June 16, 1956:
Though the Miami Marlins are now division rivals, in their original incarnation, they briefly served as the AAA affiliate of the Phillies. From 1956-’58, future Phillies like Turk “Dick” Farrell and Jim Owens served in the Marlins’ rotation, but the most noteworthy Marlin never made it to the big club: Leroy “Satchel” Paige.
By 1956, the soon-to-be 50 year old Paige was struggling to continue his career, largely due to racism and the view that he had become little more than a novelty. Legendary executive Bill Veeck, who had agreed to run the Miami Marlins for friends, was no stranger to Paige, having given the career Negro Leaguer an opportunity to pitch in the majors in 1948. Never one to shy away from promotion, Veeck signed Paige to the Marlins for a salary of $15,000 and a percentage of the gate.
Paige’s introduction to the Miami Marlins was far from smooth. Manager Don Osborn initially resisted the legend’s presence, insisting he would only call on Paige during exhibition games. Veeck responded by offering Miami’s nine best hitters $10 for each hit they managed off Paige. After striking out all nine, Osborn unconditionally added the 49 year old to the roster. Seeking to capitalize upon his new signing, Veek began planning stunts around Paige. Most were trivial, such as the pictured rocking chair waiting in the bullpen, but for his debut, Paige was flown to the field on a helicopter. The incident was a near disaster, as the helicopter lost contact with the tower and nearly rain out of fuel. As the Hall of Famer later put it, “I was so scared. That pilot and me was like husband and wife until we landed.”
Satchel Paige’s tenure in the Phillies organization would last a total of three seasons before ending acrimoniously. By 1958, Bill Veeck had left the team and Paige began clashing with management, largely due to financial concerns. With the relationship beyond repair, the Marlins suspended Paige for what they called his “utter disregard of rules”. The right-hander was denied his release from the team, finishing the 1958 season before both sides agreed to part.
Following the 1958 season, the Phillies ceased their partnership with the Marlins. Paige would bounce in and out of baseball for the next decade, appearing with the Kansas City Athletics for one game in 1965 before retiring in 1966. The Negro League Committee inducted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame five years later.
Photo: Bob East
Satchel Paige sits in his easy chair in the Miami Marlins bullpen.