Ol’ Satch Goes the Distance

Ol’ Satch Goes the Distance

August 6, 1952

For a pitcher roughly 46 years old, Satchel Paige found himself throwing a lot of extra innings in 1952. The Negro League legend was determined to make the most of his long-awaited shot at the majors, and few hurlers could claim to be better in the clutch.

On Aug. 6, Paige showed his stuff in a rare start against Detroit, holding the Tigers at bay for 12 innings until his St. Louis Browns scratched a run across for a 1-0 win. The feat made Ol’ Satch the oldest man ever to throw a complete game in major league history.

The game matched up a pair of second division clubs — the Browns (45-63), who stood 18 1/2 games behind first-place New York, and the last-place Tigers (36-69), who languished 26 games out.

Paige’s adversary was Detroit’s Virgil “Fire” Trucks, who challenged hitters with above-average control and relentless intimidation. Even though his 1952 record of 5-19 would be the worst of his career, the Alabama native no-hit Washington on May 15 and the Yankees on August 25 to join Johnny Vander Meer, Allie Reynolds and, later, Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers with two no-hitters in a single season.

It was only the second start of the season for Paige, who had become a full-time reliever after coming to the majors in 1948. He routinely arrived for games around the fifth inning and would sneak drinks into the bullpen where he sat in his cushy contour chair — a gift from owner Bill Veeck.

As the Browns’ stopper, Paige earned these small luxuries. New York manager Casey Stengel had remarked, “If the Yanks don’t get ahead in the first six innings, the Browns bring in that damned old man and then we’re sunk.”

His curve had lost some of its bite, but Paige retained his pinpoint control and could still reach back and bring his fastball into the high 80s. He maintained his live arm with a daily ritual of holding it under scalding hot water until it turned red and then rubbing it with snake oil. He’s the best pitcher in the league if he has the rest,” said Dizzy Dean, a former barnstorming pal of Paige. “If I was managing his club, I’d have him a startin’.”

Trucks held the Browns scoreless through nine innings, but Paige had little trouble matching zeroes into the warm Missouri night. “Even kids wilt in those late innings, but not Ol’ Satch,” said Paige, for whom extra innings had become familiar territory.

On June 3, he allowed the Senators only four hits from the 12th to the 17th innings before driving in the winning run himself. Shortly thereafter he entered a game in the eighth and blanked Washington for 10 innings to gain another relief win.

St. Louis threatened in the second inning by loading the bases with no outs, but Trucks induced a double play ball from Paige and whiffed Gordon Goldsberry for one of his nine strikeouts in the game. Detroit didn’t returned the threat until the top of the 10th, when they also loaded the bases with nobody out. Trucks headed for the showers and veteran Johnny Pesky came in to pinch hit.

But Satchel bore down. A fast sinker to Pesky produced a short grounder and a forceout at home. Johnny Groth followed and low fastball led him to the same results. Paige then turned to his “trouble pitch” for three consecutive called strikes to Tiger shortstop Neil Berry. Ol’ Satch later told reporters, “Man, I’m a hundred years old and I can still strike these guys out.

Paige held the Tigers at bay over the next two innings, and the Browns again loaded the bases in the bottom of the 12th against Detroit reliever Hal White. St. Louis right fielder Bob Nieman, the Browns’ top hitter, ended the game with a clutch single; as Bobby Young crossed the plate to win the game, he put Paige in the record books as the oldest pitcher ever to go the distance. Later that season, he repeated the feat — twice.