I am the proudest man on the earth today,” said the ageless right-hander on Aug. 9, 1971 as part of his induction speech that ended with a bronze plaque in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, “and my wife and sister and sister‐in‐law and my son all feel the same. It's a wonderful day and one man who appreciates it is Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige.”
While the Hall of Fame already included such Black stars as Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella – former Negro League players who starred in the formerly segregated big leagues for 10 seasons apiece – the road to baseball immortality was bumpy for the supposed 65-year-old Paige (who refused to reveal his actual age).
Arguably the biggest drawing card in Black baseball, the lanky and legendary Paige starred on pitching mounds from Canada to the Dominican Republic. From the late 1920s through the 1940s, his time with the Birmingham Black Barons, Pittsburgh Crawford and Kansas City Monarchs enhanced the natural showman’s appeal to the fans. And stints with the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns while in his 40s exposed him to a new audience.
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And, as always, Paige’s reputed age was a topic.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get that straightened out. I got my birth certificate with me, but they won’t accept that,” he said. “They got my age mixed up when I went to Cleveland, and now they say the guy in Alabama (where Paige was born) gave me the wrong certificate.”
Today, inside the Hall of Fame’s Plaque Gallery, Paige’s bronze plaques reads: “Paige was one of the greatest stars to play in the Negro Baseball Leagues. Thrilled millions of people and won hundreds of games. Struck out 21 major leaguers in an exhibition game. Helped pitch Cleveland Indians to the 1948 pennant in his first big league year at the age 42. His pitching was a legend among major league hitters.”
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum