Today in History

Today in History: July 7

Satchel Paige

 In the late Thirties, any Negro League club could have beaten any white major league team. The best team in the world was the New York Yankees then, and if we played them with the Crawfords or Grays, they'd have had to go like hell to beat us.

Satchel Paige, Kansas City Monarchs, in
Bruce Chadwick, When the Game was Black and White (New York: Abbeville Press, 1992), 84.

portrait of Satchel Paige
Satchel Paige, head-and-shoulders portrait, seated in front of a portrait of himself in a baseball uniform,
1970.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Leroy Robert "Satchel" Paige (external link), perhaps baseball's greatest pitcher ever, was born on July 7, ca. 1906, in Mobile, Alabama. Paige earned his nickname, Satchel, as a young boy carrying bags at railroad stations for passengers. After being convicted of petty theft, he was placed in a black reform school where he began refining his baseball skills. Five years later, the lean, long-armed Paige began pitching professionally for several teams in the Negro Southern Association, the Negro American League, and the Negro National League.

Paige's pitching prowess drew huge crowds. A natural showman, Paige enjoyed driving from game to game in his Cadillac convertible. He also owned a bus and several airplanes with Satchel Paige's All-Stars written on the side.

Barred from the major leagues because of his race, Paige showcased his skills by barnstorming across the country, pitching for any team willing to meet his price, and proving his mettle in organized exhibition games against the best players of the day. Many major league teams forbid their players from wearing their team uniforms in these games. Despite this ban, exhibition games were extremely popular and provided one of the few opportunities for players in the U.S. to compete in integrated games:

I liked playing against Negro League teams, but I loved barnstorming. It gave us a chance to play everybody and go everywhere and let millions of people see what we could do. I just loved it. I'd have played every day of the year if I could.

Satchel Paige, Kansas City Monarchs, in
When the Game was Black and White (New York: Abbeville Press, 1992), 84.

Paige's barnstorming years marked the pinnacle of his pitching career. He and Dizzy Dean, another legendary Hall of Fame pitcher, formed two barnstorming teams—one white and one black—which moved across the country in 1932.

His feats in such games became part of baseball mythology. Many a fan recounts a story about a game in which Paige intentionally walked the bases loaded with major leaguers, told his fielders to sit down, and then struck out the side.

Rob Ruck, "Paige, Satchel," American National Biography Online (New York: Oxford University Press, February 2000), http://www.anb.org/articles/19/19-00162.html (external link) (available by subscription only), (accessed July 3, 2007).

In 1934, Paige beat Dean in four of six exhibition games while Dean was at the height of his career.

a group of baseball players
Negro National League's Chicago American Giants baseball team players standing on the field,
1911.
Photographs from the Chicago Daily News

Many black players went to the Caribbean and Latin America, where the teams all were integrated. Paige pitched for several Latin American teams during the winters, including one in the Dominican Republic organized by dictator Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo attempted to popularize his image by developing the "Ciudad Trujillo Team." He paid Paige $30,000 for winning the Dominican championship. Paige fled the Dominican Republic with his teammates directly after being paid for fear of reprisals by Trujillo's enemies.

Between 1939 and 1942, Paige's pitching took the Kansas City Monarchs to four consecutive Negro American League Pennants and to another pennant in 1946. On July 19, 1948, Paige followed former Kansas City Monarchs teammate Jackie Robinson into the major leagues when he signed with Bill Veeck's Cleveland Indians, becoming the American League's oldest rookie. Robinson broke the color line in 1947 when he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Paige went on to pitch for St. Louis and Kansas City. At the age of fifty-nine in 1965, he was the oldest player ever to play in the Major Leagues. Satchel Paige embodied life in baseball's Negro Leagues. Black baseball's best-known performer, the lanky right-hander barnstormed his way across the United States, Canada, and into the Caribbean basin in a career that spanned half a century. By combining showmanship and incredible durability with magnificent talent, Paige became one of baseball's most enduring legends. In 1971, he was the first Negro League player elected to baseball's Hall of Fame.

To tell you the truth, Paige said in 1981, all over Cuba, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico, South America, everywhere I played, I had bouquets on my shoulder… I just could pitch. The Master just give me an arm… You couldn't hardly beat me." He died in Kansas City, Missouri.

Rob Ruck, "Paige, Satchel," American National Biography Online (New York: Oxford University Press, February 2000), http://www.anb.org/articles/19/19-00162.html (external link) (available by subscription only), (accessed July 3, 2007).

Paige was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.

Find more information on Paige and the history of baseball:

Solomon Islands

Warriors in battle dress
Two warriors in battle dress,
Solomon Islands,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
1895.
Around the World in the 1890s: Photographs from the World's Transportation Commission, 1894-1896

On July 7, 1978, the Solomon Islands, an archipelago of 992 islands northeast of Australia, became an independent nation, ending eighty years of British rule. The region was relatively isolated from European contact until the late nineteenth century when several European nations began to look to the islands as a source of labor for plantations in Fiji and Australia.

The World's Transportation Commission, a traveling delegation organized to promote U.S. trade and gather information about foreign markets and foreign transportation systems, visited the Solomon Islands in 1895. Commission photographer William Henry Jackson captured striking images of the Pacific Island cultures that had been relatively isolated from Western influence prior to the twentieth century.

Warriors in canoe
Warriors with spears in ornamented war canoe,
Solomon Islands,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
Summer 1895.
Around the World in the 1890s: Photographs from the World’s Transportation Commission, 1894-1896

To find more photographs of Pacific Island culture at the turn of the century, select New Zealand, Oceania, or Fiji from the World's Transportation Commission Trip Itinerary. Search the Today in History Archive on World's Transportation Commission to locate more features on nations visited by the commission.