Back in the 1880s, when the sport of baseball wove itself into America's fabric, African-American players formed professional teams because they were not allowed to play in major and minor baseball leagues. The teams eventually formed the Negro Leagues, which featured some amazing athletes and they're all currently honored in Kansas City, Missouri at the Negro League Baseball Museum.
Even though the last Negro Leagues team folded in the early 1960s, the legacy of the players continues. 35 former players reside in Cooperstown now, and stories of Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, and Oscar Charleston remain. Pop culture has kept Jackie Robinson, Rube Foster, and others relevant. But, with many undocumented statistics and exaggerated tales of players, who was the best Negro Leagues baseball player ever? JustBats.com gives our take.
"Don't look back; something might be gaining on you." - Satchel Paige
When Leroy Robert Paige was born in 1906 in Mobile, Alabama, he grew up loving baseball. Like most things that surround his legend, how he adopted his nickname "Satchel" is unknown. Many believe he earned the nickname during a stint as a local train station's porter. And, his first foray into baseball didn't happen until he was 13 when after landing in the Alabama Reform School for shoplifting Paige played for the Juvenile Negro Lawbreakers.
After his release from jail, where he learned his trademark high-leg windup, Satchel Paige bounced around a number of teams. He was famous for his on-field theatrics, and his pitching took him everywhere, from the Negro Leagues to the Dominican Republic to Major League Baseball. But, why would he be considered the best Negro Leagues baseball player ever?
- Satchel was a right-handed pitcher from 1927 - 1947 in the Negro Leagues.
- Satchel was known for his pitching command but threw hard with an easy motion despite being skinny.
- Satchel didn't make his MLB debut until he was 42. In six MLB seasons, he won 28 games and collected a 3.29 ERA.
- Satchel was the first black player in history to pitch in the World Series.
- Satchel claimed his longevity was due to a soothing ointment he used on his pitching arm that consisted of rattlesnake venom and gunpowder.
- Satchel was the first black player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Satchel faced a 21-year-old Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio later said about Satchel, "the greatest pitcher I ever faced."
- Satchel named all of his pitches, which included Bee-Ball, Hesitation Pitch, Midnight Creeper, Whipsy-Dipsy-Do, Bat Dodger, and Thoughtful Stuff.
Hyperbole and myth have certainly enhanced Satchel Paige's career. However, his MLB statistics (including three shutout innings for the Athletics when he was 59 years old) were impressive for his age. And, his honors collected as a member of the Negro Leagues can't be ignored. The most telling feat that speaks to Paige's talents is when in the 1942 Negro League World Series he called in his outfielders. He then proceeded to intentionally walk two batters to load the bases so he could face one of the greatest hitters ever: Josh Gibson.
The result? He struck him out on three pitches.
Because Paige was able to face Major League batters and pitch well at an advanced age, his talent is more plausible. His self-promotion, though, makes him the greatest Negro League baseball player ever when combined with his on-field talents.
What do you think? You've heard the stories, who do you consider to be the greatest Negro League baseball player ever?
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