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I Saw Satchel Paige Pitch

by Don Jackson

We who love baseball have been cheated by segregation.  I grew up in the 1960s and played organized baseball from the age of 5.  My cousins and I would build fields in our yards and play for hours.  When the weather wasn’t right we invented a game using baseball cards and playing cards.  We still played.  I read books and articles about the history of the game.  Let’s just assume I know something about it.  But there was a vacant place in my knowledge … black baseball players.  Before me  it was just assumed  that professional baseball was white.  But I was in love with the game so I read everything I could find.  And there I learned about what was called the “negro leagues” and their players.  I read about Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige,  and Larry Doby (whose name is on the Camden, SC city limit signs near where I live but I haven’t discovered a single student who knew who he was).  With all their different accomplishments, I’m focusing in this on Satchel Paige.  Some have called Satchel Paige the greatest pitcher in baseball history but, of course, most of his accomplishments happened outside the media spotlight.

But I saw Satchel Paige pitch.  Not too many people still live who can say that.  I tried to find specifics on the internet but with no success.  Paige did pitch for the Birmingham (my home town) Black Barons for many years during the segregation of major league baseball.  But I wasn’t alive then.

My night watching the legend was in the mid 1960s.  My dad took me to a special event at Rickwood  Field in Birmingham and Satchel Paige took the mound for one inning.  What stands out to the 10 year old me was that I knew his name and I knew the legend.  It was watching a god doing his thing that night.  I, honestly, don’t remember anything about the outcome… I only remember that I saw a legend.  He was a crowd favorite (even to many who would still deny him access to their water fountain or restaurant).  He clowned … and pitched his awesome variety of pitches.  Even in his 60s, he could beat these minor leaguers (many of whom would be famous major leaguers … see Reggie Jackson).

But most of all, 50 years later I can say I saw him.

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