It was 40 years ago this week that the color barrier was broken once again as the Baseball Hall of Fame elected the first Negro League Veteran. It was none other than the great Satchel Paige. Paige, who made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 42, played from 1948-40. He also played for the St. Louis Browns from 1951-53 and the Kansas City Athletics in 1965. During his time in the majors, Paige was one of most feared pitchers in the game compiling a record of 28-31 with a 3.29 earned run average and 288 strikeouts.
Paige was a two-time All-Star in 1952 and 1953, and was the first black pitcher to pitch in the World Series, winning the title with another former Negro League player, and the first in the American League, Larry Doby in 1948, but most of Paige’s greatest pitching came in the Negro Leagues.
It’s safe to say that Paige’s impact and dominance was responsible for him finally getting a shot in the Majors and eventually the Baseball Hall of Fame. From 1927-1943, Paige played for several Negro League teams, including the Birmingham Black Barons, Pittsburgh Crawfords, New York Black Yankees and Memphis Red Sox. He was a five-time Negro League All-Star and won the Negro League World Series with the Monarchs in 1942. Official statistics has Paige completing his Negro League career with a 103-61 record with a 2.02 ERA, 1,231 strikeouts and 110 complete games. Paige is listed as one of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, ranking 19th by The Sporting News.
Go back a few years to 1966 as Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams pleaded for the induction of Negro League players in his Hall of Fame speech. As the turbulent 1960’s saw all blacks fight for equality in all areas of American society it trickled over to world of American sports. More pressure mounted for Major League Baseball to recognize the accomplishments of Negro League players, and it all came to a head after the publication of Robert Peterson’s book, Only the Ball was White, that the fine folks who run the Baseball Hall of Fame finally got the hint and decided to elect Negro League Veterans. Since Paige’s enshrinement, the hall opened its doors to numerous Negro League veterans. Many got the opportunity to play and became Major League Baseball legends while others never made it, but their contributions and impact on the game was enough to merit election.
The list includes, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown, Roy Campanella, Oscar Charleston, Andy Cooper, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, Martin Dihigo, Dolby, Bill Foster, Rube Foster, Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Henry Lloyd, Biz Mackey, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Bullet Rogan, Hilton Smith, Turkey Stearnes, Mule Suttles, Cristóbal Torriente, Willie Wells, Smokey Joe Williams and Jud Wilson. Negro League executives Alex Pompez, Cum Posey and J.L. Wilkinson were also elected.
It should be noted that Robinson inducted in 1962 and Campanella inducted in 1969 were elected primarily for their contributions in the Major Leagues than for their play in the Negro Leagues.