The Definition of a hero is a person, typically a man, who is admired for courage or noble qualities. It's a definition that refers to one man when it comes to former National Baseball Congress players, only one name remains universally synonymous with the nearly eight decades of tradition of the NBC World Series--Leroy "Satchel" Paige. Thursday the NBC honored and paid tribute to the NBC's hero, Mr. Satchel Paige
Baseball's color barrier had yet to be broken while Paige was in his prime, so the Mobile, AL native spent year after year dominating the Negro Leagues. Paige reached the Negro Leagues at just 20-years-old when he signed with the Birmingham Barons in 1927. After overcoming some brief issues with control, Paige finished his rookie year with a 7-1 record and 69 strikeouts in 89.1 innings.
Paige is regarded as one of the most influential figures in baseball history. Not only was Paige considered one of the greatest pitchers of his era, but the flamethrowing right-hander was one of the biggest advocates of integrating Major League Baseball. After his time in Birmingham, Paige led pitching staffs in Baltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New York, and Memphis. Paige also spent 10 stellar years with the Kansas City Monarchs where he was a teammate of Jackie Robinson.
Paige was a five-time Negro League all-star, and helped the Monarchs win a World Series championship in 1942. Paige's legendary status drew so much attention, that other Negro League teams would rent his services for a game or two at a time to help improve their attendance.
Paige also played a major role in the art of barnstorming during the 1930's and 1940's. Before the advent of national broadcasts or the internet, it was difficult for fans in a particular city to see the game's best players from another. With the help of Bob Feller--who Paige is currently enshrined with in the Baseball Hall of Fame--Paige helped organize a team of Negro League all-stars that competed against the MLB's best in late-1946. 35 games were scheduled in 31 cities in 17 different states. Many of the contests were played in Major League ballparks, which played a vital role in the game finally accepting players of color the following year.
On July 7, 1948--Paige's 42nd birthday--Satchel Paige signed his first Major League contract as a member of the Cleveland Indians. He became the first Negro League pitcher to join the MLB, and the seventh Negro League player overall. Despite becoming the oldest "rookie" in Major League history, Paige posted a 3.29 ERA in six Big League seasons, and helped the Indians win the 1948 World Series.
In 2010, Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated dubbed Paige the "hardest thrower in the history of baseball". Much of this was based on the following quotes from other Major League legends: Joe DiMaggio regarded Paige as the, "best he ever faced." Feller said Paige was, "the best he ever saw." Dizzy Dean recalled that, "Paige's fastball made his own look like a changeup."
So how does Paige's legacy tie into the greatest tradition in the City of Wichita? When NBC World Series founder Hap Dumont first developed the idea for the tournament, he felt the event needed a big name to draw interest during its first year. Fewer names at the time were bigger than Satchel Paige, so Dumont offered the ace pitcher $1,000 to bring himself and his barnstorming team from Bismarck, ND to compete in the inaugural NBC World Series in 1935. Bismarck bulldozed its way to a tournament championship, with Paige winning four games and striking out an astonishing 60 batters. Both figures remain tournament records 77 years later.
Paige's legacy in the NBC World Series paved the way for countless future Major Leaguers and Hall of Famers that have made the tournament what it is today. Paige is now immortalized in the stadium he helped make famous with his number "17" 1935 Bismarck Churchills jersey retired permenantly on the outfield wall.
Paige's daughter Linda Paige Shelby was on hand for the ceremony and expressed her appreciation for the honor, especially the honor taking place several years after her father's death. In addition to the jersey in right-center field, Linda Paige Shelby was also presented with both NBC and Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame plaques.