A PAIGE OUT OF THE PAST !

A tall, dark, skinny man shuffled across the field leading from the bull pen to the pitcher's mound. He wasn't in any hurry. After all, it had taken him 20 years to get where he was going.

The crowd roared, and it was the greatest crowd ever to see a baseball game -- 86,000. It had set up a tremendous chant, "We want Paige --and now it was getting Paige. Leroy (Satchel) Paige, greatest Negro pitcher of all time, had finally achieved his goal -- he was going to pitch in the World Series.

Life can begin at forty in the big leagues. Paige proves it. Some even say he's 50. But he's still a major league pitcher as he demonstrated when he compiled that 6-1 record to help the Cleveland Indians win their first American League pennant in 28 years.

Satch had been on tour for years when he joined the Tribe. It was just another of Bill Veeck's publicity stunts, the wise guys said. Sure, Paige would pack 'm in a few times but he was long past his prime and the DiMaggios and Williams would bat his brains out. But they never did.

Satch explained it simply when he put on his Indian uniform. "I know it's going to be different up here. But some things are the same. Home plate is the same size. My arm is in the same place. And when I throw the ball where I want to throw it -- and which I usually do -- I don't get hurt much."

And so Satch's appearance in that fifth World Series game after the mighty Feller had been blasted was a dream come true. The long, long trail he had traveled since coming up from Birmingham in the long ago had finally would up where it always had -- in the pitcher's box.

Paige is no longer a freak. Manager Lou Boudreau is counting on him for at least two more seasons. Ol' Satch, who didn't join until July last year, insists he'll win 20 games next season if they make a starting pitcher out of him.

A Paige out of the past is writing another bright page in the future.

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Copyright 2000. William B. Shubb. All rights reserved.