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Waiting To Become An All-Star

Keith Allison
Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler (16), Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles May 26, 2011.

There was a sense of “Finally!” when Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals was named for the first time to the American League All-Star team.  

After all, in three full seasons with the Royals before this year, Butler’s lifetime batting average was barely under .300. However, Butler’s wait in becoming a first-time All-Star pales in comparison to others who waited for their first chance.

New York Mets knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey is 37 and an All-Star for the first time.  Three years ago, knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield was 42 when he was named an All-Star for the first time.  But neither of them surpassed former Kansas City Monarchs pitcher Satchel Paige.  In 1952, Paige was 46 when he became an American League All-Star, or people were led to believe Paige was 46.

'Nobody Quite Knew How Old He Really Was'

"According to the family, they found in a Bible that said he was born in July of 1906 and that is the official date from the family," said Dr. Raymond Doswell, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum curator.

So according to the family’s account, Paige was 42 when he broke into the big leagues in 1948 with the Cleveland Indians under the ownership of Bill Veeck.

But not everyone is sold on that age. One of them who doesn’t buy it is his former teammate from the ’48 Indians, Eddie Robinson.

"That was a nebulous thing.  Nobody quite knew how old he really was," said Robinson. "I don’t think he could have been any younger, but I think he could have been older than 42 when he joined us."

Robinson says he knew about Paige from his reputation in the Negro Leagues, but didn’t see him pitch until he joined the Indians.

"He looked 42 age-wise," said Robinson. "But he didn’t pitch like a 42-year old."

Paige’s pitching turned out to be huge for the Indians down the stretch.

"He was a good asset to the team because he helped us win the pennant and the World Series," said Robinson.

Not Once, But Twice: Paige Named as All-Star

In ‘52, Bill Veeck signed Paige again when he owned the St. Louis Browns. That’s when Paige became an All-Star for the first time. 

Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Virgil Trucks became a teammate of Paige when Trucks was traded to the Browns in 1953.  At the age of 47 in ‘53, Paige was named to the All-Star team a second time.  Trucks says it wasn’t a fluke.

"If he can strike a match and that being set at the plate, he could hit that matchstick and strike it," said Trucks. "He was as good a control pitcher as any I had seen in my life."

Stories of Negro Leagues Players in the All-Stars

Paige was one of 20 from the Negro Leagues who went on to become All-Stars in the major leagues.  Their stories are now being told through an exhibit, "They Were All Stars," at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which will become a traveling exhibit.

It officially opened Sunday, the day after what is believed to be Satchel Paige’s birthday. As museum president Bob Kendrick pointed out: "I have to wish Satchel a happy 106th birthday, or it could have been 116.  We don’t really know for sure."

On Tuesday, Satchel Paige’s daughter, Linda Paige, will sit in the Buck O’Neil seat at Kauffman Stadium for the 83rd All-Star game.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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