MLB.com is asking "Who was black baseball's best pitcher?" Among the pitchers that the 19-member expert panel will consider to name in their top five is Satchel Paige, who, pitching in St. Louis and being one of baseball's all-time characters, has always been one of my favorites. It's impossible to really know who was best, let alone how they compared to the major leaguers of the day. But Richard Donovan's famous profile of Paige for Collier's magazine (the source of Paige's apocryphal "rules for living") contains a helpful anecdote involving Joe DiMaggio in 1935:
At the time, DiMaggio was playing around the Bay Area with an off-season team of major-league all-stars. Yankee scouts, who wished to see how their new find reacted to serious fire, finally got hold of Paige, who was taking the sun in Los Angeles. Paige was willing, after hearing about the guarantee, and started North with his team, composed entirely of Ebel Brooks, catcher for the New York Black Yankees of the Negro National League.
In Oakland, Paige found three local semipro players, filled out the roster with high-school boys and gazed solemnly at the terrifying line-up of major-league talent. Then he proceeded with the business of the day, which was to fan 15, allow three hits in 10 innings and lose the game, two to one, when his youths, possibly rendered hysterical by the reputation of the opposition, threw to the winds the three balls that came their way. With a man on third in the tenth inning, DiMaggio, who had struck out twice and fouled out once in his previous official times at bat, finally hit a hopper which Paige lost in the shadows of dusk. One ex-Yankee scout remembers sending a telegram East: DIMAGGIO ALL WE HOPED HE'D BE; HIT SATCH ONE FOR FOUR.
Of course, Old Satch did eventually get to pitch in the major leagues, breaking in as a 41-year-old rookie and ultimately setting the record as the oldest player to play in a game, at the ripe old age of 59 in 1965 (courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com):
But Paige didn't simply get credit by making a cameo pinch-hitting appearance or DHing, as Minnie Minoso did as a 50-year-old. No: Satch started and faced 10 batters over three innings, striking out one and yielding one hit (to fellow future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski). And that was after pitching in probably 2,500 games.
-- Matt Philip is the editor and principal writer of the blog Fungoes.