The first black player to appear in an MLB game with the Philadelphia Phillies was infielder John Kennedy, who broke that franchise color barrier on April 22, 1957. Fans of the team who follow the history of the ball club are probably aware of that fact.
But what many Phillies fans, even those history buffs, may not be aware of is the fact that at the same time Kennedy was making his debut one of the most famous pitchers in baseball history was toiling away in their minor league system.
For three years from 1956 through 1958 the city of Miami was home to the Phillies Triple-A farm club in the International League. And in all three of those seasons the Miami Marlins pitching staff included the legendary Satchel Paige.
During those three seasons, Paige was pitching at ages 49-51. Despite that advanced age he was still dealing. His cumulative stat line with the organization: 31-22, 105 games, 33 starts, 293 hits allowed over 340 innings with a 195/54 K:BB ratio.
After a long, dominating career in which he became one of the biggest stars of the Negro Leagues, Paige finally got his first taste of Major League Baseball with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 at age 41. After two seasons with the Tribe he would enjoy three more years in The Show from 1951-53 with the Saint Louis Browns.
Bill Veeck had been the owner of the Cleveland Indians from 1946-49. During that time he integrated the American League by bringing Larry Doby to the team and then brought in Paige as well. The Indians would win their first AL pennant and World Series in nearly three decades in 1948 with both men contributing.
Veeck would next become owner of the Saint Louis Browns, and it was he who brought Paige back to the big-leagues once again. In late 1953, Veeck sold the Browns after orchestrating their move to become the Baltimore Orioles the following season.
Looking for his next baseball opportunity and frozen out by MLB owners at the time, Veeck purchased control of the Miami franchise and signed Paige to a $15,000 deal along with a percentage of the Marlins gate revenues. Per his Wikipedia page:
“Marlins manager Don Osborn did not want Paige and said that he would only use him in exhibition games. Veeck made a deal with Osborn that he could line up his best nine hitters, rotating them in from their positions in the field, and Veeck agreed to pay $10 to any of them who get a clean hit off of Paige. Paige retired all nine and Osborn agreed to make Paige a roster player. In Paige’s first game as a Marlin, he pitched a complete-game, four-hit shutout. Osborn, a former minor league pitcher, taught Paige the proper way to throw a curveball, which allowed Paige to tear through the International League. Paige finished the season 11–4 with an ERA of 1.86 with 79 strikeouts and only 28 walks. This time, when Veeck left the team, Paige was allowed to stay on, for two more years.
In 1957, the Marlins finished in sixth place, but Paige had a 10–8 record with 76 strikeouts versus 11 walks and 2.42 ERA. The following year, Osborn was replaced as manager by Kerby Farrell, who was not as forgiving when it came to Paige missing curfews or workouts. He was fined several times throughout the year and finished 10–10, saying that he would not return to Miami the following season. In 1959, Paige returned to his barnstorm roots and signed a pitching contract with the Havana Cuban Stars…”
Paige’s numbers at Triple-A in the Phillies organization reveal that he certainly could still get batters out. In fact, he led the Miami club in ERA in each of his first two seasons. So, why didn’t the Phillies give Paige a chance to pitch in the big-leagues? It’s not as if they couldn’t have used a quality, experienced pitcher at the big-league level as they struggled through mediocre seasons. It’s also not as if Paige couldn’t still compete.
At age 58, Paige would appear in one final game in Major League Baseball. The right-hander allowed one hit and struck out one batter over three shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics on September 25, 1965.