John Holway / Negro Leagues
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WAS SATCH THE BEST?
By John B Holway
For decades we've assumed that Satch was the greatest pitcher in the Negro Leagues. The most colorful, most dramatic, most sensational, yes. But best? It's not that clear-cut.
He ranks #4 in league victories. But missing seasons in Dakota, Dominica, and Mexico might have cost him 10-15 games per season. And he might have lost 15-30 more in the '40s when he rarely pitched complete games, which he could not win and might lose.
Estimating his missing years would vault him above his competitors in wins. But they would have increased his defeats as well. His winning percent is already the next-to-last among the top eight winners.
"We had hitters who could hit him," said the eponymous Ted Page (who was one of them), "and pitchers who could beat him." Others told me that for a season, they'd pick one of the others on the list of leaders, but if they had one game they had to win, they'd pick Satch.
I'm afraid the myth of Paige as a Paul Bunyan who performed super-human feats is so ingrained, that it will never be corrected. The myth ranks up there with those of Branch Rickey, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and others, which will probably never be eradicated.
Larry Tye did nothing to separate the myths from reality. which is a shame,
because his book, which is excellent in many respects, leaves a very erroneous impression in other respects. That's tragic, because it's going to be accepted as the truth for generations to come. Some of us have been working for many decades to try to uncover the truth among the myths. All our hard work was wiped away. Larry seems to have vacuumed everything he could find in Google and dumped the contents of the bag into his book without helping us distinguish what is probably true from what is probably myth. His footnotes, which give the sources, aren't even in his book, but are on a separate disk, so they are no help.
When I brought this to Larry's attention, he airily replied that with Satch, anything is possible. That's OK for a novelist. But not for a historian.
If Paige was as invincible as Tye says, how did he lose 145 games?
For example, I questioned his report that Satch could knock a cigarette out of a man's mouth. When I asked for his source, it turned out to be someone I had never heard of, writing in the New York Daily News, who also claimed that Paige did it frequently. I've never read of him doing it once, let alone frequently.
I can confirm another of Tye's stories, that Paige could throw a ball through a knothole, although he needed two tries to do it. If he needed two tries to hit a cigarette without hitting my nose, I'll let you hold the cigarette, thank you.
The following won-lost figures may be helpful. Hall of Famers are in bold face.
The figures of course are always changing.
Bill Foster 172 82 .677
Ray Brown 168 61 .734
Bullet Rogan 155 66 .701
Satchel Paige 154 93 .623
William Bell 151 70 .683
Bill Byrd 140 96 .593
Andy Cooper 137 61 .692
Joe Williams 116 62 .652
Ray Brown 273 104 .724
Satchel Paige 230 145 .613
Bill Foster 198 82 .707
Bullet Rogan 180 77 .700
Joe Williams 155 88 .638
William Bell 154 72 .681
Andy Cooper 153 80 657
Bill Byrd 146 98 .598 *includes post-season, games against big leaguers, Latin America.
Rogan spent several seasons in the Army before joining the Monarchs. In the Depression the Monarchs weren't in any league, costing him more potential victories.
Satch lost several seasons playing in Santo Domingo, North Dakota and Mexico. In the 40s he began to pitch three innings to draw a crowd; that meant he couldn't win and might lose. His "Complete" record includes his American League games.
There was no league before 1924, so Williams had less chance to face other top black teams. In the 20s the Grays were not in the league, costing him further opportunities to gain victories.
Total Run Averages are not included. In strikeouts Paige was about double his nearest competitors.
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