Thursday, September 12, 2013

TSN decried Veeck's "rookie" Paige

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

            Followers of this blog may have discerned that I am a Satchel Paige admirer. After all, I have already created three custom/fantasy cards of Paige and have three or four more on my to-do list.
            I was, therefore, particularly interested in what The Sporting News had to say about Paige’s signing with the Cleveland Indians in July, 1948.
In the headline of a July 14 editorial, TSN publisher J.G. Taylor Spink, called Paige’s signing an “Ill-Advised Move.”
Spink led off with, “Many well-wishers of baseball emphatically fail to see eye to eye with the officials responsible for . . . the signing of Satchel Paige, the superannuated Negro pitcher, by Bill Veeck, publicity minded head of the Cleveland Indians, to ‘save the pennant’ for the Tribe.”
Spink continued, “No man should set himself up against the achievement of another man’s chances in life, be that other man Negro or white, Chinese or Indian.
“Any criticism by this publication of the addition of Paige to the pennant-seeking forces of the Cleveland club obviously is not based on Paige’s color.
“Certainly, no man at all familiar with the editorial policy of THE SPORTING NEWS and its reaction to the strivings of the Negro to gain a place in the major leagues, will question the motives of this paper.”
The publisher went on to lay out his bona fides on the subject of baseball integration, “It was THE SPORTING NEWS which last fall named Jackie Robinson the major league Rookie of the Year. THE SPORTING NEWS, and its publishers, too, went on record as favoring the entry of more Negro players when Robinson was signed by Branch Rickey for his Montreal subsidiary, and again when Jackie was moved up the Brooklyn club.
“In criticizing the acquisition of Satchel Paige  by Cleveland, THE SPORTING NEWS believes that Veeck has gone too far in his quest of publicity, and that he has done his league’s position absolutely no good insofar as public reaction is concerned.
“Paige said he was 39 years of ago (sic). There are reports that he is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50.
“It would have done Cleveland and the American League no good in the court of public opinion if, at 50, Paige were as Caucasian as, let us say, Bob Feller.
“To bring in a pitching ‘rookie’ of Paige’s age casts a reflection on the entire scheme of operation in the major leagues.
“To sign a hurler at Paige’s age is to demean the standards of baseball in the big circuits. Further complicating the situation is that suspicion that if Satchel were white, he would not have drawn a second thought from Veeck.”
Spink concluded, “William Harridge, president of the American League, would have been well within his rights if he had refused to approve the Paige contract.”
Veeck’s perspicacity in signing Paige was borne out as Satch threw to a 6-1 record with a save on a 2.48 ERA and the Indians won the 1948 World Championship.
Paige also proved to have been a shrewd financial investment for Veeck, whose outlay in bringing Paige to the Indians was said to have totaled $55,000.
Paige was reported to have received a $10,000 signing bonus, and a three-month contract calling for $5,000 per month. In addition, Veeck paid $15,000 to the Kansas City Monarchs for Paige’s contract and another $15,000 to Chicago promoter Abe Saperstein, who handled Paige’s bookings as a barnstormer.
While the Indians’ turnstiles would certainly have kept spinning as the team worked its way to the A.L. pennant, the boost in attendance every time Paige was announced as the starter proved to be an instant return on investment.
In his Aug. 3 start against the Senators, Paige helped set a new Municipal Stadium night-game record by drawing 72,434. He notched his second major league victory that night, beating Washington 5-3.
His next scheduled start was Aug. 13 in Chicago, when he beat the White Sox 5-0. Attendance set a record for a Chicago night game with 51,013 paid, and an unknown number of literal gate crashers who flooded the park when the crush of the crowd knocked down part of a fence.
A week later the Indians broke the previous Cleveland night-game record when Paige beat the White sox with a three-hit shutout before a paid attendance of 78,382.
After each of Paige’s successful outings, Veeck is said to have sent telegrams to Spink urging him to name Paige TSN’s Rookie of the Year.
In the Sept. 1 issue, TSN followed up with another Spink-bylined editorial.
By that time, Paige had run up a 5-1 record, albeit largely against second-division clubs.
In the later editorial, Spink wrote:

            THE SPORTING NEWS would make no change in its original editorial, except to express its admiration for any pitcher—white or colored—who at Paige’s age can gain credit for five victories over a period of six weeks in any league, major or minor. But it cannot express any admiration for the present-day standard of major league ball that makes such a showing possible. Why not build up those standards, instead of demeaning them further?
            All this raises the question of whether Satchel’s early successes are due to his sterling pitching abilities or to the fact that some major clubs still have a considerable distance to go before they attain prewar standards.
            Whatever may be the opinion as to the motives of publicity-expert Bill Veeck in signing Paige, there is no question that Ol’ Satch has brought a lot of color into the majors—and we don’t mean black. It’s the red on the faces of American League officials and partisan who have seen this veteran of the barnstorming trails giving lessons to the batters and other pitchers in the junior major.

 And, as much as Spink proclaimed himself Jackie Robinson’s champion, the ensuing 10 years would find TSN becoming more and more critical of Robinson the player and Robinson the man. Whether that was due solely to Robinson’s increasingly evident failings on both scores or whether Spink became unable to completely sublimate his Southern heritage cannot be definitively discerned 70 years later.

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