1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords
1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Considered to be one of the best teams in the Negro League, the Pittsburgh Crawfords included important players such as Oscar Charleston, Jimmie Crutchfield, Judy Johnson, Josh Gibson, and James “Cool Papa” Bell.
[Malvin R. Goode Papers, 1911-2001 (C1706), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
After baseball became segregated in 1889, blacks were prohibited from playing in the major leagues. In response, black baseball players formed their own semi-professional and professional baseball leagues that were collectively referred to as the “Negro Leagues.”
Paige returned home and joined the black semi-professional Mobile Tigers. It was then, he said, “I gave up kid’s baseball—baseball just for fun—and started baseball as a career.” At six foot three inches tall, the lanky right-handed pitcher quickly developed a reputation as a formidable opponent.
In 1924, playing for the Tigers, Paige won an estimated thirty games with only one loss. In 1926 he joined the professional Chattanooga Black Lookouts for two successful seasons. Paige then spent the next several years going from team to team in search of a more lucrative paycheck.
Among the Negro League teams he played for between 1927 and 1947 were the Birmingham Black Barons, Baltimore Black Sox, Cleveland Cubs, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Kansas City Monarchs, New York Black Yankees, and Memphis Red Sox.
When not playing with a team, Paige and other black players formed freelance barnstorming teams that toured the country playing other teams in exhibition games to make extra money. Paige spent long hours on the road and rarely saw his wife when barnstorming across the country. Life on the road was not easy for black players and they regularly endured racist taunts from spectators. Due to segregation, they were not allowed to stay at hotels where whites lodged or dine at restaurants used by whites. Paige refused to play in towns where he could not get a hotel room or a meal.
C. A. Franklin Letter, 1943
C. A. Franklin Letter, 1943.
The editor of Kansas City’s black newspaper, The Call, made a plea to Congressman C. Jasper Bell in 1943 to allow the mid-western Negro League teams to continue to use their buses on the grounds that they needed to travel out of town to find lodging and food. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration had issued an order limiting the use of buses to conserve gasoline during war time.
[C. Jasper Bell Papers, 1934-1948 (C2306), The State Historical Society of Missouri Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
Despite the prevailing racism of the era, Paige attracted white spectators with his dazzling pitching skills. He could throw a variety of pitches with accuracy and speed that few could match. He gave his pitches colorful names such as “jump ball, bee ball, screw ball, woobly ball, whipsy-dipsy-do, a hurry-up ball, a nothin’ ball, and a bat dodger.”
Paige used his arsenal of different pitches to confuse batters. He might sidearm the ball across the plate, follow with a fastball, and then throw his signature “hesitation pitch” in which he would hesitate during his wind-up, often messing up the batter’s timing.
In 1938, while playing baseball in Mexico, Paige injured his pitching arm. At the age of thirty-two, he feared his career was over. J.L. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, signed Paige to play first base for his second-string team, the Kansas City Travelers. Although many believed his days on the pitcher’s mound were finished, Paige miraculously recovered the following year, and joined the Kansas City Monarchs.