Leroy Paige Explains His Longevity
For reasons that are well known—he reached his prime in an era when baseball was still segregated —LeRoy (Satchel) Paige did not appear in a major-league game until he was 42 years old, well past the age of retirement for most professional players. In 1965, at 59, and 12 years after he had left the St. Louis Browns, he came back to pitch three scoreless innings for the Kansas City Athletics. I met the legendary player during a hiatus in his major-league career.
In the early spring of 1950, Paige was barnstorming with the famous Negro League team the Kansas City Monarchs, who came to play an exhibition game at the aging and quirky Borchert Field on Milwaukee’s North Side. I was studying journalism at Marquette University, and I had been lucky enough to get hired as sportswriter for the Milwaukee Journal . R. G. Lynch, the paper’s sports editor, assigned me to cover the game.
I don’t remember the Monarchs’ opponent; Paige, after all, was the show. He pitched three innings —runless, I think —before heading for a shower. I went underneath the stands to find Paige in the clubhouse and asked if I might interview him. Okay, he said, but I would have to do the questioning while he showered.
So we talked, one-on-one, as he applied soap to a long, skinny frame securely anchored to the ground by size 14 feet. I noticed his hands, leathery from decades of firing baseballs at batters on sandlots and stadiums across the world.
Awestruck and inexperienced, I must have appeared nervous at this odd, humid encounter in a run-down ballpark. But Satchel, with his great wide smile, was gracious to one more in the unending line of reporters he’d faced over the years.
Later that evening I wrote a short article for the Journal . I can’t remember if it was ever printed; I don’t have a clipping, although I’ve got an incomplete blue carbon copy in my files. What I do remember is asking Paige how he pitched so well despite his relatively advanced years.
His reply has stuck with me a half-century later: “It ain’t how old you is, it’s how old your legs is.”